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Breastfeeding is associated with numerous health benefits for both mother and baby. This is why breast milk is often referred to as "liquid gold."
Here are five fascinating facts about breastfeeding and breast milk:
1. Immune boosting properties
When a mother is exposed to germs, her body makes antibodies to fight the germs off. Those antibodies are then passed to the baby through breast milk. The antibodies decrease the chances of the baby becoming ill. If the baby does become ill, the antibodies in the breast milk help the baby fight the infection and may make the illness less severe and shorter in duration. Therefore, it's important for mothers who are ill to continue to breastfeed or provide their milk. Good hand hygiene is important when a mother is ill and breastfeeding or pumping.
2. Human milk oligosaccharides
These are a specific type of sugar found in breast milk that researchers are finding is important for gut development, immunity and brain development. These sugars are so important that formula companies are trying to figure out a way to add them to formula. There are hundreds of human milk oligosaccharides and at the time of this writing, they are only available to babies via breastmilk.
3. Saliva 'backwash'
When a baby is ill, some of the baby's saliva (and germs) mix with the milk in the breast. The body takes the message from the saliva to make specific antibodies and other immune-boosting properties. These are then passed on to the baby through the mother's milk and help the baby recover more quickly with less severe symptoms.
4. Lower risk of disease
Babies who are breastfed or receive breast milk have lower incidences of respiratory, ear and gut infections, among a host of other diseases. Moms also benefit, decreasing their risk of breast and ovarian cancers, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
5. Lower risk of depression
There is some evidence that a breastfeeding mother has a lower risk of experiencing depression. On the other hand, some mothers who experience depression quit breastfeeding sooner than planned. It is important to reach out for support throughout your breastfeeding journey.