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Babies who aren’t breastfed miss out on an important sensory experience

Sara Chana Silverstein is a master herbalist (AHG), classical homeopath, board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), businesswoman, wife and mother of 7 children,& TV expert

Is breastfeeding a boring routine for babies? The answer to this question appears to be an emphatic "no way!" because the sensory experience associated with breastfeeding is vast, especially in comparison with formula feeding.

One of the sensory experiences is taste and your baby gets a mighty blast of different tastes at each feed. Studies now have confirmed that what moms have known for generations; what a mother eats does affect the taste of the mother's breast milk.

Scientists in Denmark decided to see if mothers' milk changes taste, so they fed flavored capsules to 18 breastfeeding women. Then they took several milk samples throughout the day and found that what moms eat can flavor breast milk for up to eight hours. The research also showed that the time it took for specific flavors to arrive and disappear in the breast milk varied significantly between women, demonstrating that different women digest and break down their food differently. (But we all know that we digest food differently than our friends. I personally will gain weight from eating a dozen cookies, while my close friend will not. Not fair, but back to breastfeeding and flavors.)

The study used pungent flavors like licorice, caraway and mint. What was interesting is that the licorice flavor peaked strongly in breast milk two hours after the moms ingested the capsule, as did the caraway seed flavor. Mint appeared in the moms' milk at lower concentrations at first, but then peaked later, after six hours of ingestion. All the various flavors vanished by the eight-hour mark. Also fascinating is the finding that a blander flavor, like banana, never came through in the breast milk. So, the conclusion of this study is that babies who are exposed to a variety of different tastes during breastfeeding receive a "Pu-Pu Platter" of flavors every time they eat, an experience which is unfortunately lacking in the sensory education of formula-fed babies.

One of my main concerns with exclusively formula feeding a baby is that the formula tastes the same at each feed. Imagine that I cooked you a fabulous omelet with potatoes and homemade bread for breakfast; yummy. But when I serve you the same fabulous meal for lunch and dinner, for week after week... get my point? Would you look forward to your next meal, or would you tune out and just eat till you felt full? I believe that this is the experience of babies who are only offered formula. In the study's conclusion the researchers said, "That human milk provides a reservoir for time-dependent chemosensory experiences to the infant," showing us that it is important for babies to experience different tastes and smells as they develop.

So, even though getting breastfeeding to work for you and your baby may be really hard and challenging at first, finding the correct help and guidance will benefit your baby in ways you may not have even thought of.

Photo credit: IT Stock Free/Polka Dot/360/Getty Images
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