I have what some might consider a morbid curiosity about what’s going on in my body. I’d jump at the chance to have 24/7 access to an x-ray machine or to be able to track my body’s most microscopic inner-workings the way some people monitor their steps and calorie intake.
So when my doctor offered me the opportunity to find out exactly what was in my breast milk, I was intrigued.
The Lactation Lab is the brainchild of Dr. Stephanie Canale (who happens to be my son’s paediatrician). It’s a service for breastfeeding mums that allows you to mail in a small sample of expressed milk, and get a complete nutritional breakdown of that liquid gold in return. Your results include a breakdown of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat, as well as nutrients like vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. It can also detect if the presence of harmful substances, like lead and mercury. (And if you haven’t already, you should read what happened when one mum learned about her daughter’s lead poisoning by having her milk tested).
However, for all my enthusiasm, I did have some reservations about getting my milk tested.
Mums are under incredible pressure to do whatever it takes to ensure that our kids are healthy—and between pregnancy and breastfeeding, that means scrutinising everything we consume. I thought of the pangs of guilt I felt when I took a single sip of my husband’s wine during pregnancy. Or the worry that wracked me when I realised my affinity for cheese could be causing my son’s gastrointestinal issues. Would my results reveal that my crappy eating habits were putting my kid at some disadvantage? If my milk fell short nutritionally, how could I not take it personally?
Fortunately, Dr. Canale assured me that The Lactation Lab does not test for chips and donuts (PHEW!), and I decided that the potential benefits to having my milk tested outweighed my apprehensions. I sent in two one-ounce vials of milk (which, I’ll admit, as someone with a fraught relationship with pumping, I was a little pained to spare even such a small amount of milk). A couple of weeks later, I got my results via email.
A colourful PDF clearly illustrated where I stood on each nutrient. It also described the benefit of each nutrient and recommendations for how much of it to consume and where to find it. From my results, I learned that, even though I’ve been diligently popping a prenatal vitamin every morning, there were a few areas, such as vitamin C and calcium, where I needed additional supplementation. I immediately went out and bought a gallon of milk and a sack of oranges. And I definitely took my results as justification to eat as much cheese as I want, which alone was worth having my milk tested.
I can’t say I didn’t feel any guilt about my results (hey, I was raised Catholic, it’s basically my default emotion), but overall I found my results helpful. I’m able to better identify what my son and I need. I’m still eating plenty of chips and donuts (after all, breastfeeding burns hella calories), but I’m also making sure I pick up the slack in areas I was lacking nutritionally, both with my diet and with the solid foods we’ve begun to introduce.
If you’re curious about your breast milk, you can hook yourself up with a Basic Test Kit or a Premium Test Kit. In addition to testing your milk’s basic nutritional content, the premium kit screens for toxins arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.