You may have some knowledge of the amazing properties of human breastmilk, but so many often go unspoken. Just as healthy microbes in the earth’s soil are beneficial to life on earth, human milk is beneficial to human babies. Science and biology confirm that each type of mammal provides milk specifically designed for their baby’s nutritional needs and breastmilk is no different. Human milk transports all of the nutrients your baby needs for the first 6 months of life, contains antibodies that destroy pathogens and parasites, and acts on viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal tract infections. Breastmilk influences circadian rhythm regulating sleep and wake cycles, and even controls non-genetic effects on gene expression.
While pregnant, your baby in utero receives an initial dose of antibodies that are transferred via the placenta to the fetus. Once your baby is born and begins to nurse, your baby receives colostrum, often referred to as “liquid gold” or baby’s “first immunization” which is nutrient-dense and rich in antibodies, enhancing your baby’s immunity. In the first few months of life a baby’s immune system develops and begins to mature, just a few months of breastfeeding ensures lifelong benefits for both baby and mother.
The makeup of human milk changes from feeding to feeding during the entire time a mother is nursing her baby. It does this in order to meet the changing needs of the growing child. Not only is milk species specific it also changes its properties in accordance with the time of day, age and development of the baby, and even during one breastfeeding session. Therefore, when feeding a baby previously pumped and stored breastmilk, it is wise to give the baby the freshest milk first, optimizing the nutritional benefits for baby’s needs and present constitution of the milk. Another way of thinking about this is to match the “age” of the milk to the age of the baby.
Two fascinating facts of the powers of human milk are: Within 20 minutes of a mother coming into contact with a foreign pathogen on her baby, either by breastfeeding or simply by kissing her baby, her body transfers those pathogens through her lymphatic system and begins to make antibodies. She then passes them along to her baby via her breastmilk, boosting the immune system. Secondly, human milk never stops being beneficial no matter the age of the child. When a child gets older and breastfeeds less, the concentration of immune factors increase, right around the time your baby becomes mobile and begins to play with other children. This remarkable resource that mothers create is indeed the perfect food for human babies.
Image Credit: Jade Holter