Breast Milk Nutrition Part 2

Breast Milk Nutrition Part 2It’s National Nutrition Month so we’re exploring the nutrition in your baby’s breast milk. As your baby’s best first food, breast milk contains a wealth of nutrients that not only help her grow and develop now, but also support her health for a lifetime. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of your baby’s life, and continuing to one year or beyond. Today we’re rounding out our discussion of breast milk nutrition by breaking down the most potent categories and explaining their nutritive value.

Water: H2O is essential hydration for your baby since water is a large part of her body composition and she is not getting water from any other source.

Protein: The two types of protein found in breast milk are whey and caseins. Breast milk protein typically contains 60-80% whey, which is much easier for babies to digest than caseins. In comparison, cow’s milk and formula have a higher concentration of caseins that may cause more gastrointestinal problems for babies. Protein helps build muscles and bones and is vital to a strong immune system.

Fat: Fat is crucial to your baby’s growth and development. The fat content in your breast milk changes during each feeding. The foremilk that comes first is rich in carbohydrates (mainly lactose) and water while the hind milk that follows has more fat and therefore calories. That is why feeding on one side until your baby reaches the hind milk is important. Fatty acids and cholesterol help your baby’s brain develop (as well as nervous system and eyes) and are linked to improved cognition among breastfed babies. Fats also aid the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates: Lactose or milk sugar is the main carbohydrate found in breast milk. Carbohydrates are used to energize the body for all metabolic functions including growth. Lactose promotes healthy flora in your baby’s gut and can fight off harmful bacteria there as well.  It also helps your baby absorb essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Oligosaccharides are another carbohydrate that supports a healthy immune system in the gut as well.

Antibodies: Many of the other categories of breast milk nutrition have protective properties for your baby. Additionally, antibodies help prevent your baby, who has little-to-no immune system at birth, from getting sick. Secretory Immunoglobulin A is the main antibody found in breast milk. It forms a protective barrier in your baby’s intestines and lungs to keep pathogens away from these critical organs and out of the bloodstream.

Enzymes: Enzymes help your baby break down breast milk during digestion so it can be metabolized and put to good use throughout her body. There are around 40 different types of enzymes that have been identified in breast milk including lactoferrin, lipase, amylase and protease.

Vitamins and Minerals: Breast milk is rich in vitamins and minerals that help your baby with nearly every function of her tiny little body. The alphabet of vitamins including A, B, C, D, E and K are swimming around in your breast milk. Minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, zinc and chloride, among others.

Hormones: Scientists are not positive about the purpose of hormones in breast milk but there are many of them including prolactin, relaxin, endorphins and thyroid hormones, among others. Some of these are required for milk production, while others are a natural part of a woman’s body or may have helped during the reproductive and childbirth stages.

Sources: Parenting Science, Very Well, Baby Center, American Pregnancy and Rehydrate