What’s in your breast milk?

Posted on 7 August 2018

We’ve heard it time and again, “breast is best”, but what exactly does breast milk contain that makes it so good for your baby?

What does breast milk contain?

The amazing thing about breast milk is that, depending on when it’s being made, the content varies. In the first few days after birth, your body produces colostrum, a pale yellow milk that is extremely high in antibodies, protein, minerals, salt, vitamin A, nitrogen and white blood cells, and it contains less fat and sugar than mature milk. Even if your baby only gets a few drops of colostrum, it has a major impact on your baby’s health.

After a few days your mature milk comes in and this contains water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white blood cells. According to , a pregnancy and parenting digital resource, “over the course of a feeding, breast milk changes from foremilk (high in water and lactose) to hindmilk (high in fat and calories)”.

Why is breast milk better for baby?

Breast milk contains a lot of nutrient-rich elements but also, and more importantly, antimicrobial enzymes and antibodies that help fight off illness.

“Breast milk contains antibodies that help prevent infections in a newborn baby who still has a weak immune system. It also reduces the incidence of allergies, asthma and eczema. Breastfed babies also tend to have fewer issues with weight,” says Dr Linda Mothobi, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Muelmed.

How does breast milk help a baby who is ill?

Once again, breast milk is amazing in its ability to provide just what your baby needs to recover from illness. The milk provides antibodies tailor-made for whatever illness baby is fighting.

Sometimes, when a baby has congested airways, it’s difficult for them to breathe and drink at the same time. If this is the case, use saline drops and a bulb syringe to clear the nose before feeding and try to keep your baby in an upright position.

Does pumping change the contents of breast milk?

There are two concerns with pumping breast milk: inappropriate composition and contamination. When the milk leaves the breast, everything it comes into contact with has the potential to contaminate it. You have to make sure that all your pump parts and bottles are thoroughly sterilised before use.

Because a mother’s breast milk changes according to an aging baby’s needs, as well as throughout the course of a day and the course of each feeding session, expressed breast milk may not have the appropriate composition when your baby eventually drinks it.

Does it matter what you eat?

You don’t have to eat perfectly to maintain your breast milk supply, but Dr Mothobi does suggest that you follow a healthy well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and good sources of iron. It’s also important to stay hydrated for milk production, so drink adequate amounts of water, juice and non-caffeinated teas. Breastfeeding moms should avoid foods with high-caffeine content, like coffee, as it can decrease milk supply. Alcohol should also be avoided as it’s excreted into the milk and can affect the baby negatively.

Published in Babies

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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