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In my house, we've tasked breast milk
with many projects. Yes, it has nourished both of our daughters, but we've also
used it to unplug clogged tear ducts, loosen up stuffy noses and stealthily
healthify smoothies and popsicles for our toddler. I even once attempted an
at-home breast milk facial when I read that a Chicago salon was offering
them to customers. (Results: After rinsing, my skin felt silky and a bit
slippery. Also, my friend's baby wanted to nurse on my forehead when she
caught a whiff.)
Yes, much like the father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" who uses Windex to cure all of his family's ills—"from psoriasis to
poison ivy"—boob juice has found its way into many nooks and crannies in
As a women's health writer and
accidental extended breastfeeder, I thought I knew all there was to
know about the benefits of breast milk. Then I read this article
making the rounds on Facebook, titled "The More I Learn About Breast
Milk, the More Amazed I Am," and learned something totally new.
According to Katie Hinde, PhD, a
biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at
the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University
(who also runs a blog called Mammals Suck ...
Milk!), when a baby nurses, it creates a vacuum in which the
infant's saliva sneaks into the mother's nipple. There, it is believed that
mammary gland receptors interpret the "baby spit backwash" for
bacteria and viruses and, if they detect something amiss (i.e., the baby is sick
or fighting off an infection), her body will actually change the milk's
immunological composition, tailoring it to the baby's particular pathogens by
producing customized antibodies.
To any exhausted breastfeeding mothers out there, never doubt what a miracle your body is.
"Putting this all together, some
scientists hypothesize that this could be one of the ways babies let moms
'know' about their condition and moms respond with infection-fighting
antibodies," Hinde told me in an email interview.
Did you read that correctly? A
mother's lactating breasts are actually bouncy undercover doctor/pharmacists,
diagnosing infections and dashing off silent prescriptions. That is just
cuckoo-awesome. (Science backs this up. A 2013 Clinical and
Translational Immunology study found that when a baby is ill,
the numbers of leukocytes in its mother's breast milk spike.)
"Breast-fed babies have lower instances of colds and viruses," the article reads. "When they do get sick, they are often able to recover more quickly because the mother's body produces antibodies specific to the baby's infection."
So, to any exhausted breastfeeding
mothers out there struggling with mom guilt/fatigue/post-baby blues, never doubt
what a miracle your body is. You are incredible. You are omniscient. You are
Boobie Howser, MD.