Breastfeeding Awareness

Did you know that human breast milk contains every important nutrient that a human baby’s body needs for complete development and survival?

Assalam-o-Alaikum my dear sisters,

In this article, I will provide you a summary of the nutritional composition of human milk and various bioactive factors, including anti-inflammatory and anti-infectious agents, growth factors, prebiotics, and cells. You may not know that infant formula is standardized with a narrow range of composition. Whereas the composition of human milk is dynamic Its composition varies in between feeds, diurnally, mothers and populations. Some factors influencing it’s compositional differences are maternal and environmental, the expression, storage, and pasteurization of milk.

You will be amazed to know that it not only provides complete nutrition to the growing baby but also contains thousands of distinct bioactive molecules to protect our kids against various illnesses, infections, inflammations, and diseases while they grow. It changes its composition during different stages of breastfeeding from colostrum to late lactation. The use of expressed human milk/pasteurized donor milk is increasing among high-risk infants. Most of the mothers in the U.S. usually express and freeze their milk for future infant feedings. However, many milk proteins may get degraded by freeze-thaw cycles and heat treatments. Understanding human milk composition will provide great information to new mothers and it will act as a tool for infant feeding management particularly of fragile and critically ill infants.

Of many important components in human milk necessary for the development and growth of a baby, a few stand out. About 90% of breast milk is composed of water and the rest of 10% is composed of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Let’s explore how these nutritional components help your baby develop and grow.

Free water – Our body needs water for every mechanism happening in our body. It keeps the baby hydrated, helps in regulating body temperature, protects organs and lubricates joints.

Proteins – Proteins help in building, strengthening and repairing our body. They are also used in the manufacturing of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. The proteins present in human milk are easy to digest for babies and plays an important role in growth and development.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates present in breast milk in the form of sugars known as lactose are a major source of energy required for growth and development. Lactose present in breast milk is linked to greater brain development in babies. When compared to cow’s milk, the amount of lactose is higher in human breast milk. Oligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrates found in breast milk promote healthy bacteria in the baby’s gut and fight of diarrhea in infants.

Fats/Lipids – lipids are present in breast milk up to 4% and provide 50% of the calories from milk, a major source of energy, fatty acids, and cholesterol. They play an important role in the development of the baby’s nervous system, brain, vision, and aids weight gain.

Antibodies – antibodies present in breast milk fight off several bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus causing diseases and illnesses. Breast milk is known to be the first vaccination for your child. These immunoglobulins present in your milk may prevent your child from a common cold, diarrhea, vomiting, ear infections and several other serious illnesses. IgA (secretory immunoglobulin) is the main antibody present in your milk which protects lungs and intestines from foreign bodies (germs). These antibodies are of most important if you have a premature child or if your child is exposed to daycare.

Hormones – Hormones control many important functions in the human body including growth and development, metabolic activities, pain, stress, blood pressure and many more. Enzymes – Around 40 different enzymes are found in your breast milk helping our body in different ways such as helping in breaking down fats or proteins during the process of digestion and defending your baby against illnesses.

Vitamins and Minerals – vitamins present in your milk help in maintaining healthy bones, skin, and eyes of your baby. If your diet is low in Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, and folate, please consult your doctor or a nutritionist about supplements you may need to add in your daily routine while you are breastfeeding. Breast milk is abundant in minerals, some of them are iron, calcium, sodium, zinc, magnesium, chloride and selenium. Minerals are important for building strong bones, blood circulation, muscles, and nerves.

Table: Composition of some of the important nutrients present in human breast milk

Component Mean value for mature breastmilk (per 100mL)
Energy (kJ) 280
Energy (kcal) 67
Protein (g) 1.3
Fat (g) 4.2
Carbohydrate (g) 7.0
Sodium (mg) 15
Calcium (mg) 35
Phosphorus (mg) 15
Iron (mcg) 76
Vitamin A (mcg) 60
Vitamin C (mg) 3.8
Vitamin D (mcg) 0.01

Source: NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia, 2003

I hope this article will help many new mothers to decide why breastfeeding is important and how can it help with growth and development of their babies.

Drop your comments and valuable suggestions in the comment box below. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog for future updates about the Breastfeeding Awareness campaign.

Thanks for reading my article,

Tayaba Sarfraz

Dr. Tayaba Sarfraz

Medical Doctor | Medical Educationist & Writer Mommy of 2 | Master chef | Health Enthusiast

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