Breast Milk Ensures Children's Survival

"People always talk about how stress can undermine breast-milk production. In this situation, it's very important to see that it's not about external stress, but it's about internal management of stress."

"You hear stories of mothers breast-feeding during disastrous situations, such as in the blitz on London in World War II. This was obviously a very stressful situation, but she wasn't internalizing it to the point that she could not do anything."

"A huge advantage to breast-feeding is that it is available in any emergency situation," says one expert from the Breastfeeding Center of Boston Medical Center in Boston. "In the Superdome in New Orleans, there was no formula, and women who were not breast-feeding had nothing to feed their infants."

"In times of natural disasters, when water and food sources become contaminated or scarce, breast-feeding is a lifesaving measure for our smallest survivors," says Ann Peery, a registered nurse and lactation consultant at the Women's Center at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.

It is also possible that the very act of breast-feeding could have kept Kim's fear -- and that of her children -- in check.

"Breast milk contains naturally occurring substances to calm the nursing child and help them to sleep, which would have been imperative to help keep, especially the older child, from panic," Collins says. "It would have benefited Mrs. Kim as well, because when a woman nurses, a hormone is released that we know as the 'mothering hormone' -- prolactin -- which would have helped Mrs. Kim stay calmer."

Experts say it is also remarkable that Kim was able to continue to breast-feed her children with little or no food for herself.

"Although the mother herself probably had a very limited food intake during this time, a lactating woman is able to produce an adequate milk supply based on the demand for the milk for a considerable amount of time even under the most extreme circumstances," Geraghty says.

"Think about running a marathon -- it takes a lot out of you, but you can do it," Hopkinson says.

"Mothers can, and often do, operate of a calorie deficit. There is no evidence that a 24-hour fast reduces milk production."

Kim's body was apparently also able to adjust to providing enough milk for both of her children to remain healthy.

"In the vast majority of cases, the baby determines how much milk it needs from the mother," Hopkinson says. "It's really quite amazing how some mothers breast-feed triplets without any help."

"Who knows what the human body is capable of."

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