I Took a Test to See What Was in My Breast Milk and the Results Were Fascinating
Thanks to modern technology, you can get tested for pretty much anything. There are at-home tests for gut health, genetic traits and even sleep and stress levels. (Knowledge is power, after all.) So when I learned about Lactation Lab, a company that will analyze your breast milk, I was intrigued. Because for all the talk of how natural it is, breast milk is kind of murky. What’s actually in there, anyway? I was about to start introducing solids to my 6-month-old and was reading up on the gradual process of weaning, which got me thinking about what the hell I had been feeding him this whole time.
Family physician Stephanie Canale, M.D., had a similar question when she went back to work a few weeks after having her second daughter. While some women struggle to pump milk, she had no problem making enough. “I was one of those moms who could produce two six-ounce bottles in about ten minutes,” Dr. Canale tells us. But despite drinking a ton of milk, her daughter wasn’t gaining weight. Desperate for answers, she wondered if her milk was lacking in some nutrients. No resources were available at the time to test her breast milk, but she later discovered that she had iron-deficiency anemia and hereditarily low B12 levels. Could things have been different had she known earlier? She created Lactation Lab so other moms didn’t have to wonder.
The test kit (starting at $99) measures basic nutritional content in a new mom’s breast milk, including calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins. The goal? To optimize breast milk with a few dietary tweaks so that a nursing mom is encouraged to breastfeed for as long as possible, Dr. Canale says.
Here’s how it went down: My kit arrived with easy-to-follow instructions, and over the course of two days, I dutifully filled up the test tubes until I had the required two one-ounce samples of milk. (Note: The instructions ask you to fill the tubes over a period of 24 hours, which might be a piece of cake for some moms, but not for this one. #everydropcounts) I placed my sample in the freezer overnight and then shipped it to the lab in the provided bag. A few weeks later, my results came back, along with nutritional recommendations to improve the quality of my milk.
“This process is not about looking for deficiencies but instead learning about how to optimize your milk,” Dr. Canale emphasizes.
One of the ways I could do that, per Lactation Lab, is to increase my calorie consumption by 300 to 500 calories per day. “Your milk had 63 kcal/dl (18.6 kcal/oz). For reference, the average infant formula has 68 kcal/dl (equivalent to 20 kcal/oz),” my report tells me. Bring on the doughnuts.
Another area where I could use some improvement was my calcium intake. As someone who doesn’t consume dairy, I wasn’t particularly surprised to see that my milk had low levels of this nutrient. But seeing my results made me actually take my calcium supplement every day as well as down a glass of calcium-fortified OJ in the morning.
I was pleased to find out that I didn’t have any traces of heavy metals in my milk (especially in light of the recent news that some brands of prenatal vitamins were found to contain lead, arsenic and cadmium).
Other suggestions included eating more orange vegetables to boost vitamin A levels and more meat or leafy greens to up my iron intake. To see if different women would receive different recommendations, another mom in the PureWow office had her milk tested. She had lower than average B12 levels, and impressively, Dr. Canale was able to tell immediately that she was a vegetarian.
I was reassured that the overall quality of my milk was great, which is music to any nursing mom’s ears. However, with less positive results, would I have felt differently about the test? Could it increase anxiety for some new moms during a time that’s already so stressful? “If I created a test for how diet affects sperm, there’s not a guy in the world who would be stressed,” Dr. Canale counters. “I don’t like the idea that data-driven information would be stressful for women, and I think for a lot of moms, it’s great to have something to control when there are so many unknowns.”
Dr. Canale tells me that if I were to implement the dietary changes suggested, I could see results in my milk in as little as three days. How would this impact my 6-month-old? Well, that’s hard to say without testing my son himself. But it’s worth noting that you don’t have to maintain a perfect diet while breastfeeding. Per Kelly Mom, “Nature is very forgiving—mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect baby even in times of hardship and famine. A poor diet is more likely to affect the mother than her breastfed baby.” Translation? Eating a healthy diet is always a good idea (for nursing moms or otherwise), but it’s possible to provide quality milk without getting your five-a-day.
Anyone concerned that their baby isn’t getting enough nutrition should absolutely check with their pediatrician first. (Reminder: An at-home test is no substitute for seeing a doctor.)
The idea behind breast milk testing is to shine a light on women’s health and raise awareness about something that, quite frankly, is freakin’ hard. Did having my milk analyzed make breastfeeding any easier? Well, no. But it did give me some interesting insights and a nice confidence boost. (Not to mention an excuse to eat more doughnuts.)