We received a message from one of our friends on Facebook, Sarah Perry, asking us if we would like to work together to promote National Breastfeeding Month! As we support breastfeeding whenever it's possible (we do understand that in some cases, it's not), we wanted to write an informational blog on mother's milk itself, and its role in the postpartum journey, human health, and its influence world wide. National Breastfeeding Month, is a month dedicated to spreading the word on the importance of nursing your baby. And of course, as we here live to promote natural care in support of the pregnancy and postpartum/lactation journey, we happily joined in! We have been making herbal products in support of all areas of lactation for milk supply (high or low), nipple care, mastitis, tummy health, to weaning. If you have made it this far as reading one of our blogs, chances are, you are also in support of this movement, and possibly would like to know more information on breastfeeding, or are looking for natural products to help with your lactation!
"Why is Breastfeeding your baby so important?" you may be asking yourself...The answer reaches far and wide into how mama's milk is the foundation for healthy development of newborns(especially), infants, and toddlers alike.
So let's talk about what is in Breast Milk! Mama's milk is the perfect food for your baby, and since as Dr. William Sears so nicely puts it, "to nourish and protect is the nutritional goal of every mother".
Fat: Breast milk contains the perfect amount of the right kinds of fats for baby's caloric needs as well as healthy development of brain and other tissues. It also contains an enzyme, lipase, which helps digest fat so that more gets into the baby and less in the stools. Since the baby is still developing his/her ability to break down nutrition, this enzyme is of utmost importance for efficient nutrition intake of healthy fat. Cow's milk and formulas do not contain this enzyme, so more of the fat content passes into the stool. The amount of fat provided by mama's milk changes during each feed, increasing until baby gets the "cream/hindmilk". And baby will let you know when he/she is content and full. The amount of fat provided lessens as time goes on, to prepare for introduction of solid foods. Breast milk is nutritionally complete for at least the first year of life. This means that infants can go for at least a year on breast milk alone, without eating any foods, and be nutritionally complete. Breast milk also contains good cholesterol, which promotes rapid brain growth in the time where baby's development is so fragile, hormone components, vitamin D, and intestinal bile. Cow's milk and formula are severely lacking in cholesterol.
Proteins: It is fascinating how important these are. These are the building blocks for growth, and since babies grow faster in the first year than any other stage of life, good proteins from mama's milk is essential for a healthy foundation for healthy tissue development, and are designed perfectly for infant growth. Two kinds of proteins are contained in milk.... whey and casein. Whey is a gentle protein that is easy to digest by baby and friendly to intestines. Casein is the curd protein, and harder to digest. Breast milk contains mostly whey... cow's milk and formula the opposite. What is so fascinating about this, is that infants' intestines are continuing to develop during the first six months especially, and are very porous. If any harmful proteins go into the intestinal tract, they could easily leak into the bloodstream. These are called allergens or allergenic proteins. At about 6 months, the lining begins to start closing up, but is still vulnerable. So, by introducing anything besides mama's milk, it could leave baby vulnerable to absorbing harmful proteins potentially in cow's milk, formula, or solid foods until the lining closes up or closure occurs. Also, it contains taurine, which may enhance development of the brain and nervous system, lactoferrin, unique to breastmilk acting to carry iron directly into babies' blood and helps regulate healthy and non-healthy gut bacteria (having high healthy gut bacteria increases vitamin production, improves digestion, and decreases toxic condition for things like candida to grow), lysosomes are another antibacterial protein, and nucleotides, which help to develop strong tissue, as well as promoting intestinal villi that absorb nutrients. WOW!!!!
Lactose (sugar): Human breast milk contains more lactose than any other mammal. Lactose is vital to healthy brain and nervous system development, increases calcium absorption, and promotes the growth of useful intestinal bacteria: Lactobacillus bifidus.
Immunity: During the first 6 months of life, a baby's immune system is immature (deficient in antibodies). Mama's milk is loaded with white blood cells, which eat up all the bad bacteria in the baby's intestines. They are most plentiful during the early weeks of a baby's life, but remain present into at least 6 months postpartum. The white blood cells also act as transporters of enzymes, growth factors, and infection-fighting proteins called immunoglobulins. These are the antibodies babies need until they develop their own. Colostrum is the first milk produced after birth and is the highest in white blood cells and immunoglobulins. And this comes at a time when the baby's immune system is at its lowest and most vulnerable to infection. As we said before, the intestinal lining is very porous, allowing more toxic substances into the blood stream of a newborn/infant. If anything should get through, it is important for the immune system to be prepared to act. Another amazing thing that occurs is that mama transfers her unique antibodies directly into baby through nursing. This means that as mama develops antibodies to fight the germs in her unique environment, with the use of her strong developed immune system, the baby receives those exact antibodies that are also unique to his/her germ environment. As the baby develops and grows, mama's milk makes less and less of these immune boosters, allowing the baby to develop on their own, but still provides a healthy immune supplement for as long as nursing goes on.
There are many more nuances, but this complex system is designed perfectly for the formation of healthy tissue, brain development, gut flora, and provides the foundation for a human's lifetime of immunity.
When is a baby ready for solid foods? As with everything, each baby is unique, and there are no hard and fast rules. But the general rule is to listen to baby. There are many myths about baby not getting enough nutrition from mama's milk around 4-6 months (which has been debunked). Mama's milk is a perfect food at least for the first year. Again take into account the intestinal lining development timeline. Babies should really only get mama's milk until that closure has happened. And baby will let you know. If he/she is accepting solid food, then that is the sign you are looking for. The intelligence of the human body is very communicative in babies, because that is the main form of communication expressed. The baby will let you know when it's intestines are ready. The other issue is using solid food to help with sleeping through the night. A baby is not ready to sleep through the night until he/she no longer NEEDS the nutrition from mama's breast milk. And, by nursing at night, it keeps a healthy milk supply going for adequate overall production. Milk production works on a supply and demand chain. If you try to make a baby sleep through the night too soon, breast milk supply goes down overall, and baby will not get enough breastmilk nutrition.
This incredible article on Daysofyear.com articulates this point so well....