Like many moms, once I found La Leche League, I kept on attending La Leche League meetings. I liked borrowing their library books and I liked hearing the stories people told. I was learning new things. And things kept surprising me.
The surprises I like best are the ones that make sense when I give it more thought. Here is one that had me puzzled right from the start: breastfed babies consume less breastmilk than formula fed babies drink formula. Huh? I couldn’t make sense of that without more information.
All the nutrients in breast milk are extremely bio-available, which just means that it is very easy for the baby to absorb them. For example, the iron in breastmilk is in a heme form which is a lot more easily assimilated than the form that is added to food as a supplement. So how does this high bio-availability of nutrients tie in with baby needing less breastmilk?
It made sense to me when we went back to the iron example. Since supplemental iron is not well absorbed, there is a lot more iron in the pill than we actually need. And so it is with formula—scientists don’t know exactly how much of each ingredient will be absorbed so babies have to take in more formula to get the nutrients they need.
Only a few years later did I start to wonder if this need to take in an extra quantity of formula might be related to higher obesity rates in non-breastfed babies. Maybe the babies get used to feeling overfull and it continues when they move on to eating solid foods.
The idea that breastmilk is a perfect food is not a surprise, but this detail, that its composition means that babies don`t need to have any excess, is an excellent surprise of breastfeeding. Once the science behind it is explained, it makes perfect sense. It also reminds me that nature is pretty amazing.