As a practicing physician and new mother myself, breastfeeding is a fascinating biological phenomenon. In addition to supplying your baby with all the nourishment she needs from day one of life, nursing populates your baby’s digestive tract with up to 40 percent of the beneficial bacteria known as the microbiome, provides immunity to your baby passively through the transfer of antibodies, and even educates your baby’s immune system by sending maternal cells through the baby’s gut to the baby’s thymus (a gland that hosts baby’s early internal immune system). These cells then teach the baby’s immune system to respond to invaders the mother has been exposed to.
Meanwhile there is a feedback loop between mother and baby during nursing—baby’s saliva is transferred into the mother’s breast, signaling cells in the mother’s breast to recruit specific fats, antibodies, and other nutrients the baby needs into the next batch of milk.
And then there are the benefits for mom, from contracting the postpartum uterus to dissolving gluteal-femoral fat (aka butt fat) and assisting in weight loss to reducing long-term risk of breast cancer.
For all of these reasons and more, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a baby is exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Yet despite this, I find that women are surprisingly unprepared for the realities of breastfeeding before they have their first child—I certainly was. And for many of us, myself included, breastfeeding can be challenging and can feel anything but natural.
As I got deeper into this world, I learned that there are more myths than truths circulating. Here are the most common myths of breastfeeding and the real story you should know: