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Benefits of breast milk

Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby in the first year. This is because of its health advantages for both the baby and mother.

Breast milk benefits
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Breast-feeding is recommended as the “gold standard” for feeding babies by all professional groups including the Department of Health and the World Health Organization. Breast milk is considered the ideal source of food to support optimum growth and development in your baby. Complemented by appropriate introduction of solid foods at around six months of age, breast milk is recommended for the entire first year of your baby's life, or longer if desired.

According to the latest Infant Feeding Survey in the UK, 69 per cent of mothers are breast-feeding their babies when they leave hospital after giving birth. This is an increase of three per cent from the previous survey in 1995. Many women stop breast-feeding within the first few weeks or months. The main reasons given for stopping suggest that better breast-feeding support may have made a difference.

Protection against disease

Breast milk is not only the best source of nutrition for your baby, but it also contains antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) that are transferred from the mother to the baby during the first two weeks of breast-feeding. About 80 per cent of the cells in early breast milk are macrophages (cells that kill viruses and bacteria), and even after these two weeks breast milk remains full of antibodies.

Breast-feeding leads to fewer ear and gastrointestinal infections and respiratory illnesses during the first year of a baby's life, and there is strong evidence that it can help prevent infections such as bacterial meningitis and colitis (inflammation of the colon). Breast milk may also protect your baby against immune system disorders, diabetes, allergies, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Benefits for the mother

Breast-feeding strengthens the bond between mother and baby, helps you to lose the weight gained during pregnancy, and decreases your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and the bone disease osteoporosis later in life. All in all, breast-feeding is the best possible choice for both you and your baby.

Breast milk: the perfect food for babies

The human breast produces three types of breast milk: colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk. Colostrum, which is made during late pregnancy and the first few days of breast-feeding, is high in protein, antibodies, some vitamins and minerals, and hormones. These nutrients encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestine, also known as gut flora, and the passage of the baby's first stools.

Transitional milk is produced in the second week; it is higher in fat and the milk sugar lactose and lower in protein and minerals than colostrum. From day 15 onwards, mature milk is produced - this is a blend of fat and sugary (lactose) water and is highly nutritious.

Mature milk

During each feeding, the composition of mature breast milk changes. Babies get 75 per cent of the milk volume in the first five to ten minutes, but only 50 per cent of the calories. The milk produced after five to ten minutes is richest in fat and is known as the “hind milk”. It is therefore essential that your baby is allowed to nurse on each breast until satisfied in order to obtain enough calories for adequate growth.

Whey and casein

Whey accounts for 60-80 per cent of the total protein in mature breast milk, and it contains the proteins that help babies fight infections. Casein accounts for the remaining 20-40 per cent of mature breast milk's total protein and forms compounds that increase your baby's ability to absorb minerals.

Lactose

The main carbohydrate found in breast milk is the sugar lactose. Small amounts of other carbohydrates are also present in breast milk, some of which can help fight infection.

Posted 14.02.2011

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