Breastfeeding is not the right, most feasible choice for everyone for a myriad of reasons.
This post is only intended to provide some background information on the nutritional benefits of breastmilk because I find it to be incredible, not to judge those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed their child.
The composition of breastmilk is extensive – it literally contains hundreds of nutritional elements. Breastmilk is recognised as being nutritionally complete as it contains all the essential nutrients a baby needs during the first 6 months of life including; fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, minerals and water.
Breastmilk’s nutrition changes over the duration of lactation in order to reflect the baby’s needs. Colostrum (‘the first breastmilk’) is a thick, yellowish fluid that is high in protein, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A and E. It is produced in the first few days of birth and then again later in pregnancy. The benefits to the baby receiving colostrum are very high. Around day three the breastmilk will change to a thinner, white appearance. This milk is lower in fat and kilojoules and is very thirst quenching for the baby. Then, as the feed progresses the milk will become higher in fat and kilojoules to reflect the growing childs’ needs.
Fat – Half of the kilojoules in breastmilk come from fat. This fat is made up of essential omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, including the omega 3 fatty acid “docosahexaenoic acid” and the omega 6 fat called “arachidonic acid”. Research links these fats to playing an important role in brain and eye development.
Protein – Most of the protein in human breastmilk comes as either whey protein or casein protein. More milk casein protein appears in human breastmilk as your baby’s digestive system matures. Most of the casein in human breastmilk is A2 type beta-casein. There are also proteins in breastmilk that stimulate the development of a baby’s intestinal lining (epidermal growth factors) and improve vitamin and mineral availability (lactoferrin), so that they are able to digest and absorb nutrients more easily.
Carbohydrate – Lactose is the main carbohydrate in breastmilk and is an important source of energy for a developing brain. Lactose enhances calcium absorption and promotes growth of lactobacilli in the gut (also known as good bacteria). Breastmilk also contains other carbohydrates called oligosaccharides (carbohydrates), which help protect against infection and assist in the development of a healthy gut.
Vitamins/minerals/hormones/growth factors – Breastmilk contains all of the essential vitamins and minerals your baby needs during his or her first six months of life. Interestingly, if a mother has good Vitamin D levels during pregnancy, her breastfed baby will continue to receive enough Vitamin D provided he or she receives sufficient casual exposure to sunlight (eg. Going for a stroll or hanging the washing out together).
Every-time a mother breastfeeds she releases oxytocin. Research shows that oxytocin decreases the heart rate and blood pressure of both the mother and child – which has a calming effect! Quite remarkable!
Water – Breastmilk has a high water content and supplies enough water to keep babies hydrated. So breastfed infants do not need extra fluids even in hot weather (as long as they have access to the breast).
Breastmilk and immunity – Research suggests that breastfeeding decreases the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases. Through her breastmilk a mother will pass on many things that help a baby develop a more efficient immune system. These include; antibodies, white blood cells, lactoferrin, lysozyme, oligosaccharides and pre/pro biotics.
A mother will make antibodies against germs herself when she comes into contact with something in the environment. These will then be passed to the baby through her breastmilk – protecting against an array or illnesses they might be commonly exposed too. Even though this is amazing and will reduce the severity of illness in a baby, breastfeeding does not provide a substitute for immunisation. It does not give your baby total immunisation from vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria and measles.
Breastmilk also assists in neurodevelopment and recent research suggests it decreases an infant’s risk of become obese later in childhood.
Pretty incredible right?
Images sourced via pinterest.