Most dietitians will tell you that there is no such thing as the “perfect food,” but there might be one exception: breast milk. This nutrition for babies and children is literally alive with special cells and nutrients to maximize health. Breast milk is more than food – it’s medicine.
A Living Liquid
What makes breast milk so special? It’s packed with:
- Immune-system cells that destroy harmful bacteria and viruses
- Growth hormones for healthy development and metabolism
- Easy-to-digest proteins and digestive enzymes for a happy tummy
- Probiotics and prebiotics to establish healthy gut flora
What’s more: breast milk is highly adaptable to suit a child’s exact needs. For example, when an infant is born prematurely, mom’s body produces milk that is extra high in protein. When a child is sick, breast milk’s immunological factors specifically change to help fight the infection.
Food – or Milk – As Medicine
Breastfeeding helps both mothers’ and children’s health immediately as well as decades later. Moms who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancers, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Breastfed kids are less likely to have ear infections, respiratory illnesses, allergies, eczema, tummy troubles, childhood cancers, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding’s benefits extend to mental and emotional health, too. While breastfeeding, both mom and baby make extra hormones that promote bonding and relaxation. Breastfeeding can play a major role in preventing postpartum depression. Also, some research has shown that kids who breastfeed have higher cognitive function and emotional health later in life.
Mom’s Nutrition While Breastfeeding
There are no special foods or drinks for moms that are proven to boost milk supply. The best approach mom can take is a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein to promote healthy postpartum recovery. Breastfeeding increases moms’ calorie needs, and healthy snacks between meals that contain both carbohydrates and proteins can help meet this demand (think fruit and nuts, yogurt and cereal, or string cheese and veggies). Hydration is key, too! Drink to your thirst. Women usually need about 2 liters of water (or half a gallon) of water per day, but this can increase during breastfeeding.
It Takes a Village
How can you help support breastfeeding, even if you’re not a mom? Family members, friends, coworkers, and community members all play a role.
- When a new baby arrives, help around the house so mom has more time and energy to breastfeed. Shopping for groceries, cooking meals, and doing laundry can really help!
- Offer mom emotional support to help her reach her breastfeeding goals. Give affirmation, hugs, and a shoulder to lean on.
- Know and embrace breastfeeding laws. Breastfeeding is legal in public spaces everywhere in the United States.
- Ask for help!
- Lactation Consultants provide hands-on help for any breastfeeding challenges you or your baby have. This may be covered by your health insurance.
- The National Breastfeeding Helpline has counselors available via phone Monday-Friday from 9am-6pm ET to quickly answer questions. Give them a call: 800-994-9662
- La Leche League offers in-person and online support groups for new moms and their families.
- The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides breastfeeding education and counseling (plus healthful foods to support mom’s nutrition needs).
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.