When I found out I was expecting my first child, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had no idea what I should expect. Even though I read up on the basics and stocked up on nursing pads, lanolin, and mother’s milk tea, when my daughter was born and the time came for me to start feeding her, I quickly realized how little I actually knew about breastfeeding.
Today, I have three kids who have all been breastfed. I certainly have a handle on the basics; I have years of round-the-clock feedings to thank for that. Still, I am constantly learning more remarkable—and frankly weird—facts about breastfeeding.
Even as a seasoned nursing mom, I am always in awe of my body’s ability to keep my children well fed for the entire first year their lives.
Think you know everything about breastfeeding? Think again. Here are 10 weird things no one tells you about breastfeeding.
1. The composition of breast milk is customized for your baby
Babies eat roughly the same amount of breast milk from the day of their birth until 6 months of age, when moms typically introduce some solid foods. However, what a baby needs from their mother’s milk changes on a daily—if not hourly—basis.
Amazingly, a mother’s body is able to respond to those needs by changing up the composition of breast milk.
For instance, milk produced during sleeping hours contains higher levels of human milk nucleotides, which are believed to induce sleep in infants, according to one study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.
Remarkably, when babies nurse while they’re sick, their backwash is believed to make its way into your body, signaling your milk to adapt to fight infection, according to Science News.
2. Breastfeeding has a calming effect on Mom.
We have all heard the ways breastfeeding benefits the baby, but the benefits this practice has on Mom aren’t as well known.
For starters, the act of breastfeeding is believed to have a calming effect on the mother. Letdown (release of breast milk) is triggered by an increased presence of the hormone oxytocin.
This hormone is also known for increasing feelings of love and attachment and reducing feelings of anxiety.
In fact, increased oxytocin levels caused by breastfeeding are believed to decrease postpartum depression symptoms in many moms, according to a study published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine. It may even make Mom feel so chill it borders on drowsiness.
3. Newborn babies can crawl to their first meal
The breast crawl isn’t a myth. If given the opportunity, most brand new babies will literally crawl up their mother’s abdomen to the breast for their first meal.
Researchers believe that moms’ breasts emit an odor right after birth that is attractive to their baby.
In fact, some research suggests that the breast secretes a smell that bears an uncanny resemblance to amniotic fluid and that this odor guides the baby on their crawl to the breast.
If you’re an expectant mom, request immediate skin-to-skin contact for at least the first hour after your baby is born to up your chances of witnessing this phenomenon firsthand.
4. Most moms have a lazy breast.
If you’re a mom who has breastfed and you’ve ever suspected one of your breasts is underperforming, you are probably right. Parenting forums are jammed packed with tips and tricks for increasing milk production in a single breast, but the truth is, most moms have a breast that simply doesn’t keep up as well.
Of course, this can be annoying for both Mom and Baby, but in most cases it’s nothing to worry about. The causes of lower milk production on one side can be attributed to anything from normal anatomical differences to the mother or the baby preferring one side, according to Kelly Mom.
5. Moms’ breasts have a built-in baby thermostat.
In many hospitals, if a baby is born with a low basal body temperature, it has long been a conventional practice to separate mom and baby, putting the newborn under a warmer until their temperature rises to a healthy level.
As it turns out, this practice may be completely unnecessary, because mothers’ breasts seem to have a built-in baby thermostat. Research published in the journal Birth indicates that during extended skin-to-skin contact, the breasts actually play an important role in regulating newborns’ temperatures.
Add this to the ever-expanding list of the pros of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth.
6. Your body tells breast milk which viruses to fight.
By breastfeeding your child, you aren’t simply providing them with calories, you are helping to strengthen their immune system. Your breast milk is full of antibodies that are specific to the bacteria and viruses you have been exposed to.
If you get a cold, don’t stop feeding your baby! Your body will create and pass on antibodies specific to that virus, according to La Leche League. Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and nurse on, Mom!
7. Breastfed babies grow into healthy adults.
Okay, so this little tidbit of information is less weird and more amazingly awesome. Protecting your baby from viruses isn’t the only health perk of breast milk. Breastfed babies are more likely to grow up to be healthy children and adults.
In fact, breastfeeding your baby may help prevent chronic illnesses like diabetes and celiac disease, along with childhood asthma and food allergies.
8. Breastfeeding moms actually sleep more than bottle-feeding moms.
It’s easy to assume that moms who bottle feed are able to get more sleep simply because they can pass feeding responsibilities on to their partner during the middle of the night. The opposite is actually true.
If the goal is to clock as many hours of sleep as possible in the postpartum stages, exclusive breastfeeding is a better choice when compared with mixed feeding or formula feeding, since breastfeeding mothers report getting more hours of sleep each night, according to the journal Clinical Lactation.
9. Breastfeeding makes women healthier.
Most mothers know that breastfeeding is believed to set baby up for a healthier adulthood, but did you know it does the same thing for mothers?
Not only does breastfeeding burn a ton of calories, helping you get back into those pre-pregnancy jeans more quickly, but there are also some pretty attractive long-term perks.
Women who breastfeed are at a lower risk for diseases like ovarian and breast cancers. Breastfeeding mothers also have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
10. Breastfed babies might grow up to be smarter teens.
If you want to raise a smarty, making breastfeeding a part of your parenting plan is something you should consider. Babies who are breastfed earlier on are likely to have a higher IQ, according to a study published in the journal Pediatric Research.
More research needs to be done, but it seems that breastmilk has unique effects on the white matter of the brain that formula manufacturers have yet to mimic successfully.
Not all moms can successfully breastfeed, and those who do may deal with a painful latch, sleepless nights, or breast infections. If breastfeeding is hard for you, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with a lactation consultant to start troubleshooting the hurdles you’re experiencing.
If in the end you can’t make breastfeeding work for you and your baby, that’s okay! When it comes to baby nutrition, fed is truly best.