It has been well documented for awhile now, that breast milk is the best choice for all babies. But, have you ever wondered what is so great about breast milk? What does it contain that makes it so much better than other perceivable options: like formula, cow’s milk, or maybe even soy milk? And what about women who are not able to breastfeed, or simply don’t want to? Can’t all of these amazing properties of breast milk simply be replicated with supplements and artificial reproductions?
In some cases, viable replacements for specific properties of breast milk have been discovered. But, in many cases artificial alternatives simply don’t cut it. Some things in nature simply can’t be replicated and nothing beats the real thing. Read more about what has been discovered about attempts to replace breast milk.
Have you ever heard that breast milk contains similar ingredients to marijuana? That it can host nearly 700 varieties of bacteria? That some flu viruses can pass between you and your infant via the breast milk?!
Does that make you wonder if sometimes breast milk can be bad for your baby? What about when you are sick, overweight, taking medication? Or if you under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs: do those things pass through to the milk supply?
There are certain times when your breast milk could indeed be contaminated. So, what kind of viruses, bacteria, and medications do pass through the milk supply? All these questions and more, answered right here!
If you think the word cannibinoids sounds a bit like cannabis, you would be right. Turns out, there is something in breast milk that is similar to the active ingredient of THC that is found in marijuana. Numerous cannibinoids are found in human breast milk and many of them are the same ones that are found in the cannabis plant. The findings have nothing to do with a woman who smokes or ingests the plant, but are instead cannibinoids are naturally occurring protein receptors that present in the breast milk of all women. Major scientific studies in relation to the findings have stated that such cannibinoids are extremely vital to proper human development. They are responsible for activating the suckling process that teaches infants how to eat. They also produce hunger, and a desire to eat, promoting natural growth and development. In addition, they have the ability to promote proper metabolism and appetite regulation.
Most of us already know that bacteria can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Depending on the circumstances, some bacteria can promote our wellness. Other bacteria can literally make us sicker than a dog. It’s a good thing there is room for balance because human breast milk has been known to harbor as many as 700 types of bacteria. Although the exact role of each strand of bacteria is still known, it is widely believed that they microorganisms are nature’s way of preparing baby for the world. It might be true that each bacterium colonize the infant in efforts to promote natural immune boosts. They might also be important in preparing the baby’s gut to properly digest the breast milk. Studies on the topic have revealed that the bacteria found in the breast milk of obese mothers and from mothers who had unplanned cesarean sections, showed less diversity. Mothers who had unplanned cesareans has similar bacteria composition of mothers who delivered vaginally. The meaning of the findings is still unclear.
For the most part, women are rarely discouraged from breast feeding during times of illness for either her or the baby. Usually, the pair is encouraged to continue nursing for the many immune benefits. But, there could be some exceptions to the rule. It is believed that some viruses do have the ability to pass through the breast milk, either to baby from the mother or vice versa. The H1N1 virus is a strand of the influenza virus that is known to be transferrable and it gives rise to concerns over whether or not other flu viruses can be shared as well. But, it is mostly understood that a virus would only be passed between mother and baby if it is one that travels through the blood. The most well known virus that is dangerous for transmission is the HIV-1 virus. The likelihood of transmission for this virus is well documented.
12 Environmental Toxins
These days, there is something “toxic” every time we turn around. It seems to be increasingly impossible to live a life free of environmental, nutritional, and even social toxicity. Recently some reports have even made claims about the existence of harmful ingredients naturally lurking within a mother’s golden milk supply. The findings of the studies are both terrifying…and small, that point fingers at lifestyle choices and environmental exposures that are tainting our milk supply. Experts agree that yes, some toxins may be present in your breast milk. But, not enough to warrant quitting or avoiding breast feeding Health organizations from around the world urge us that the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any potential toxins from pollutants that sneak into the milk supply. It is very likely that the super properties be held by breast milk are more than capable of counteracting the negative effects of most environmental toxins.
