Have you seen the photos floating around the internet that show two frozen bags of breastmilk, pumped on different dates, that are different colors? These photos cite an immune response in the mother’s milk to their baby’s illness. Wait…..what??
First of all, is this even true? (Cue the skeptic emoji face.)
If so, why does that happen? And how?
In short: SCIENCE.
Wait. STICK WITH ME HERE, FRIENDS. This is amazing and fascinating and did I mention amazing?!
I’ve broken this down so let’s discuss……
First, you have to understand the mechanism behind breastfeeding.
When a baby suckles, it activates tiny receptors in the nipple called mechanoreceptors. These receptors send messages literally from the nipple all the way back to the mom’s brain, which begins a cascade of complicated events that tell the mammary glands to contract and dispense milk. (Taking it a step further, this process can actually begin when the mom’s auditory centers simply HEAR a baby crying. Nursing moms can vouch that this is, in fact, true! #whybreastpadsareimportant)
Back on track — this complex system is actually a dialogue taking place between the mother and the baby, and is what we refer to as the “Letdown reflex”.
This communication is not simply a request for milk….your baby is placing an order for a specific kind of milk. (WHAAAAT.)
We know that breastmilk alone is sufficient for a baby for the first six months of life. That’s because a mother’s milk is dynamic – meaning it is always changing – adjusting it’s composition to compensate for the baby’s current needs as he or she grows and develops.
So, not only does your baby “tell” you how much milk she needs, how often, and what her nutritional needs are, she is also relaying a message about her immune status.
Well, when babies suckle, their saliva also comes in contact with this sophisticated correspondence system. This transfer allows the mother’s receptors to “read” the saliva and react accordingly. So, for instance, if the receptor picks up on pathogens in the saliva, the mother’s body will produce antibodies – not for the mom – but for the baby to help her fight the illness. Those antibodies are obviously transported back to the baby via breastmilk.
Bottom line: Your milk is tailored to your baby specifically. It’s incredibly personalized.
So, getting back to those viral breastmilk pictures – YES, it is true. The reason the breastmilk is different colors is because in the time between those two pumping sessions (which were a few days apart, per the mom who posted), the actual composition of the milk has changed to meet her baby’s needs – not just nutritionally, but also immunologically.
I told you – FASCINATING.
So basically, nursing moms, if it were up to me I would put a “Ph.D.” behind your names. You didn’t even know it, but your body has been diagnosing and treating your baby all along!
Pretty incredible. Keep it up, mamas!
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