After the birth of her newborn baby, a mother’s body will begin the process of making milk. This is a process beyond her control, and occurs irrespective of whether she chooses to breastfeed her baby or not. Her milk is the perfect food source for her baby, supplying everything her baby needs for optimal nutrition and growth and protection.
Human milk has two main functions: it nourishes and it protects. Hundreds of human milk components interact synergistically to fulfil these dual functions of breastmilk.
Nutritional components of human milk include water, lipids (fats), proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and trace elements, and micro minerals.
Defence components include immune protective components (antibacterial, antiviral, anti microbial), anti-inflammatory vitamins, enzymes, hormones, and live immune cells.
Human milk composition is not static or uniform. Breastmilk is, in fact, a living dynamic fluid. It is always changing in order to best meet the changing needs of the infant. What we see is a complex interplay between the needs of the infant and the ability of the mother‘s body to rapidly adapt and to provide milk components to meet those needs. Human milk changes in order to provide optimal nutrition and immune protection in real time.
Some of the ways human milk changes to meet baby’s changing needs:
- Colostrum is available from before birth to day 5 and then evolves through transitional milk (day 6-13) to become mature milk from day 14 onwards.
- Breastmilk composition changes significantly in the first few days of lactation.
- Protein levels in human milk change over time, with protein concentration being higher in preterm milk and colostrum and levelling off in mature milk. Over 761 distinct proteins have been identified in human milk.
- Milk composition changes during each feeding as the breast drains and the fat content rises. Many classes of lipids (fats) and thousands of subclasses have been identified.
- Milk composition changes during each day and over the course of the entire lactation.
- Milk of preterm mothers differs from that of mothers who deliver at term.
- More than 200 components have been identified in human milk with some still having unknown roles.
- Hundreds of thousands of immune cells are ingested in breastmilk by the infant every day.
- Immune cells in human milk increase in response to an infection in the baby.
- Human milk contains stem cells that can migrate to different organs to provide active immunity and boost infant development in early life.
- Human milk contains growth factors, hormones and live immune cells.
- Human milk carries a rich variety of bioactive substances which help the brain to grow and the immune system to develop.
- Human milk is 87.5% water. All nutritional components are dissolved or dispersed in it. Human milk provides 100% of a baby’s water needs, even in hot arid or humid climates.
Human milk is and should always be the first choice for human babies.