At some point in life, we all must have heard or read about the endless benefits breast milk provides to a baby. From providing optimal nutrition to supporting their growth and development - breast milk offers it all. But, have you wondered why? What is it that makes breast milk an ideal first food for babies? Let’s find out the answers to these questions in this article!
The Magical Nutrients In Breast Milk For Your Baby
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommend that newborns must be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life with no solids or liquids (including water).1
In short, breast milk is a one-man army that provides all the energy and nutrients a baby needs in the first few months of life.2 Let’s now understand what makes it so nutritious.
What’s Found In Breast Milk?
87% to 88% of breast milk is made up of water alone. The other components present in breastmilk include nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals which are essential for your baby’s proper growth and development.3 Here’s a quick look at the nutritional benefits of these macro and micronutrients.
Carbohydrates account for approximately 40% of the total calories found in breast milk and help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your baby’s gut. The main carbohydrate found in breast milk is lactose which helps your baby absorb more calcium and minerals. 3,4
During childbirth, breast milk contains 14 to 16 g/L of protein that slowly decreases to 8 to 10 g/L in 3-4 months and 7 to 8 g/L after 6 months. It contains two types of proteins (whey and casein), which are important for your little one’s growth and development. In breast milk, whey is found in higher amounts during early lactation and is easily digested by babies. Casein, on the other hand, is the main source of calcium and phosphate. Furthermore, there are various other proteins that are necessary for your baby’s health such as:3,4
- Secretory Immunoglobulin A (sIgA) - sIgA contributes to about 80–90% of the total immunoglobulins (antibodies that fight off diseases) in breast milk. And approximately 0.5 to 1 g per day of this protein is consumed by babies who are exclusively breastfed. It protects your baby by preventing the entry of microorganisms into the body.3,5
- Lactoferrin - It is an antimicrobial compound and inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria. Lactoferrin along with sIgA accounts for 26% of the protein in breast milk.3
- Lysozyme - This enzyme protects your baby against harmful bacteria and is also seen to have an antiviral effect.5
- α-Lactalbumin - It is essential for the biosynthesis of lactose (milk production) and also facilitates the absorption of calcium and zinc.3
Fats are the most important component of breast milk, which account for almost 50% of a baby’s nutritional supply. The fat in breast milk helps in the growth and development of the baby’s central nervous system.3
Omega-3 fatty acid is one of the many essential fatty acids and an important component of breast milk. The active forms of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which offer immense health benefits to the baby.6
But, the most important form is DHA which accounts for about 97% of all omega-3 fats in the brain and 93% in the retina. It is crucial for a newborn's brain and eye development from the third trimester of pregnancy and upto 18 months after birth.7 However, the good news is that, with a simple DHA test, pregnant and lactating mothers can measure their DHA levels quickly!
4. Vitamins And Minerals
Breast milk also contains vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, and chlorine. However, the presence of iron and zinc in breast milk is low, but their absorption and bioavailability are high.4
Let’s Wrap It Up…
A perfect blend of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals - breast milk is a nutritional essential for all babies. Right from your baby's brain development to fighting off infections like a pro, breast milk can do it all. So, if you’ve ever wondered what makes breast milk so special, you now have the answer to it!
But, what can you do to find out if your body is getting enough DHA, especially when you’re breastfeeding? Well, all thanks to modern technology and recent advances in the medical field, you can now test the DHA levels in breast milk from the comfort of your home.
If you’re curious about tracking the DHA levels in your breastmilk, then you must definitely give LifeCell’s OmegaScore - N at-home self-collection kit a try! With only a few drops of breast milk, this kit can help you analyze your DHA levels - order your kit here.