In order to understand how to improve breast pumping technology at Lilu, we spent a lot of time studying about breast milk and human lactation. Early on, we partnered with Dr. Diane Spatz, the Director of the Lactation group at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the foremost researchers in the field globally, to learn more about the current state of research about breast milk and breast pumping.
We wanted to share some fascinating things we learned along the way.
Human milk and breastfeeding are essential for the growth and development of all babies. Every drop of milk you produce for your child is a medication, providing immunobiological and developmental substances that are not available in infant formula. So we should think of providing milk for babies, as a life-saving intervention.
Human milk is a life-saving intervention:
- In the United States, infant mortality could be reduced by an estimated 21% if all infants received the WHO-recommended 6 months of exclusive breast milk feeds
- Human milk protects babies from all kinds of infectious processes. It contains all kinds of cool ingredients that are not in formula, like stem cells, white blood cells, antibodies, and antioxidants
- Antibodies and other immune factors (e.g. from vaccines), can be passed on to the baby through breastfeeding. (Not as a substitute for vaccination, but while a baby is too young to be vaccinated, they can receive some protection through continued breastfeeding)
- A mom’s body has the complex ability to specifically tailor her milk to her child and their environment. So if your baby is sick, your body will help produce antibodies to help fight the infection - and you will be able to pass that on to your baby! (Fernández et al., 2013)
And all of this protection is extra relevant for vulnerable babies like preemies. Here are some more impressive findings on how breast milk can protect your baby:
- The benefits of breastfeeding include a 72% decrease in respiratory tract infections, a 64% decrease in gastrointestinal tract infections, and a lower incidence and severity of hospital-acquired infections for babies exclusively breastfed for at least 4 months (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012)
- The immune cells, immunoglobulins, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, cytokines, nucleotides, hormones, and bioactive peptides in breastmilk assist in the immune system development, help mature the intestine, and reduce gastric damage (Spatz & Lessen, 2011)
Breast feeding also results in health benefits for moms
- Research suggests that it could lower the risk for diabetes in moms as well as in their kids. As is the case with many breastfeeding related questions, more research is needed to validate this, but there’s interesting evidence that shows that lactation has immediate favorable effects on maternal glucose tolerance.
- Breast feeding also lowers the risk of certain types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer
As the research on breastmilk advances and compelling evidence of its benefits accumulate, breastfeeding adoption rates have been growing to an all time high, compared to prior decades. However, we cannot ignore that lifestyle changes for the modern mom make it, sometimes, really hard to breastfeed for the recommended time period.
Let’s shift the conversation and set goals that fit your lifestyle
We need to provide realistic expectations of early breastfeeding and its challenges. What’s important to know, is that any amount of breast milk you can provide to your baby is incredibly valuable - and so it’s important to set goals that fit your lifestyle.
So here are some important things for you to know and for us, as a society as a whole to consider:
- Breastfeeding may not come intuitively or naturally to any new mom. It’s better to acknowledge that upfront than to expect breastfeeding to be straightforward - it may take time and as with everything in life, there’s a learning curve. Especially when you add breast pumping to the mix, and even more so if you pump exclusively!
- As a mom, it’s ok to acknowledge to yourself, your support network and healthcare team if you’re experiencing difficulties. We want to help.
From our end, as technology innovators and for our partners, the healthcare providers:
- We must present a realistic view that the health benefits of breastfeeding are substantial for mother and child, but that it will require time, effort, and commitment to establish a breastfeeding relationship with your baby - it’s a lot of work
- We should stop focusing on ‘success’ from breastfeeding promotion and instead let’s help more moms set realistic goals. If moms face breastfeeding challenges, it is our obligation to help moms get appropriate research-based breastfeeding assistance, support, and care so they can achieve their personal breastfeeding goals.
What do you think? How did you set your breastfeeding goals? What has helped you the most in your breastfeeding journey? We’d love to know!
This blog was written by Lilu, based on research and information from Dr. Spatz amazing work on advancing the research on breastfeeding.
Diane L. Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, is a nurse researcher and Director of the Lactation Program at the Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia. Dr. Spatz is an internationally known expert in the field of breastfeeding and human lactation. She is chair of the American Academy of Nursing’s Expert Panel on Breastfeeding and is the Academy’s representative to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.
Dr. Spatz has been an early mentor to the Lilu team and sits on Lilu’s board of advisors.