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Can We Finally Admit That Breast is Best?

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I know, I know. My title here was total click bait. You read it and either thought "Hell, yes! About time!" or "Oh no she didn't!" And both of those thoughts are just fine. They really are. I want both camps of mamas to read this one.

Before you start cursing me and my children, please know that I have been a formula mom, an exclusively pumping mom, and a breastfeeding mom. I am well aware that breastfeeding is so damn hard and impossible for a variety of reasons. I'm also completely aware that our family leave policies here in the United States are totally unsupportive of new moms, making breastfeeding next to impossible.

My goal is not to make anyone feel guilty or ashamed of how they feed their babies. Many women, in fact I would argue MOST women are sort of forced into how they feed their children. Most women want to breastfeed their babies. In fact, over 75% of new moms do at some point. But because of such little support, poor breastfeeding education, societal judgements on breastfeeding moms, and having to hand their child off to the babysitter at such a young age, less than half of new moms are no longer breastfeeding by the time their child is six months old. In fact, by six months, less than 17% of new moms are exclusively breastfeeding.

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We've all seen the "breast is best" articles and know that breastfed babies have higher IQs and less illness and yada-yada. Yet we still hear the "well, my baby had formula and she turned out fine" sentiment. And of course, formula is a perfectly OK alternative to breastmilk.

The Stranger recently featured a provocative article on breastfeeding that sort of took the Internet by storm. Every breastfeeding mom I know shared it on their Facebook page. Why was it so noteworthy?

This information is so crucial, so vital to the health and well-being of a new baby. This information can—and should—transform the way a mother spends the first few weeks and months with her newborn.

Well, the author of the article speaks with Katie Hinde, 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 shares some "new" information:

"[W]hen a baby suckles at its mother's breast, a vacuum is created. Within that vacuum, the infant's saliva is sucked back into the mother's nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals. This 'baby spit backwash,' as she delightfully describes it, contains information about the baby's immune status. Everything scientists know about physiology indicates that baby spit backwash is one of the ways that breast milk adjusts its immunological composition. If the mammary gland receptors detect the presence of pathogens, they compel the mother's body to produce antibodies to fight it, and those antibodies travel through breast milk back into the baby's body, where they target the infection."

Mind. Blown.

Seriously! I've been nursing babies for the past five years and have never heard or read or been told this information. No doctor has ever told me this. No lactation consultant. No La Leche meeting. No breastfeeding help manual. And to me, that's a problem.

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This information is so crucial, so vital to the health and well-being of a new baby. This information can—and should—transform the way a mother spends the first few weeks and months with her newborn. This information is proof that breast is best! And take note: this biological phenomenon doesn't take place when a baby is given pumped milk. This only happens when mama and baby have skin-to-skin contact.

The article goes on to explain why breast milk is the perfect (not ideal, but perfect) food for babies. There's a lot of science there, but it's crazy important to understand that part of breastfeeding.

So once and for all, I think we need to admit that breast is, in fact, best. And then we need to change nearly everything we do for mothers after birth so that they can breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of their newborn's life, just like the American College of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommends.

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