11 Other Toxins
There is a big difference between toxins that we don’t have control over (like air pollution) and those that we do (like medications and alcohol). There is a lot of concern, controversy, and contradicting information on just what is bad and what isn’t, when it comes to exposing infants through voluntary breast milk contaminants. Right now, it seems that women using certain prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, or other psychiatric conditions should proceed with extreme caution while breast feeding. Aspirin, some medications for migraines, seizure disorders, and thyroid disorders are known to cause negative implications for a breastfeeding infant. Recreational drugs, cancer drugs, radioactive drugs and Lithium are also passed through the milk supply and are dangerous for a nursing baby. If need such medications, it is crucial that you discuss your intentions to breast feed with your doctors. It may be possible to find safer alternatives or to receive guidance on how to maintain your milk supply while you are on such medications.
Colostrum is the first milk that comes in anytime from the last week of pregnancy to right after birth. It is pale yellow in color. This milk is highly beneficial for the baby, as it is chockfull of antibodies that give an infant his or her first immune boost outside of the womb. Even in small doses this concentrated dose of milk is jamb packed with nutrients to give the baby the best possible start to life. It is high in proteins, minerals, vitamins, nitrogen and white blood cells. It also contains fat and sugar, but less so than breast milk that is produced at later times beyond the initial postpartum period. Colostrum even promotes the cleansing of the baby’s intestinal tract, which helps to produce the release of the first bowel movement called meconium. Getting rid of this waste product that accumulated in utero, as soon as possible, is known to reduce the risk of jaundice.
9 Mature Milk: Foremilk & Hind milk
A few days after the birth, the colostrum is replaced by the mature milk supply. This is usually associated with the milk initial letdown, or the sudden arrival of copious of white liquid gold! It is quite common for many women to produce too much milk in the beginning, but it will naturally adjust as the baby’s needs become noted. How much the baby eats and how often will be factors that influence the amount of milk supply. The quality of milk that is released changes midway through the duration of each feeding. The initial milk released is called the foremilk which is high in water and lactose. It is then followed by the hind milk; which is higher in fat and calories. The composition of these two types of milk will change as adjustments in your baby’s nutrition are needed. The quantity will also gradually increase to meet the appetite and needs of the growing baby until solid are incorporated into the diet.
Every year we are learning more about what hormones are in the breast milk and what exactly they mean for the baby. We do know that they certainly pass from the mother into her milk and onto the breastfeeding baby. Hormones are chemicals carried through the blood that give the body important messages about performance. They control things like reproduction, growth and development, metabolism, and blood pressure to name a few. They also influence sleep, thyroid function, and maturation of the digestive system. Hormones found in the breast milk also get credit for endorphins and relaxins; both of which promote relaxation and natural pain killers for the baby. Cortisol also passes through the breast milk. Most of us associate this hormone negatively, but it is has many positive properties, as elevated levels can send signals to other areas of the body that need to take action. It could be influential in pancreatic and digestive function, and it might teach an infant how to deal with chronic stress.
7 Water, Fat And Carbohydrates
The same fats that are delivered to the developing brain during the last trimester of pregnancy are also present in breast milk. These fats are where the bulk of breast milk calories come from. They are essential for brain development and absorption of certain vitamins. In addition carbohydrates are found in breast milk, primarily come from lactose. These carbohydrates come in as the second most calorie dense ingredient in breast milk. They aid in the breakdown of important minerals, help fight disease, and aid in the balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the stomach. In addition to the fat and carbohydrates that are necessary in the human diet to sustain energy life, so is water. Many new parents wonder if their infants need water, just as all humans do. But, breast milk is 88% water and is sufficient in providing all of the water that a baby needs. It is never appropriate to dilute the breast milk and offering water to a baby under the age of 6 months is extremely dangerous.
6 Amino Acids
Amino acids are what results after protein breaks down in the body. There are more than 20 found in human breast milk. A few, but not all of them are: Taurine, Glutamic acid, Cysteine, Lysine, Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, and Methionine. Most of us have no idea what these labels mean, but it is helpful to understand that amino acids are essential to every metabolic process in our bodies. They help to transport and store all nutrients in our bodies to prevent major health issues like obesity, diabetes, and insomnia. Taurine is one of the most important amino acids found in breast milk. It is credited with brain development, ear and eye development, and stomach health to name a few. While abundant in human milk, Taurine is not found in cow’s milk and must be artificially supplemented in formulas. However, clinical studies have not shown the hoped for benefits of artificial Taurine use. It seems that we may not be able to readily absorb artificial versions of it and so far breast milk remains exclusively the best source.
