Your Breasts Eat Themselves? 7 Amazing Findings in Recent Breastfeeding Research

We've been noticing some pretty amazing research findings about breastfeeding recently. Here are eight of our favorite, eye-opening discoveries that took place in 2016:

Your breasts start to “eat themselves” after weaning:

“When a woman stops breastfeeding, her breasts go from being full-time, milk-producing factories to regular appendages, in a matter of days. Now a molecular switch has been identified that controls their transformation from milk secretors to cellular eaters that gobble up their dying neighbours. The discovery could provide new insights into what goes wrong in breast cancer.”

Immune cells in your breastmilk go to your baby's thymus to educate the baby's immune system:

“There has previously been some evidence that immune cells in breast milk could pass through the wall of the immature gut, but if active they, like antibodies in milk, were considered likely a form of passive immunity. We now show that in addition to some maternal cells being active in the newborn (i.e., that they do contribute to passive cellular immunity), there are, more importantly, others that go to the thymus where they participate in selection of the neonate’s T cells. In this fashion, the neonate develops cells that recognize antigens against which the mother has been vaccinated – a process we have dubbed maternal educational immunity.”

Your breasts have their own microbiome

“In fact, until just two years ago, scientists had assumed that breast tissue was entirely sterile – meaning it contains no bacteria whatsoever. A 2014 paper changed all of that, when scientists from Western University in Ontario, Canada, revealed that breasts actually contain a diverse community of bacteria, which could contribute to maintenance of healthy breast tissue by stimulating nearby immune cells.”

Breastfed babies have longer telomeres – parts of the chromosome which protect our cells from aging:

“Infants who are exclusively breastfed early in life are more likely by age 4 or 5 to have longer telomeres, the protective bits of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells. In older adults, shorter telomeres are associated with a greater likelihood of developing conditions of aging, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.”

The amount of breastmilk preemies consume in the first 28 days of life has a marked and lasting effect on their brains:

“Premature babies fed more breast milk in the first 28 days of life have better brain development by the time their original birth date arrives, and see benefits to IQ and memory skills later in childhood, a new study suggests. The babies who received more breast milk within the first 28 days of life while they were being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) had increased brain development in certain key areas by the time their original due date arrived, and when measured again later in childhood.”

In the U.S., increased breastfeeding could save 3,340 lives every year…:

“The researchers found that suboptimal breast-feeding was associated with more than 3,340 premature deaths in the U.S. each year, costing the nation $3 billion in medical costs, $1.3 billion in indirect costs, and $14.2 billion in costs related to premature deaths. The majority of the excess deaths and medical costs – nearly 80 percent – were maternal.”

...and more than 800,000 children's lives around the world:

“If virtually every new mother breastfed her baby, more than 800,000 children's lives would be saved every year and thousands of future breast cancer deaths could be avoided, new research reveals. The researchers said their findings suggest breast milk is “a personalized medicine for infants” and millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits provided by breastfeeding.”

Oxytocin – a key breastfeeding hormone – can make men more spiritual:

“A new study from Duke University shows that all-male participants who took oxytocin experienced more positive emotions during meditation. Additionally, men reported a greater sense of spirituality shortly after taking the hormone medication, and also a week later. Oxytocin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and is stimulated during sex, childbirth and breastfeeding.”