Breast milk is miraculous for babies and is the best food that can provide all the nutrients they need for the first six months alone. Breast milk and the first yellow milk that comes after birth are very important for babies because it protects them against diseases. It is the first vaccine of the baby. Obstetrics and gynecology surgeon Parvana Seyidova illustrates the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding.
Benefits of breast milk
Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. In addition, upper respiratory and intestinal infections are more common in infants fed with ready-to-eat food than infants fed with breast milk. The reason is that some substances in breast milk protect the baby from microbial infections.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition. Many components in breast milk help protect the baby against infections and diseases. Proteins in breast milk are more easily digested than cow's milk. Calcium and iron in breast milk are also more easily absorbed.
In the first days after birth, breasts produce a heavy and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It is loaded with high protein, low sugar and useful compounds. Colostrum is the ideal first milk and helps to develop the immature digestive system of the newborn. Breast milk has antibodies that help your baby fight viruses and bacteria. This is especially true for colostrum. Colostrum provides a high amount of immunoglobulin A (IgA) as well as some other antibodies. When the mother is exposed to viruses or bacteria, it begins to produce antibodies. These antibodies are then secreted into breast milk and passed on to the baby during feeding. IgA forms a protective layer in the baby's nose, throat and digestive system to prevent disease.
What is in breast milk?
Protein: Breast milk contains two types of protein: Whey and casein. Approximately 60 percent is whey and 40 percent is casein. This balance of proteins allows for quick and easy digestion. If the artificial milk, also called formula, has a larger percentage of casein, the baby's digestion will be more difficult. Nearly 60-80 percent of all protein in breast milk is whey protein. These proteins have excellent protection against infection.
Fats: Breast milk also contains essential fats for your baby's health. They are essential for brain development, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and a primary source of calories.
Long chain fatty acids are required for brain, retina and nervous system development. They are accumulated in the brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and are also found in breast milk.
Vitamins: The amount of vitamins in breast milk is directly related to the mother's vitamin intake. Therefore, adequate nutrition including vitamins is important. Fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E and K, are vital for the baby's health. Besides, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid are also required.
Carbohydrates: Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in breast milk. It makes up 40 percent of the total calories provided by breast milk. Lactose helps reduce many unhealthy bacteria in the stomach. This also increases the absorption of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. It helps fight against disease and supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the stomach.
Benefits for mothers
Breastfeeding burns extra calories so it can help you lose weight faster during pregnancy. It secretes the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to pre-pregnancy size and can reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also reduces your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It can also reduce your risk of osteoporosis.