Breast milk is an amazing, free and convenient source of adequate nutrition for babies. An overview of the properties of breast milk below shows why it is the ideal food for babies.
- Breast milk is packed with about 200 molecules of sugar. These constituents make it a robust fluid serving an array of purposes beneficial to babies and their lactating mothers. Aside from meeting the nutritional needs of the baby, complex sugars in breastmilk provide nourishment for useful microbial flora in the body. Complex sugars, oligosaccharides are thought to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Infection prevention is one attribute of the sugars in breastmilk. Research has proven that the sugar molecules provide a surface on which pathogens such as norovirus latch to prevent contact with the intestinal mucosa and hence preventing serious infections.
- Human milk is regarded as the most complex of all mammalian milk. Cow milk which is usually used as a breast milk substitute can therefore not be to comparable human milk. In terms of constituent, cow milk has only 1/4th of the sugar molecules chocked in breast milk – 200 in human milk as opposed to 50 in cow milk.
- Components of breast milk keep changing with time after birth to meet the nutritional needs of babies and provide appropriate level of protection against infections. In the early weeks after birth, the milk contains a huge amount of antibodies and molecules which prevent the thriving of harmful microbes in the developing immune system of the baby. After about four weeks of lactation, the antibodies in breastmilk reduce while the amount of fats and other nutrients increase to cater for the increasing energy and nutrient needs of the baby. So you see! Breast milk is produced with the needs of the babies ‘in mind’. This disputes the myth that breastmilk is not adequate in water and other nutrients for the child even before his sixth month of life.
- The safety of the milk also contributes to infection prevention especially in areas of poor hygiene and inadequate access to clean water.
- Breast (milk) feeding does not only provide priceless health benefits for the baby but also the mother. While providing children with adequate nutrition and protection against infections, it also plays a part in sexual reproduction by providing free, safe, convenient and effective form of contraception for lactating mothers for up to six months after birth if they exclusively breastfeed. This form of contraception is called Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) and has been proven to be about 98% effective.
Almost every mother can produce adequate breast milk for her child. The role of nutrition during lactation can therefore not be underestimated considering the amount of energy a mother expends during lactation. However, production of milk however does not translate into effective breastfeeding. Mothers therefore need to be supported to exclusively breastfed for the first six months after birth and to continue complementary feeding until the child is 2 years old in order not to deprive babies of the benefits of this nutrient packed food.
Breast (milk) feeding is an investment in both baby and mother considering the roles it plays in the health and development of both baby and mother. The bonding, warmth and affection created between mother and child as a result of breastfeeding cannot be offered by any other form of infant feeding other than breastfeeding.
Related article: How to support new mothers to breast feed their babies