Share this Image On Your Site
Breast milk contains two key factors that support the child's immunity = probioticsand biocompatible antigens. Antigens support immunity by prompting the body to produce antibodies that reject foreign substances. But being biocompatible, they will not make the baby reject the mother's breast milk proteins (which are also foreign).
This make breast milk far superior to infant formula. Yet a mother's milk is only as good as the mother. The quality of breast milk depends on her state of health and the nutrition that she gets.
Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs for optimal growth - proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, growth factors, prebiotics, probiotics and more. It further contains digestive enzymes, including lactase for digesting lactose. This makes breast milk highly digestible and its nutrients easily assimilated by the infant. In contrast, cow's milk and infant formula lack the digestive enzyme, lactase. This often causes digestion problems with symptoms such as colic, constipation and diarrhoea.
A few key qualities of breast milk make it an ideal infant food that cannot be replaced. These include:
Besides being highly nutritious, breast milk delivers its nutrients in balanced proportions:
Breast milk has a pH of between 7.0 (neutral) and 7:4 (slightly alkaline), which is consistent with the pH balance of a healthy human. In contrast, both cow's milk (pH 6.4 to 6.8) and infant formula (pH 6.8) are slightly acidic. This acidity compromises the baby's nutrient assimilation and metabolism.
In this slightly alkaline environment, the calcium of breast milk is more bioavailable to the body. Thus, a breastfed baby is never short on calcium, even though breast milk does not contain as much calcium as cow's milk. This explains why drinking plenty of cow's milk for calcium is partially responsible for the epidemic of osteoporosis.
Breast milk provides omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the ideal ratio of 1:1. In contrast, cow's milk has more pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats. The level is much higher in the milk obtained from grain-fed cows than that from pasture-fed cows.
This is why babies fed cow's milk have high incidences of inflammatory conditions like asthma and eczema. These problems go away once cow's milk is stopped.
Human growth emphasises brain development rather than the development of a big, muscular body. Thus, a human baby takes 2 years to become an adult, whereas a calf grows to adult size in just two years.
To promote brain development, human breast milk has significantly higher levels of "brain foods" compared to the milk of other mammals. Breast milk has 30 percent more fat than cow's milk; but its protein is only one third that of cow's milk.
Breast milk has higher levels of smart fats like omega-3 DHA, cholesterol and phospholipids. It also contains minerals that help brain function, such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. These and other nutrients help the baby's brain weight to double at 15 months and triple at 24 months.
This amino acid plays a key role in brain development - and breast milk has a lot more tryptophan than cow's milk. Inside the brain, tryptophan is transformed to serotonin that calms the infant. Serotonin is further transformed to melatonin that puts the infant to sleep. Breastfed babies are calmer and they sleep better.
Sleep is critical to the baby's brain development. From birth to two years of age, an infant's brain-wave frequency is predominantly in the slowest delta range of 0.5Hz to 4Hz. The infant is in a state of calm-sleep and it has incredible capacity to download voluminous information from the environment. For instance, very young children instinctively observe the behaviour patterns and beliefs of their parents, adopting them as their own subconscious "truths". This is an important aspect of "conscious parenting", which we shall discuss later.
Breastfed babies fall sick less often because of protective factors found in breast milk:
A short-chain saturated fatty acid, which destroys many types of virus, bacteria, parasites and other harmful microorganisms. The only other food rich in lauric acid is coconut oil and this is one reason why infant formula is often manufactured with coconut oil;
A form of protein that also has powerful anti-virus, anti-bacteria and anti. fungal properties. Lactoferrin is found in various body secretions, such as milk, saliva, tears and mucus. Human colostrum or "frst milk" has the highest concentration of lactoferrin, followed by breast milk;
Immunoglobulin A (/gA) and immunoglobulin G (1gG)
Antibodies used by the body's immune system to identify and neutralise "invaders" such as bacteria and viruses.
Enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria by damaging their cell walls. They are found in body secretions like milk, saliva, tears and mucus.
or "friendly bacteria" and prebiotics that support the growth of probiotics.
These elements act together to create a strong immune defence. Besides directly protecting an infant against harmful microorganisms, breast milk acts as a powerful epigenetic programmer of the child's immune system.
A key organ in immunity is the thymus gland, whose role is to train immune cells called T lymphocytes (T-cells). A baby's immune cells are born "naive". They are inexperienced and they need to be transformed into competent adult-grade immune cells. To achieve this, Nature parks 80 percent of the thymus immune cells in the infant's intestines for priming by two key epigenetic programmers in breast milk - biocompatible antigens and probiotics.
Once trained, the mature immune cells migrate to other sites such as the lungs, nose, kidneys, bladder, sex organs and skin to defend the body against various microbial invasion.
Weight gain in the first year of life is mainly fat weight. Breastfed babies typically weigh about 10 percent less than formula-fed babies and they are far less likely to become overweight or obese as they grow older. This is because breast milk and breastfeeding have many elements that optimise metabolism and prevent obesity:
Breastfeeding is self-regulatory and it allows the baby to decide how much to feed. The infant is guided by the hunger-satiety instinct and consumes just what it needs. There is no possibility of being overfed by an anxious parent; there are no false alarms - which often happens when the baby cries because of discomfort or other reasons, only to be fed by the mother thinking that the baby is hungry.
In breast milk induces sleep. An infant would fall asleep within 15 minutes of breastfeeding and would not wake up for two to three hours. Again, this prevents overfeeding.
Breastfed infants take more frequent but smaller feeds. This reduces the surge in blood glucose levels after feeding. As a result, the body produces less insulin and this removes the risk of insulin resistance, which could otherwise programme the infant for obesity later in life.
Beyond providing your infant with optimal nutrition, breastfeeding is about "conscious parenting"- where parents do their best to develop their children to their maximum potential. This is a holistic approach that considers the child's physical, social and mental development. We not only want our children to be healthy, but also intelligent, capable, creative and able to relate well with others.
Human behaviour, brain function and hormones affect each other. For example, mental stress can trigger hormonal changes in the body. Also, hormonal changes can affect brain function and result in behavioural problems such as mood disorders. This is what happens when women experience depression after childbirth. In extreme cases, hormonal changes can even cause psychiatric illnesses.
Breastfeeding is epigenetic programming that impacts all these three areas - behaviour, brain function and hormonal secretions. This is why breastfeeding is far superior to all other modes of infant feeding.
Greater bonding between mother and child is one of the chief benefits of breastfeeding. The baby's cry and the act of breastfeeding release the hormone oxytocin from the mother's brain. Oxytocin calms the mother and bonds her to the baby. In return, the baby is pacified and the satisfied hunger strengthens the bond. This bonding is important not just for good relationships between mother and child, but crucial for the survival of the human race.
This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.