Breastmilk is unquestionably the perfect food for young humans as it is specifically designed for them!
I really had very little clue as to the value of my breastmilk, when I first started breastfeeding. I had heavily rested on the fact that someone else had done the research. I figured women had been doing this gig for thousands of years and that there might be a good reason for it. It was only years later, in my studies to become a doula, that I looked into it for myself. As I read, I became so wonderfully reassured of my decision to breastfeed where I could. I was so captivated by how wonderfully created our bodies really were.
Now, this is not meant to be a guilt-fest. We get enough of that to deal with. I breastfed some babies and not others and my kids are turning out just fine (some of the time). If you don’t breastfeed or are only breastfed for a short spot, I support you. However, if you do breastfeed, have a look at all the fun things our breastmilk does to ‘love on’ our babies. The more I learn, the more I’m excited about and captivated by the way our bodies are created.
Let's have a look at some of this fun stuff our boobs can do.
Did you know that…..
1. Breast milk is species-specific
When I was weaning my first baby, again… clueless... I thought I was supposed to be focussing on transitioning her to a high-calcium solids diet (because that’s what she’d been getting all those months through my breast milk), right? That’s when I was reminded I was not a dairy cow.
In fact, I learned that all milk that mammals produce carries varying proportions of nutrients, each specific to the species it is nourishing. But, whilst all mammal’s milk contains four basic properties - protein, carbohydrates (sugar), fats, and water, it’s the varying proportions of each of these that distinguish one from another. Now that’s just clever.
2. Breastmilk contains protein that is digestible
The primary protein in cow’s milk is Casein. Cows have 300 times the levels of this protein than that found in human milk. With a lower casein level, human milk is therefore much easier to break down and digest. In fact lactalbumin, the whey protein in breast milk forms soft, curds that your baby can readily metabolize. Whereas, high protein levels in, for instance, cow’s milk, make it difficult for a human baby’s kidneys to handle.
And let’s not forget cysteine and taurine, two amino acids found in human milk. These little beauties ensure optimal physical development and are vital for the brain development of the baby.
3. Breast milk is LOW in fat
Human milk contains relatively little fat compared to other mammals species.
Fats are essential for the everyday workings of a baby’s body. They are essential for the brain and eye development and cellular structure. In fact, research has shown that babies who are breastfed, are smarter! (by about 8IQ points) Ok, so they still might not be an Einstein, but that’s pretty cool news to hear. Why? I hear you ask. DHA (a lipid) is present in breastmilk, and because DHA makes up for 70% of our grey matter, that contributes to our ‘smartness.
Did you know too that babies exclusively breastfed are unlikely to become obese, either as a baby, a child, or an adult? Now, this is cool. In fact, breastfed babies are at a reduced risk in later life of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other conditions linked to obesity.
4. Breast milk boosts immunity
Ok, this is where I reckon it gets crazy. Listen to this... Colostrum (you know that yellowy, thick secretion that arrives directly after birth?) is particularly rich in immunoglobulins. It protects your baby’s coating of her gut AND… wait for it…. encourages the baby’s system to produce its own immunoglobulins.
Also, antibodies, some of which contribute up to 5000 times that of cow’s milk, are present in breastmilk. AND those sugars we spoke of earlier are important here too - they substitute for the sugars on the cell walls where pathogens usually attach.
All these ensure bub is protected from an array of diseases and infections, tummy bugs, and UTIs (urinary tract infections) until her own immunity has developed.
5. Breast milk is exceptionally sweet
Yes! it’s full of sugar. Lactose is the one (a combination of glucose and galactose). Lactose is super clever because it delivers twice as much energy to your baby as that Mars Bar.
Breastfed babies’ brains (say that quickly 6 times) are more alert and their bodies more easily aroused than bottle-fed babies. We know this, don’t we? because we are often told the bottle will help them ‘sleep through’. This is true, it does. But, if you do breastfeed, whilst bleary-eyed, console yourself with the knowledge that your baby will in all likelihood walk sooner and be better coordinated than if she were bottle-fed because her long-term brain development will be superior.
The high sugar content of breastmilk also means that she’ll be hungry again sooner….. sorry ladies.
6. Your nipples are filled with good bacteria
Towards the end of pregnancy, your nipples start growing bifidobacteria (good bacteria that protects the gut). Sounds horrendous, but I can assure you, you won't even know it’s there.
As your baby suckles and swallows, these good bacteria colonize in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract. This remarkable feature aids in digestion and sets the scene for a lifetime of healthy gut activity.
7. Breastmilk changes to suit bub’s needs
Cholesterol is present in high quantities in colostrum. It’s believed that the presence of this may contribute to efficient cholesterol metabolism in adult life. Handy if you LOVE saturated fat.
Colostrum too has properties that are ideally suited to your newborn baby’s unique needs. Its laxative effect rids the baby’s gut of meconium, then replaces it with the growth of friendly bacteria.
None of this is to mention the fact that breast milk composition changes as your baby grows. And, don't worry if bub is born premature - research tells us that both the protein and growth hormone levels are higher in the breastmilk of a ‘premie’ baby, Our body knows our bub has some catching up to do.
I hope you’re loving that and are blown away by this stuff as I was. It’s so amazing. Keep going with those bleary-eyed, feeds, mums. Your babies will (or should, by crikey) thank you for it.