Breastfeeding and…Telomeres?

Breastmilk is really amazing.  You may think I am bit biased, because of course, I am a Lactation Consultant.  Certainly I think breastmilk is amazing.  However, I learn new things all the time that breastmilk is capable of.  It’s not only that I am learning new things, science is continually learning new things that breastmilk can do for the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies.

Most recently, I was reading that scientists now suspect that breastmilk is responsible for lengthening telomeres.  I had no idea what a telomere is, so I did a little research of my own.  I will try not to get overly scientific here, but I will break it down.  This is some good stuff.

First – what is a telomere?  A telomere is the name given to the protective cap at the end of the DNA strands in the body.  DNA makes up our cells.  Our cells duplicate throughout our lifetime, and as the cells duplicate, the telomere at the end becomes shorter and shorter.  When the telomere becomes too short, the cells die.  Basically, longer telomere = longer cell life.  Telomeres will shorten naturally, but lifestyle can increase the chances of them shortening faster.  Things like smoking, obesity, stress…all that stuff we know causes negative reactions in our bodies anyway.  Now new research is showing that breastfeeding can actually lengthen the life of telomeres, which means a longer cell life as well.

One question is whether it is actually the breastmilk, or the behaviors that breastmilk encourages that makes the difference.  For example, researchers are suggesting that the positive attachment, which accompanies breastfeeding, reduces stress, and therefore protects telomeres.

This is fairly new research, and more research is sure to be done on this, but it’s a pretty positive outcome so far.

Read more about this cool stuff here.


Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

It seems like the end of summer is the time when I see so many mothers preparing to head back to work.  Whether it is teachers who took an extended leave, or families who meticulously planned to have their babies arrive in the late spring so that summer would be maternity leave, late August tends to be that fateful time.   Here in upstate New York, most people value summer.  Even if you are someone who truly enjoys the winter weather – cozy nights in, white Christmas, skiing, snowboarding or hockey – winter with a newborn offers its own set of unique challenges.   We can talk about that more in November.

Returning to work after having a baby is difficult.  Overwhelming in many ways.  Mentally you are responsible for doing your job, whatever that may be, when your mind seems to stay with the little bundle of joy that was left behind for the day.  Physically you are still in a state of recovery (unless you are going back a year after the baby was born, but many in our society do not have that benefit) you are feeling sleep deprived and your breasts will fill with milk every few hours.  Getting milk stains out of your work clothes might be a new skill you never realized you’d need.  Not to take away from spouses who most definitely hold down the fort while mom is on maternity leave, being a working mother is a whole different routine.  Babies miss having that bonding time, and some mothers find that babies will spend the duration of the evening wanting to nurse.  Babies that were sleeping longer stretches at night might wake more frequently again, trying to make up for lost time during the quiet hours of the night.

Yet as mothers, we do this.  We stay dedicated to both employer and family.  We are able to multi-task in new, imaginative ways (raise your hand if you have ever pumped milk while driving).  I am beyond proud of the women I meet who are returning to work.  The challenges of figuring out how and when to pump milk, worrying about milk supply.  Afraid to upset the delicate balance of work life and family life, concerned that colleagues won’t understand the distraction.

The other day I met with several women who were preparing for this transition.  One had already returned to work, but had concerns about supply and needed to talk openly about the negativity she is experiencing from coworkers.  Others are concerned how they will make this work – the logistics of it all.   I know that they will all find a way to make this work.  They are fantastic mothers with amazing resiliency.  I just can’t help but wish that we didn’t live in a society where so many women are in a position where we have to make it work.  Having the choice would be ideal.  Unfortunately, the United States is resting at the bottom of the list when it comes to maternity leave.   I hope this improves by the time my daughter has children of her own.  Until then, let’s support each other, lift each other up, and remind each other daily of how remarkable we really are.

Some good resources for the mother who is returning to work.