I recently heard about a test that is being promoted to mums who sign up for a Bounty pack, that will be terrifying new mums whilst ripping some of them off.
When Mums sign up for one of these packs, which are promoted as being full of “freebies” (read marketing junk) and the way to get child benefit forms (or there’s the Post Office!), one of the ways Bounty makes money is to sell on the mums contact details. Yes, that’s right, they SELL your contact details. For more info, see this article.
One of the companies that can contact new mums in this way is offering the “My Milk Count” test to “make sure your breast milk contains the correct balance of essential nutrients”. The test kit costs £99 a go normally but some mums are being offered it for free through Bounty.
Many new mums worry that they don’t have enough milk or that their milk is not enough for their baby – these are very very common concerns in the early weeks with a new baby, and the sellers of this kit are tapping into that anxiety and ripping off new mums.
That would be bad enough if the test could actually do what it suggests. But the whole concept of this test shows a lack of understanding of the basic physiology of lactation.
The fat content of human breastmilk changes during the course of each feed, during the day and from week to week. This is because fat molecules tend to stick to the inside of the milk producing ducts (fat is sticky! Have you every tried to wipe up a spill of oil in the kitchen?). So the more full a mama’s breasts are, the lower the fat content of the milk (NOTE – this is NOT a bad thing).
This means that breastmilk easily adjusts to provide just what the baby needs.
In hotter weather, a baby able to breastfeed as they need will feed more often, with more little feeds that may not fully empty the breasts, and a mama’s body will respond by producing more milk. Result: baby gets all the fluid they need.
In the evening, a new mama will often find that her baby is fussy and her breasts feel soft and empty. Cue news mums panicking about their supply! But what’s happening is that baby is getting “gold top” milk with lots of cream, great for encouraging them to sleep longer at night.
The fat content of the milk a baby gets also depends on how well they are feeding at the breast. Because the fat molecules sticky, the more a baby works their jaw, massaging the breast as they feed with a good, deep latch, the more fat molecules will be in the milk that comes out.
In the context of this test, the time a mum will find it easiest to express milk (i.e. when her breasts are full) will naturally be when her breastmilk is lower in fat.
When breastfeeding, there are ways of increasing the fat content of the milk baby is getting. Good breastfeeding support from properly trained breastfeeding supporters is key if a mum is concerned about whether her baby is getting enough. For ways of telling if baby is getting enough milk, see here.
Can the amount of different essential fatty acids vary in breastmilk and be changed? Yes and yes.
A mother can also improve the balance of fatty acids in her milk by eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of green veg, polyunsaturated vegetable oils and oily fish. Does a mother need a blood test to know whether she is eating the “perfect” diet? Of course not! But the breastmilk of a mother with a sub-optimal diet will still contain a vast range of beneficial ingredients not to be found in infant formula!
Research has also shown that the fatty acid composition of breastmilk changes depending on the child’s age. The breastmilk of a mother nursing a one year old will be more appropriate for that baby than the breastmilk of a mother nursing a one week old, and vice versa.
And with this test, they are not doing samples over a few days, from different stages of different feeds. They are looking at one sample! They are not even giving results based on the baby’s age. They may well be using the results in a large scale study comparing different fat levels in breastmilk from different women. But what they are doing, very unethically, is telling individual women that their milk is “sub-optimal” based on the result of one test, that tells us nothing of use to that mother.
This will terrify many new mothers, causing huge amounts of wholly unnecessary stress and could well lead to many introducing infant formula, the far more inferior milk!
Breastmilk is a good source of essential fatty acids for babies. Let’s remember that, please!
~~ I have now found out that this company is the commercial arm of a group carrying out a research study from Stirling University. I can only conclude that whoever gave ethics approval to this research knows nothing about breastfeeding and did not do any research before signing off on approval. THIS MUST CHANGE. Stirling Uni, get your act in gear! ~~
What affects the amount of fat or calories in mom’s milk? Kellymom. 2011. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/milk/change-milkfat/ [Accessed 15 May 2014]
Guidelines for offering water to breastfed babies. Kellymom.com. 2011. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/baby-water/ [Accessed 15 May 2014]
Cluster Feeding and Fussy Evenings. Kellymom.com. 2011. http://kellymom.com/parenting/parenting-faq/fussy-evening/ [Accessed 15 May 2014]
How does a mother’s diet affect her milk? Kellymom.com. 2011. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/mothers-diet/mom-diet/ %5BAccessed 15 May 2014]