What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
Milk has been hailed by many as the “perfect food”. What are the benefits of breast milk? What are the benefits of breastfeeding? Is it a “miracle food” like many say it is? Studies have shown that children who were breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of life had fewer incidences of infections.
It has also been shown to reduce the risks of allergies, asthma and cancer as adults later on in life. Amazingly, higher IQ scores have even been attributed to breast milk. So what is in the breast milk that makes it so great you ask?
There are several stages of breastmilk. The first involves the production of colostrum. Colostrum is a form of breast milk that is the very first secretion from the breast towards the end of the pregnancy and right after giving birth. It’s quite watery in texture and has a yellowish color but do not let that fool you into thinking it has no nutritional value. In fact, colostrum is a powerhouse mixture of good fats, carbohydrates, antibodies, proteins and other major players of the human immune system. In the milk exists bactericidal mechanisms which protect the baby from infections. These are aided by leukocytes which are uniquely only found in breast milk – no other baby formula or milk has these. A bactericidal is simply a fancy name for nature’s antibiotics.
The newborns digestive system is not able to digest any foods other than milk. Colostrum is perfect for the baby because it packs a lot of nutrition in a tiny easily digestible package. The baby’s gut can readily break down the proteins in the colostrum as well as absorb all the adaptive immune system building properties it has. It’s important to note that although the amount of colostrum produced by mom may not be much, the baby’s stomach (which cannot stretch yet) is tiny so the amount is just right.
About 2 – 4 days after the birth of the baby, mom’s colostrum becomes “transitional milk”. This milk is also thin in consistency but is whitish in color. It has the same nutritional values as well as the antibodies as colostrum however it is richer in fats than colostrum.
The transitional milk turns to “mature milk” and this appears about 10 to 15 days after the baby was born. This milk is mostly made up of water and is bluish in color at the beginning of the feeding and will then turn white as the feeding progresses. The milk at the beginning of the feeding is called foremilk and the milk at the end is called hindmilk. The white color in the hindmilk is due to the fat content.
The nutritional values for breast milk will vary depending on mom’s diet however generally speaking they are as follows:
Mature Milk (per 100 grams)
- 70 calories
- Total Fat is approx. 4g
- Protein content about 1g
- Vitamin C content is 4% of the daily RDA. It also has Vitamins A, D, E, B6 and B12, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid and Choline
- Minerals such as Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese and Selenium
- 7g of carbohydrates
- 7g of sugar
- 3% of the daily recommended value of calcium
The iron found in breast has a higher bio-availability than the iron added to baby formula so the baby will absorb close to 70% of it whilst baby formula has less than half that absorption rate. Do not be worry about the amount of fat or the mention of the word “cholesterol”. Both of these are absolutely vital to the baby’s brain and central nervous system development. It is possible that this accounts for the terrific IQ scores in breastfed vs non breastfed children.
Breast milk also contains several proteins that protect the baby, most noteworthy:
Helps protect the from viruses and bacteria that are coming from mom and dad and anyone around the baby
This protein lessens the growth of certain bacteria, coliforms, yeast and organisms that thrive on iron
This enzyme supports the growth of intestinal flora and protects baby against salmonella and against E. Coli.
Promotes the growth of the beneficial bacteria called lactobacillus. This bacterium helps to create an acidic environment in the babies digestive system where other forms of bad bacteria cannot thrive
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