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Breastmilk is Superfood for Babies

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby, Social Good

Breastmilk is Superfood for BabiesIt has been quite awhile since I breastfed my little ones but even so it is one of those subjects that I am still deeply passionate and opinionated about. From the time my youngest was born I knew I would breastfeed and mostly that was because my own mother had. I recall her breastfeeding my younger brother well into his toddler years and she talked about the joy of breastfeeding so enthusiastically that I knew I had do the same when I became a mother. This made me the odd one out among my friends and peers but I also found that I truly enjoyed the whole breastfeeding experience and I fed my oldest child this way until I had to return to work, about four months after his birth.

Weaning him so early became a big regret for me when he developed health problems a short time later. His health problems were so severe that that I waited three years to have another child and I was determined from the get go that this child would be breastfed exclusively and for an extended period of time. I had plenty of time to research all the reasons why breast is best and I wasn’t going to let modern life get in the way of of feeding my child the absolute best food. Not this time, no way. I quit my job and really never looked back. That was nine years ago this week. I breastfed my daughter for 2.5 years with the last 6 months of that being done in tandem with her little brother. Every moment breastfeeding her was special and joyous just as my mother described. I like to think that all the time she spent at the breast gave her a great start in life. It makes me so sad that many mothers and babies do not experience this and that so so many cultures are not supportive of this all important aspect of raising children.

BREAST IS BEST. By now this should be a widely known fact and all women should be be educated about why breastfeeding  is not only 100% normal and natural but also extremely important for the health of their children. I will be honest that I get more than a little peeved by prevailing attitudes about breastfeeding in the US but I just have to hope that most of it is lack of education and that it can someday be remedied.

This is why a new report from Save the Children was of great interest to me and I want to share it here. Quite simply it highlights the fact that breastmilk is superfood for babies and that it saves lives. The report talks about the ‘power of the first hour’ and they estimate that 830,000 infant deaths could be avoided if every baby were breastfed within the first hour of life. Much of this has to do with colostrum, which is the first milk. It is the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.

Other stats from the report:

* An infant given breast milk within an hour of birth is up to three times more likely to survive than one breastfed a day later.

* Infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die of diarrhea than those who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

*An estimated 1.4 million child deaths in 2008 were as a result of ‘sub-optimal’ breastfeeding, where babies were not exclusively breastfed and where breastfeeding did not continue into the second year.

* The baby milk formula business is worth $25 billion (or £16 billion).

* Breastfeeding rates have actually stagnated around the world over the last 20 years – and remain below 40% globally.

* Four major barriers to breastfeeding around the world: 1) cultural and community pressures 2) the health worker shortage 3) lack of maternity legislation, and 4) aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes – or formula.

* Only 6.7% of U.S. births occur in designated 154 “Baby-Friendly” facilities that meet international recommendations for supporting breastfeeding, and the U.S. has the weakest levels of maternity legislation in the industrialized world.

This shows without a doubt how powerful the act of breastfeeding can be and how it impacts the health of our children. It also shows why we must get better about educating women about what it actually means when they choose NOT to breastfeed and how the formula industry is working against their interests and against the health of their children. Here in the US part of that education process needs to be about making breastfeeding culturally normal. When you live in a society where restaurant or store employees ask breastfeeding mothers to leave these places of business and imply they are doing something gross or socially unacceptable by feeding their children, then we have HUGE problems. We must also make the work environment more family friendly so that working moms do not have to choose between being able to work or being able to feed their infant the best food available.

Other cultures have other issues. In India they believe that colostrum should be expressed before any breastfeeding can occur. This is a cultural practice that goes against science and best practices for health. It needs to be addressed. Other areas are affected by a health worker shortage. Even if you believe in home birthing and few, if any interventions, you are still likely to have a midwife and/or doula. Having health and birth workers around is so beneficial and often times they help young moms get established with breastfeeding because it can be a bit tricky sometimes. In developing countries this is even more important.

On addition to distributing this wonderful report, Save the Children is calling on Secretary of State Kerry to recommit to the 1,000 Days Partnership that expires in June. Since 2010, this international partnership has already helped countries such as Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Tanzania develop strategies around fighting childhood malnutrition through supporting breastfeeding and other important steps. It is set to expire unless we speak out and demand that the breastfeeding support and education continue. I signed the petition and I hope you will to.

I would also love to hear form you. What do you think we need to do to increase breastfeeding rates worldwide? Comment below if you want to share. Also be sure to check out the video below of how Brazil has had tremendous success with a breastfeeding initiative. It is such a powerful message and brought to us by actress Isla Fisher. I knew I really liked her!!

  • Great post. 

  • I enjoyed this post and the statistics but I think you should put them in context. They are quite alarming if you read them out of context. I know you put a link to the Save the Children, but are these stats specifically related to specific countries or globally?

    Also — I don’t agree with this statement: “Every moment breastfeeding her was special and joyous just as my mother described.” It is very painful at first. At least for me it was awful — nipple scabs, cracked nipples, PAIN.  I did stick with it and breastfed my son until he was 2.5, but I credit support from other mothers and a nursing support group for new moms. It was so helpful to know other moms were struggling too. 

    I do appreciate your passion for breastfeeding. 

    • Megan, the stats are going to be at their worst in developing countries that do not have the resources of countries like the US but this gives us a global picture and a definite idea of how important it is to breastfeed no matter where you live. Breastmilk is powerful stuff. 

