Why breast milk is the best: 6 points on why you should breastfeed your baby
Your new born baby deserves the best care and nourishment and the best way to start his/her journey called life is by feeding them breast milk. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding a fact also echoed by your baby’s paediatrician. This is because breast milk is the best as it contains all the nutrients a baby needs in a form that is easily digested and efficiently used. 1 Hence mothers are encouraged to start breastfeeding immediately after birth. 2
Breast milk offers many short and long term benefits to your baby. Short term benefits of breast milk includes lower episodes of diarrhoea, upper respiratory infections and ear infections. It also lowers the risk of hospitalization and prolonged sickness 3 Long term benefits for the baby includes better brain development, protection from obesity, asthma, and childhood cancers. 4, 5
However, breast milk is much more than these! It has a world of benefits for the mother ranging from reducing post-delivery bleeding, helps with post-pregnancy weight loss, reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer of the ovaries and breast. 4, 5 While you might already know of these, we list down 5 lesser known facts – nutritional and otherwise – about breast milk that makes it the magic potion for your new born baby.
Colostrum is a child’s first immunization
In the first 2 – 4 days after delivery, a special yellow milk called colostrum is produced. This milk is rich in fats, proteins; vitamins, minerals, antibodies such as immunoglobulin A; protein called lactoferrin that protects against infections; white blood cells; and numerous proteins that help in growth and nutrient absorption. 8
Apart from these nutrients, colostrum is also very rich in human milk oligosaccharides, (HMOs), which provides several health benefits to your baby.
Breast milk is different in the day and night?
Did you know, the morning breast milk has higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone promoting alertness in the child? Similarly, the evening milk is high in melanin, the sleep hormone. The levels of some minerals and fat is higher in the morning, keeping in line with your baby’s ability to digest them. Night milk has more of repairing nutrients and amino acids. Breast milk is like a time keeper for your young baby, to understand and adapt to the circadian rhythm. 9, 10
Breastfeeding could mean better mood and lower stress for mothers
Sometimes taking care of a baby could feel overwhelming. However, research finds the very act of breastfeeding could release hormones calming mothers! Oxytocin is a hormone that is responsible for breast milk release. This hormone has shown to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol, which in-turn reduces emotional and physical stress. Researchers found breastfeeding mothers to reported lower anxiety, negative mood, and stress when compared to mothers feeding alternative options. 11
Breast milk is rich in a fibre-like nutrient!
Breast milk is naturally rich in milk sugar or lactose and good fats (omega-3 fats). But breast milk has a unique carbohydrate that acts like a fibre and it is the 3rd most abundant nutrient after lactose and fats. This nutrient is called ‘human milk oligosaccharide or HMO’. It acts like a fibre because it escapes digestion in your baby’s tummy and reaches the gut as it is. Here it fosters the growth of good bacteria that is very beneficial for your baby! 6
HMOs are great for baby’s immunity, gut health, brain development and much more.
When your baby ingests breast milk, they take in Prebiotic HMOs in huge quantity. Once consumed, HMO is not digested in the stomach and reach the intestine of the baby intact. In the gut, only the good gut bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus can ferment them. They in turn prevent the ‘bad’ bacteria to grow and cause infection, protecting the baby. 6, 12 This translates to lower risk of diarrhoea, frequency of spitting up, flatulence, and help with soft stools and overall better mood in your baby. Not only gut health, but metabolites released due to fermentation helps boost growth and even positively impact brain health. 13, 14
Breast milk not only has prebiotics but also probiotic bacteria in it
Breast milk naturally has many bacteria in it but the counts of the probiotic bacteria is naturally high. To give you an idea, probiotic bacteria are present in an amount of 101–107 colony forming units per mL of breast milk. The breast milk of healthy women have shown the presence of probiotic Lactobacillus. 15 That means breast milk is a complete package with good gut bacteria and its substrate, HMO.
Breast milk is a dynamic liquid that is tailor-made for your baby. It is a convenient option too – it is available anywhere, anytime, and at the right temperature for the baby. Because of its stellar list of benefits for both the baby and the mother, breastfeeding is the best choice! Speak to your paediatrician in case of any queries regarding successful initiation and continuation of breastfeeding.
- World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148965/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK148965.pdf. Accessed on: 30th September 2022. (p20, 29)
- Pregnancy, Childbirth, Postpartum and Newborn Care: A Guide for Essential Practice. 3rd edition. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2015, Breastfeeding, Care, Preventive Measures And Treatment For The Newborn. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326679/. Accessed on: 30th September 2022. (P145)
- WHO. Short-term effects of breastfeeding: a systematic review on the benefits of breastfeeding on diarrhoea and pneumonia mortality. Available at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241506120. Accessed on: 30th September 2022.
- National Institute of Health. What are the benefits of breastfeeding? Available from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/breastfeeding/conditioninfo/benefits#. Accessed on: 30th September 2022.
- Dieterich CM, Felice JP, O'Sullivan E, et al. Breastfeeding and health outcomes for the mother-infant dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013;60(1):31-48.