Leukocytes are living cells that are only found in human breast milk. They are antibodies that help to fight infection. They cannot be artificially reproduced and therefore cannot be added to formula or supplements. Keep in mind that they are not present in cow’s milk. The greatest abundance of these antibodies is found in the white blood cells of the mother’s milk. Also known as leukocytes, they actively fight infection and promote immune system function in the child. Due to theses amazing properties, experts say that is impossible to replicate the protective benefits that breast milk provides. Contrary to what most of the world practices, the World Health Organization and UNICEF now recommend that all babies be breastfed for AT LEAST 2 YEARS! It is also suggested that breastfeeding up to the age of 5 should be tolerated in all societies, as it is proven that children are not able to maintain full immune strength until the age of 5.
Most of us think of protein as meat, dairy, or beans that give us a super punch for strength, power, and energy. But, proteins are so much more than that, and breast milk is the ultimate example! Breast milk contains numerous types of proteins. Two of them are called whey and casein. Together these proteins promote efficient digestion of nature’s finest ingredients. Breast milk also contains proteins called lactoferrin, sectretory IgA, Lysozome, and Bifidus factor. These fancy names are just big words for components that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, protect against infection and allergies, and promote natural anti-inflammatory function. All of them work independently to ensure the overall health of the baby through protection against viral and bacterial infections. Many of these beneficial proteins are naturally occurring, but eating fish while breast feeding can also provide a boost in the amount present in breast milk.
3 Vitamins And Minerals
The vitamins that are present in breast milk vary from mother to mother, and are primarily a result of her dietary habits. Appropriate nutrition comes into play here, and it is vital to the infant’s health that a breast feeding mother is getting adequate fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K. Water soluble vitamins are also found in breast milk. Things like Vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, and panthothenic acid are also essential for optimal infant health. While most or all of these needs could be met by a carefully planned diet, most doctors and lactation consultants encourage women to keep taking prenatal vitamins while they are breast feeding. There are several key minerals found in breast milk; like iron, zinc, fluorine, selenium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Each mineral varies in its importance, but they promote things like enzyme activation, tooth formation, renal function, and other growth promotion.
There are many types of enzymes found in human breast milk; they provide a variety of different functions. Many of them are not fully understood yet, but what has been revealed give amazing insight to the powerful influence being breastfed can have for a baby. Enzymes are a type of protein that creates chemical reactions in the body, important for functions that are necessary for survival. Some of these functions involve digestion and metabolism. Some of the most important enzymes found in breast milk are amylase, lipase, protease, lactoferrin, and lysozyme. Enzymes help the baby to utilize the starches, fats, and proteins found in the breast milk and to absorb iron. They help prevent bacteria from causing things like e-coli and fungus growth. When bacteria do show up, the enzymes can protect the baby from germs and severe illness that can cause disease or debilitating diarrhea.
1 Fatty Acids
There was recently a study published by called INFAT: The Impact of Nutritional Fatty Acids during pregnancy and lactation. The purpose of the study was to understand how the ratio of polyunsaturated acids in breast milk could influence the body composition infants. A sample group of breastfeeding women participated in nutrition intervention measures as a way for scientists to study how fat growth is simulated during the first year of life. Polyunsaturated fats are the types of fats found in butter and cooking oils. Limited doses of this type of oil can be very beneficial to your health, but overindulgence of any type of fat intake can be detrimental. Since the fat does transfer to the baby through the breast milk supply, a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding could be clue in preventing the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity. Just one more reason to pay close attention to nutrition during the nursing years, as baby typically gets exactly the same thing that mommy does.
Sources: National Library of Medicine, Infant Nutrition Council, Amino Acid Studies, National Institute of Child Health, Virology, Baby Center, American Pregnancy, Very Well, Kelly Mom, Belly Belly, Nature, Natural News, Live Science