Breastfeeding may come naturally to most moms, but definitely not for all. And even if you breastfeed for the expert-recommended time period (and then some!) and consider yourself a pro, you might be surprised to learn some of these breastfeeding facts provided by lactation experts. Here’s what we found out:
1. Cabbage leaves can help relieve engorgement.
Many lactation consultants recommend using a compress made from cabbage leaves to naturally relieve engorgement (consultant Marie Davis even includes cabbage leaf use instructions on her website). Leigh Anne O’Connor, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and La Leche League leader, says that ice is also good for engorgement: “Most people think to go for heat, but ice reduces inflammation, which can be the cause of many cases of engorgement. Another remedy to try is to drop the breast into a bath of warm water and massage in a downward direction.”
2. Your own breast milk can help soreness and cracks.
If your breasts are sore the first few days after you begin nursing, try gently rubbing some of your milk into your nipples and breasts to alleviate the tenderness. Freshly expressed breast milk can also help cracked nipples as well (although mothers should not rub breast milk into their skin if they have a yeast infection). “Using your own breast milk is the best ointment that there is in terms of antibacterial [properties],” says IBCLC Barbara Holmes from Queens Hospital, New York. “Obviously, wash your hands if you are going to be touching your nipples because you can self-infect.” As for other cracked nipple solutions, O’Connor suggests saline and raw virgin coconut oil.
3. Oatmeal can enhance your milk production.
Experts say that the best way to encourage breast milk production is to feed your baby often and for as long as he or she needs to feed. However, if you need a little extra boost in milk production, O’Connor recommends oatmeal water. “A baby who nurses well is the best way to increase milk, [but] oatmeal water is a great ‘milk maker.’ You take a glass of water and a handful of uncooked whole rolled oats. Blend this until it is all mixed up, strain the oats and drink the cloudy water. If you do this before nursing or pumping, it can increase your output.” While no scientific studies have been conducted to prove the efficacy of oatmeal water, many moms swear by it and professional lactation consultants often recommend it as well.
4. Some moms may have milk letdown during orgasm.
O’Connor says that this could be because “the hormone released during breastfeeding, oxytocin, is the same one released during orgasm—the love hormone!” For moms worried about letdown, Davis recommends nursing the baby before sex and padding the bed with towels. As a bonus, oxytocin released during breastfeeding also helps your uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.
5. Breast milk can both save and make you money.
If you breastfeed exclusively as opposed to buying formula, you can save more than $1,500 in one year. Breastfeeding can also provide some cash flow if you have extra milk and are able to pump and store it. Breast milk sells for an average of about $1.50 an ounce on websites like OnlytheBreast.com, an online hub for breast milk classifieds. That may not sound like much, but since newborns need about 25 ounces a day for the first six months, it can quickly add up.
6. Some adults swear by drinking breast milk.
Speaking of selling breast milk, some adult men praise the nutritional benefits of drinking breast milk themselves. In particular, male gym rats claim it’s the perfect after-workout recovery drink, and OnlytheBreast.com even has a category for “Men Buying Breast Milk.” However, health experts caution that nature intends breast milk for babies’ consumption, not grown adults. And researcher Sarah A. Keim found that 75 percent of samples she tested from OnlytheBreast.com were contaminated with bacteria due to poor collection and handling. If you’re in need of extra breast milk, Barbara Holmes says that a milk bank is your best bet since “they pasteurize it just like they do for the milk you buy in the store to put in your cereal or coffee.”
7. Humans are the only mammals whose breasts don’t disappear when they’re done breastfeeding.
Plenty of animals nurse their young, and female primates do develop full breasts while they are lactating. However, once they’re done nursing, primates’ breasts will reduce in size until they are almost unnoticeable. Not so with female humans, who have breasts whether or not they are breastfeeding—although breastfeeding can temporarily boost the girls’ size due to the influx of milk.
8. Breastfeeding can be a real workout.
If you exclusively breastfeed your baby, you can burn up to 600 calories in a day, the equivalent of an intense cardio workout. To put that in perspective, you’d have to play tennis, run at a moderate pace, or do high-impact aerobics or the stair climber for a straight hour to burn that many calories, according to calculations compiled by the Mayo Clinic. This calorie burn can help you get rid of that baby fat and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight faster.
9. Both non-birth women and men can lactate spontaneously.
Breastfeeding without pregnancy is actually possible through a process known as induced lactation. Women who have adopted a baby, used a surrogate, or otherwise want to breastfeed can encourage the breast milk production by increasing hormones such as prolactin and physically stimulating the breast and nipple. O’Connor recalls working with a lesbian couple in which “the non-birth mother had latched the baby one time. The next morning her shirt was spotted with milk—she spontaneously lactated!” Men can also cause lactation using the same techniques, but it will take more effort and time because men naturally have less prolactin than women.
10. Your baby may also produce “breast milk” during the first few months.
Both male and female babies can discharge a milky substance, often called “witches’ milk,” from their nipples, a condition formally known as infant galactorrhea. O’Connor explains that “The baby will have milk in his or her breasts in the first few days after being born. This is normal, but sometimes the baby can have engorgement. However, it will go away,” usually in two months at the most.
11. Breast milk can act as a natural sleep aid for babies.
When adults sleep, they secrete a hormone called melatonin, which is incorporated into breast milk made during the night. “The naturally occurring melatonin in human milk can help reduce colic behavior and help babies sleep,” says O’Connor. Not only that, but moms also “make the most milk in the middle of the night into the early morning,” O’Connor adds. So if you’re pumping, pay attention to when the milk is expressed, and try to feed it to your baby at approximately the same time of day it was pumped to avoid disrupting his or her sleep schedule.
12. Breastfeeding is not taught in medical school.
Except for a cursory overview, most doctors have very little experience with breastfeeding unless they deliberately choose to specialize in it, O’Conner explains. This is why it’s important to seek out medical professionals who are certified in breastfeeding care, so you and your baby get the attention and expertise you both need to breastfeed successfully. “If they’re specializing in other areas, sometimes they don’t have as detailed training in making sure the baby is swallowing milk well” and other aspects of breastfeeding, says Holmes. “Hopefully someone who’s worth their salt in training will know when to refer to someone who has more detailed breastfeeding experience.”
Did you breastfeed your baby? If so, how long? What tips and tricks can you share with new moms? Share in the comments below.