      As for my statement, I can only say I meant what I wrote. There was one time when my daughter bit me that was painful but other than that I did in fact love every minute of it. I had no issues breastfeeding any of my three children….no pain other than engorgement, no nipple cracking or scabs, no infections, nothing. I did not struggle personally though I know many that have.

      • I think it is great you are so passionate about breastfeeding. It is a superfood and so healthy for babies.  It is a struggle for many moms and like I said, it was a saving grace to have a nursing support group locally. 

  • Carrie Willard

    I think one of the best things I can do it to nurse in public. Normalizing breastfeeding will go a long way towards changing how people view it. So often it happens behind closed doors, but all it takes is one positive exposure to a nursing mom in a critical period of adolescence to put the “cool” stamp on it. 

  • rachel

    I applaud and share your passion for breastfeeding, but you do a disservice to women by equating breastfeeding with the need to quit working. Continuing to work AND to breastfeed is entirely doable — time-consuming, yes, but doable. Many women don’t have the option to quit working just because they want to breastfeed, and they don’t have to. I also returned to work when my daughter was 4 months old, but I continued breastfeeding until she was 17 months, and I was ready to wean. We both loved it. I’m about to go on maternity leave again and plan to breastfeed and pump when I return to work. Our current president has made great strides in giving more women access to private places to pump at work and breaks in the workday to do it, not to mention mandating that health insurers cover the cost of breast pumps. Please don’t oversimplify breastfeeding and working into an either/or situation.

    • I didn’t actually. I just said that I personally quit working. I tried to keep breastfeeding and working the first time around and it didn’t work. My place of employment had shared bathrooms and no place to sit, let alone pump. The offices where I worked also had no place for this, plus we were expected to stay in the office and available, even during breaks (just in case) so leaving for pumping sessions would not have been conducive to me keeping my job. I tried to breastfeed when I got home but my son was only interested some of the time and it wasn’t long until my supply dried up. Rather than play that game again I chose to quit and that time around I was in a position to do so. I would hope things have improved in the workplace though…that was 9 and 12 years ago that I had these experiences.

  • I’m sad that in this post you give no support or love to women who have trouble breastfeeding no matter how much they try. I have experienced this and a friend has also (she was able to pump for a year). This only tears open painful scars when you talk about how children will be less healthy if they don’t get breast milk.

    I can talk about months and months of pain trying to breastfeed for as long as I could, only giving tiny amounts to my sons. Dealing with low milk, allergies, and more.

    • Pepper, while I understand that it is painful for those that could not breastfeed for some reason even though they wanted to… I do not believe in watering down the message or downplaying just how important breastfeeding is. Just like I don’t think we should treat the dangers of obesity with kid gloves so we don’t upset people who are overweight. The truth is the truth and it needs to be shared. I hope that women who tried and were not able to breastfeed can give themselves a break and realize that these stats are not being shared to hurt them but to reach others who can breastfeed but perhaps choose not to because they think formula is just as good because it is being marketed that way. I am sorry if this post was upsetting to you. :(

    • Kellie

       Well done Pepper for trying so hard when everything was against you.
      Some breast milk is a million times better than no breast milk at all.

      Yes breast is best, but it’s not the only way. Sometimes what is best for you and your family is not what is best for others, not everybody is the same.

      Would you prefer we didn’t promote breastfeeding at all because some people try and want to but things above their control get in their way?

  • RaEtnmom

    Longer maternity leave? I’ve seen many women fear their babies will not accept a bottle so others can look after their babies. Or don’t feel they can keep up with pumping.

  • Elena

    I love this post! I have been exclusively breastfeeding my son for the the past 6 months and plan to let him self wean when he chooses. I retuned to work after 12 weeks but continue to pump and it has worked out great. I have become very passionate about bf and I absolutely agree that every moment with my son on my breast is a true blessing…even in those painful early weeks. I have tried to normalize bf as much as I can by bfing in public no matter where I am(even in church) and not asking for permission to do so or making sure no one minds. while I cast no judgement on many other mothers I know who choose to not bf for whatever reason, I do feel sad that it isn’t always possible for every baby to be exclusively breastfed. I think the idea of supplementing can be so detrimental to a milk supply and I hate that formula is just thrown at you in the OB office and in hospitals. Formula can play an important role in certain situations but my gut tells me that those circumstances are fewer and farther between than what actually happens.

  • Lindsay Gigian

    I am shocked that Americans have only 4 months maternity
    leave. I live in canada where we are able to take a full year. I know I would
    not still be nursing if I was working and not home with a 9 month old (and 2
    older children). Yes, I know it is possible to express, just really really
    hard. On the other hand, I know lots of people who find a morning, after work
    and before bed feed fits perfectly with their workday after a year maternity


    For those who can’t nurse but are interested in the
    benefits of milk, there are breast milk banks. What a great idea but probably a
    logistical nightmare. I would love to hear more on this topic.

  • Letitia Spisso

    I think educating young mothers on how harmful it is to feed their babies artificial milk compared to breast feeding is so important. No body wants to harm their babies and a lot of people don’t know the true difference! Great article! <3 

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  • I absolutely love this article! I have been breastfeeding my daughter for a little over 6 months. I have no intention of stopping and neither does she :)

  • gwhosubex

    yeah, i thought the title was going to lead me to something scientific about why breastmilk was so good for the baby.

    I guess you can always just go with the strategy of with lazy research combined with a misleading title to get clicks…. and negative comments.