A few weeks back, I was watching a docuseries about gut health. I made note of lots of interesting tidbits, and one of the featured healthcare providers mentioned something about breast milk that blew my mind! If you’re on the fence about breastfeeding, check this out.
One of breast milk’s main components is a sugar that babies are not capable of digesting. The sole purpose of this sugar is to feed specific bacteria in the baby’s digestive tract—one of the first building blocks to ensuring the baby has a strong immune system. What the what?!
Maybe it’s the self-health geek in me, but I think that is incredibly cool. I mean, I have always been pro-breastfeeding, and I had a basic understanding that it was a healthy choice to make for the baby and the mother. It was the choice I made for all three of our boys. This little nugget of information left me wanting to know more. Off to my self-health library!
Nina Planck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods practically jumped into my hands as I approached my bookshelf. Flipping to the back to browse the index, I was able to find exactly what I was looking for. (I adore a good index, don’t you?)
Planck elaborates on the sugar mentioned in the docuseries and much more.
- Colostrum is the initial food a mother produces for her baby. Its production starts late in a woman’s pregnancy and is ready for the first few days of breastfeeding her baby. This first milk is what populates the baby’s gut with the good bacteria, bifidus flora. It also seals up the baby’s intestines, ensuring foreign bacteria and antigens aren’t able to sneak through and trigger allergies.
- Oligosaccharides are the sugars in breast milk that exist only to feed the good bacteria in your baby’s intestines. They also aid the baby’s respiratory tract to fight any lingering pathogenic microbes.
- Breast milk provides amylase (an enzyme needed to digest starch) and bile salts (to digest fats), neither of which can be produced in sufficient quantity by a newborn.
- The immune support breast milk offers is tailored to exactly what your baby needs, and that changes constantly. One of the purposes of a mother nuzzling and kissing her baby is that the contact tells her body what antibodies the baby needs to ward off any pathogens. Within hours, a mother’s breast milk will contain those antibodies to pass along in the next feeding.
- Breast milk sets baby up for long-term immune health as well. There are components in breast milk that support normal growth of the thymus, a gland exclusively devoted to the baby’s immune function, doing things like producing killer T-cells to ward off infection.
- Early in life, breastfed babies are less susceptible to concerns like respiratory diseases, digestive illnesses, and ear infections. Later in life, the protection continues, with fewer cases of disorders like arthritis, heart disease, and cancers related to the immune system.
This quote from Real Food for Mother and Baby wraps it all up in a secure little blanket to comfort anyone. “Breast milk doesn’t merely give your baby’s immune and digestive systems a helpful boost. It creates and finishes them.” Planck’s book is absolutely worthy of a spot in your self-health library. It’s also the perfect gift for your next baby shower, or a friend who has made the decision to start a family.
As if this weren’t all convincing enough, I came across a post by Dr. Michael Dority on the SRP website, What’s In Your Baby’s Food? It offers a simple infographic showing a side-by-side comparison of the nutritional differences between breast milk and formula. It’s amazing how a mother’s body can produce such a nutrient-dense food for her baby, giving her newborn exactly what they need to thrive throughout life.
So, whether you’re making a decision for yourself or gaining an understanding of why the woman sitting on the park bench next to you has chosen to breastfeed her baby, it’s time to hop down off that fence and appreciate the fact that breast milk is an irreplaceable first food for each baby brought into this world.
P.S. I recognize that there are situations when breastfeeding is easier said than done for a mother and her new baby. Be on the lookout for a post where I dig into some information on the topic of formula and alternative measures soon.
Image from iStock/NataliaDeriabina.