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Human Breast Milk: The Ideal Nutrition Source for Your Baby!

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Breast milk prevents infections in babies and reduces the risk of diseases in later life. Learn the health benefits of breast milk for the baby in this article.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Published At September 22, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 3, 2024

Introduction:

The newborn infant has a weak immune system and needs support from the mother. IgG (immunoglobulin G) antibodies are transferred through the placenta, which helps the neonates before birth. All other nutritional requirements after delivery are best fulfilled by breast milk. Breast milk is a biological fluid secreted by the mammary glands during lactation. It is vital for the growth and development of the newborn and is an invaluable source of nutrition for infants. The first milk from the mother’s breast after delivery contains colostrum, which is essential for the baby as it contains immunoglobulins that provide efficient protection from infection and reduce the risk of catching systemic conditions in the future. Some studies suggest higher IQ (intelligence quotient) in babies if breastfeeding is appropriately attempted during the initial days of life.

What Are the Constituents of Human Breast Milk?

Breast milk contains various macronutrients (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and biologically active substances. It comprises antibodies, growth factors, cytokines, antimicrobial compounds, specific immune cells, and multiple nutritional components. Breast milk also contains IgA, IgM, and IgG immunoglobulins. It fulfills the babies' dietary requirements and protects the newborn from infection, inflammation, and oxidative stress during the postnatal period until the babies develop their immune systems.

How Beneficial Is Human Breast Milk?

For babies, it acts as a protective shield against infections and reduces the risk of various systemic diseases, including diabetes, heart problems, obesity, and asthma. It also reduces the risk of certain allergic diseases like asthma and improves an infant's brain development. On the other hand, breastfeeding minimizes the chances of breast and ovarian cancer for the mother. Additionally, it helps build a bond between the mother and the newborn babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends breastfeeding for six months of life and continuing until the mother and baby desire. It is beneficial for both the newborn and the mother.

What Is the Difference in Pumping and Breastfeeding?

Pumping and breastfeeding are the two different ways of providing human breast milk to an infant.

  • Breastfeeding is the process by which an infant feeds directly through the breasts. The infant latches the breast and by suckling, receives milk directly through the breasts. These provide nutrition and enhance the immunity of an infant. While there are several challenges in breastfeeding, such as nipple pain, latching issues, and a need for frequent feedings.

  • Pumping is the process in which the breast pump extracts human breast milk from the mother's breast. It is used by working mothers and by those mothers who face problems with direct breastfeeding. However, there are several challenges in pumping, such as requiring time, planning, and sufficient milk supply maintenance.

Can an Individual Store Human Breast Milk?

If a breastfeeding mother has to return to her work, the issue would be about how to store breast milk for their babies without losing nutrients. Such mothers can follow these guidelines. Various factors affect the safe storage of breast milk, including milk volume and room temperature. The milk is being extracted from the breast, temperature fluctuations inside the refrigerator, and cleanliness of the environment are the factors that affect breast milk storage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these guidelines for safely storing breast milk without compromising with the nutrients.

Following proper sanitization while handling breast milk and appropriate containers free from chemical bisphenol is also essential. These should be used for storing breast milk. Although breast milk can be stored safely, fresh milk is still preferred for feeding newborns. This is because the milk secretion phases keep changing after delivery according to the baby's nutritional needs.

What Are the Phases of Human Breast Milk?

The phases of breast milk are different in which the consistency and nutrients of the milk change during the lactation period. There are mainly three phases of breast milk. The components of each milk stage are specific according to the infants' nutritional requirements. The phases of breast milk are described below:

  • Colostrum: These are produced in the breast milk during the first few days, such as the first two to five days after child delivery. The color of colostrum is yellow and it is sticky and thick. These are rich in antibodies, vitamins, and proteins. These provide immunity to the newborn.

  • Transitional Milk: These are produced during the first two weeks after childbirth. The transitional milk is less sticky and yellow than colostrum.

  • Mature Milk: These are produced after the first two weeks after childbirth. However, this continues as the milk from the breast comes. It is thinner and whiter as compared to colostrum. Mature milk consists of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antibodies. These are important for the growth and development of an infant.

What Can a Mother Do to Produce More Breast Milk?

The factors contributing to low milk supply include differences in breastfeeding timing, smoking, and certain medical conditions. However, there are various ways to increase the formation of breast milk naturally, as follows:

  • Seeking the help of a lactation expert to know how to hold the baby and feed it.

  • Attempting frequent feeding for the babies.

  • Using both breasts for feeding.

  • Massaging the breast before, during, and after breastfeeding.

  • Extract extra milk from the breast after finishing breastfeeding.

  • Apply warm compresses to the breast before feeding.

  • Practicing more breastfeeding and avoiding bottle feeding.

Apart from these practices, some lifestyle modifications also help to increase milk formation. Some of the contributing factors that can help a mother in increasing their milk supply are as follows;

  • Avoiding stress.

  • Drinking more water.

  • Reducing the intake of caffeine.

  • Quitting smoking.

  • Intake of nutritious food.

According to the Centers for Calorie Control and Prevention (CDC), a well-nourished mother needs an additional 330 calories to 400 calories per day, and the overall calorie intake should be 2,000 calories to 2,800 calories per day.

Conclusion:

Breast milk is enclosed with multiple essential components that support growing infants and protect against infections. Various formula milk has gained similarities with breast milk, but still, there is no perfect substitute for breast milk. The constituents of breast milk show multiple changes according to the baby's nutritional needs. Following the guidelines, it can be stored and used later, but it is always best to feed fresh milk. To learn more about human breast milk, people can consult with the healthcare provider online.

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Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham
Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Pediatrics

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breast milk
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