Approximately 1.2 million women become new mothers each year and it’s no secret that being a first-time mom can be a hard learning process; let’s face it, there’s plenty left to trial and error. Most first-timers will often question their decisions. Like me, you’ve probably found yourselves asking questions like, when can I take my baby outside? Is my baby gaining the right amount of weight? Is my baby crying too much?
Five children later, one of the key factors that I found myself constantly questioning was the quality and integrity of my stored breast milk. This has been especially true with milk that has been stored for 24 hours or more. This might be the case when you’re at the office and you pump or you’ve been on a day-trip with the family. As mothers we may also wonder if our breast milk nutrient quality is still optimal after freezing. This is an area that we are focused on developing tests for. Over the last few years I've been studying breast milk to develop products that help mothers become informed and make decisions about their breast milk. Based on my research, here are a few things new (and even experienced mothers) should know about their breast milk:
The Nutritional Profile of Breast Milk
Breast milk is a potent cocktail of hormones, such as growth factors, estrogens, thyroid gland hormones, and a variety of others that influence a baby’s development. It has been well established that breast milk is the best option as confirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and most health professionals worldwide. It provides natural antibodies, is more easily digested than formula, and even protects babies by reducing the risk of developing asthma, type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and much more, according to the Office on Women’s Health. Yet, when it is stored it tends to degrade the good nutrients, leaving mothers unaware of whether or not their breast milk is still optimal to use. One of the first nutrients that decreases is vitamin C, which is crucial for immune system development and iron absorption, and is one of the reasons why we have developed a vitamin C diagnostic test.
Although stored milk isn’t as nutritionally optimal than when it was first pumped, more often than not stored milk is still better than formula. Having this nutrition knowledge, such as vitamin C levels, is something many mothers, like myself, would still like to have to help manage a baby’s health better. In fact, 58% of women think it is important to know that their breast milk contains all the nutrients it should and would also like to have certainty about the freshness of their stored breast milk.
Checking Breast Milk Freshness
Another facet of breast milk, one very different than regular milk, is just how difficult it is to determine if it’s turned sour. The ‘sniff test’ that we use for regular milk can be very accurate. Even milk that is in the process of turning has an identifiable odor. Not necessarily so with breast milk. We found that should mothers become uncertain about the freshness of their stored breast milk, they would rather be safe than sorry. Down the sink it goes, often perfectly good breast milk.
In fact, 40.6% of women question whether their breast milk is sour before giving it to their baby. Moreover, more than 60% of women throw out stored breast milk, which is usually still good for consumption because they are unsure of its quality. In the United States alone, a total of 85% of mothers breastfeed their babies in the first three months postpartum, which means a large portion of breast milk is being unnecessarily thrown out.
Lifestyle Choices Affect Breast Milk
Many things can affect the quality of breast milk which, in turn, can affect the baby when ingested. There are a number of factors mothers must take into consideration when breastfeeding. For example, mothers must eat a healthy diet to keep up energy, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, rest as much as possible, and take multivitamins to ensure breast milk contains the highest level of nutrients.
Alternatively, mothers should be aware of the choices that can be detrimental to their infants, such as drinking alcohol and breastfeeding within a two-hour window, and smoking, which can negatively interfere with the child’s sleep. If you’re unsure of the best plan of action while breastfeeding, consult a doctor.
The question that you’re asking, the one that we’ve worked hard to answer is how do I know that my stored breast milk is fresh and rich in nutrients? We’ve created a method of analyzing breast milk freshness and nutritional content, such as the fat, vitamin C, and acidity components, at home and in real-time. We give you actionable insights that allow you to make the best choices for your children and you.
There are so many uncertainties and variables that we face as parents. Our aim is to remove as many of these question marks as possible, whenever science and technology permit. We’ve succeeded with breastmilk. To check your results, purchase MilkStrip’s Breast Milk Vitamin C Test and Expiration Test.