Milky Matters Blog

G-L Great start and finish!

Nikki Adlam

Hello there and welcome to the next part of the non-definitive with a bit of lateral thinking A-Z of breastfeeding human lactation. I thought I’d offer G-L this time. Here we go then:

G for Ghrelin. This is something to get excited about especially in these days of infant and child obesity. Ghrelin (my spell checker keeps wanting me to change it to gremlin!) is a hormone produced in everybody’s stomachs, plus it is a component of breastmilk. This incredible hormone has 2 functions as it regulates appetite by telling babies when they are hungry, plus research has found that it has a profound effect on long term body fat and weight gain. As with all things, more research needs to be done, but ghrelin being an active component in breastmilk, in addition to being produced in the stomach, may be the reason for breastfed babies to have less body fat than formula fed babies. Formula milk does not contain ghrelin.

H for Help. Yes – most breastfeeding mums need help, though not all. Knowing when to get help is the key. If breastfeeding hurts mums’ breasts and/or nipples; if babies are not putting on weight very easily; if babies are excessively windy and/or refluxy, if babies slip off mums’ breasts through the feeds, and if babies are breastfeeding more than 13 times per 24 hours consistently, these mums and babies need help quickly. Knowing where to get help is also important of course. Midwives and Health Visitors are there to support mums to breastfeed, and the Trusts have the Baby Friendly award now. This award is an indication that staff can offer mums help at a level to support her to breastfeed. Friends with breastfeeding experience can be a great support too. Nikki and I at Breastfeeding Norfolk are both International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. We are volunteers at West Pottergate Breastfeeding Support Centre on Thursday mornings, and we work in private practice in mums’ homes. Just get in touch or for more information check out this website.


I for Immunities. When breastfeeding mums become ill with chest infections or tummy bugs a great process to protect her baby from those pathogens or nasty bacteria happens. This is known as passive immunity. Her body recognises the bacteria, and quickly makes anti-bodies to fight them. The anti-bodies called Secretory IGA slip into the breastmilk via a pathway using breast cells and pass into the baby. It also works the other way. If a baby is “brewing” an infection, and then breastfeeds, the cells recognise the bug within the baby’s saliva, and then make the anti-bodies within the mum’s milk to fight the infection. What a cool system. I have been asked by mums if they should breastfeed their babies when they have tummy bugs particularly. Yes! Do carry on breastfeeding with obvious super hand hygiene of course. Just think of all those active anti-bodies building breastfed babies’ immunity. Magical stuff. 

J for Jaundice. New-born jaundice, or physiological jaundice is very common and normal as over 51% of all babies become jaundiced after a couple of days. The name indicates the colour of the baby’s skin and even the whites of the eyes – think of the French for yellow which is jaune! When babies are born they are carrying a high load of red blood cells that need to be broken down to a substance called bilirubin, which is pushed out of the body in the meconium/black poo and first breast milk poos. If breastfeeding or expressed breastmilk feeding is slow to get started it will also slow down the rate of the meconium passed. Bilirubin is then reabsorbed back into the body making the baby very sleepy as it takes energy to eliminate it from the body. Jaundice symptoms pass within a week or 2. If there is any doubt about a baby’s health then tests will be carried out and treatment will be started quickly. Breastmilk jaundice happens when despite great breastfeeding and therefore babies getting plenty of milk, the bilirubin levels stay elevated. This is not dangerous, and is thought to affect about 2% of breastfed babies. It goes away by about 3 months.

K for Kangaroo Mother Care. I have Dr Nils Bergman who is a specialist in peri-natal neuroscience to thank for introducing me to Kangaroo Mother Care. This is now more universally known as skin to skin care, and its practice is promoted widely for premature and full term babies and to be continued up to any age of baby. No need for me to bore you. If you’d like to see a lovely video that explains how needed and wonderful this care of babies is, go to:

L for Leptin. This hormone is in all of us and tells our brain when we’ve had enough to eat. So, if ghrelin is the start eating button, then leptin is the stop eating button. There’s a lot of interest in this hormone in these days of high obesity levels. Well, who’d have thought it, leptin is in breastmilk too. It is also known as the satiety hormone, and reduces in breastmilk as the baby grows. How sensible this is as it stops breastfed babies from taking too much milk for their stomach capacity. We talk about breastmilk being age specific. Well here’s a great example.