Fresh human milk is an extremely dynamic predigested living food. It is a natural whole food containing all the necessary nutrients to support optimum infant growth and development. The balance of substances in human milk changes during a nursing session and from morning to evening. It also changes dramatically during the first month of life, and its composition differs slightly for each child you have.
Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients (water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals) in adequate quantities to sustain infants for at least the first two years of life. In addition, it contains several types of active white blood cells, which destroy pathogens; enzymes which aid nutrient absorption and inhibits bacterial growth and many other substances, including antibodies, that protect babies from diseases by boosting the immune system while inhibiting the growth of bacteria, parasites and viruses.
Breast-milk also provides hormones, anti-inflammatory compounds and growth factors that cannot be artificially reproduced. Breast milk has been called “white blood” by researchers because it is similar to live unstructured tissue, such as human blood. Milk composition changes dramatically as the baby is suckling. It has more water at the beginning of a feed and is more nutrient-dense ten or more minutes into the feed. After birth, the first milk is called colostrum. It is produced in the mammary gland or breast by the second trimester of pregnancy. The body prepares early in the event of an early birth. Colostrum is a highly nutritious concentrated food that has a laxative effect in infants. It cleans the newborn’s gastro-intestinal tract, provides healthy bacteria and antibodies which prepares the child’s body for oral feeding. The sometimes yellowish appearance of colostrum is due to its high beta carotene content. Colostrum slowly changes into mature human milk, usually by the third week after childbirth.
How Does Breastfeeding Help Babies, Mothers And Families?
The Clements, in their book, “Children” made this simple, but powerful statement about breastfeeding: “It is the purest natural gift of self from mother to child.” Nurturing babies at the breast advances a child’s physical and behavioral development. Breastfeeding has been shown to provide the most natural start for a child and family because the baby is less likely to become ill. Less illness relates to less family time lost from work and financial savings. The mother benefits by having faster uterine involution, faster normalization of maternal hormones. Long duration breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against breast cancer.
The World Health Organization, (WHO) recommendations for infant feeding are (1) mother’s milk from the breast, (2) expressed breast-milk, (3) human milk from a milk bank, or (4) artificial milk.
When we compare breast-milk to artificial milk, we compare a live food to an inert/ non-living food; artificial milk is a fourth rate method of infant feeding, according to the WHO.
A New York based Lactation Consultant wrote about the WHO’s milk rating system and said “The next best thing to mother herself, comes from a breast not a can”. She noted the irony in our health care practices because human milk is not universally available. When people need a blood transfusion, they obtain human blood from a human blood bank, not a fourth rate substitute. There are seven human milk banks in the United States which accept, treat, store and donate milk by prescription only. Brazil and other countries have human milk banking systems incorporated in their public health systems.
There remains a lot to learn about the benefits of mother’s milk on infants, their families and society in general. Fortunately, we can look to the best teacher – Mother Nature herself – for these valuable lessons. By recognizing the nutritional storehouse within each mother, we can give our children the best possible start. The gift of self in mother’s milk.
Gail Stiebel Douma is a Board-Certified Lactation Consultant.
Vol 16 Issue 1 page 3