Human milk is the milk produced by the mammary glands or breasts of a human female for her baby. It is a natural food and is more easily absorbed and digested by the infant as compared to formula milk prepared from other sources. Human milk provides all essential nutrients required for the infant. It provides the best nutrition and protects the infant from infections. It also reduces the rate of later life health problems including obesity asthma, and diabetes. And for the mothers practising breastfeeding, it further helps the uterus to contract and bleeding to cease faster after delivery. It may reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and also helps in bonding the mothers with their babies.
During the first few days, Colostrum is the milk secreted after child birth, it is rich in minerals, proteins, vitamins especially vitamin A and antibodies. And in addition to this, it also has a laxative effect. Recent evidence suggests that human milk may possess some long term benefits such as lower the risk of some autoimmune diseases, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and probably some cancers. Hence, human milk is the best milk for the newborn and the growing infant.
In addition to the supply of nutrients, human milk has many more special components such as growth factors, hormones, enzymes and anti infective factors. The amount of milk secreted increases gradually in the first few days after delivery, reaching it’s peak during the second month, at which level it is maintained until about 6 months of age. An average Indian woman produces about 750 ml of milk per day during the first 6 months and 600 ml/day subsequently up to 1 year.
Human milk provides good quality proteins, calcium, iron, vitamins, fat, and other minerals up to 4-6 months. Even the, quality of some of the nutrients can be improved by supplementing the diet of the mother with nutrients.
Brief overview of the components of human milk and the nutrients they provide for your baby:
Human milk consists of 2 types of proteins: Whey and Casein. In which approximately, 60% is whey, while 40% is casein. Hence the balance of the proteins leads to easy and quick digestion. In the case of artificial milk or formula milk, it is known to have higher percentage of casein; hence it will be more difficult for the baby to digest. As approximately 60-80% of all the protein in human milk is whey protein, hence these proteins have great infection protection properties.
Human milk also contains fats that are important for the health of your baby. It is importantly required for the growth and development of the brain, absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and is a primary calorie source. The long chain of fatty acids is needed for retina, brain and nervous system development.
The types and quantity of vitamins in the human milk is directly linked to the mother’s vitamin intake. Therefore it is important that she gets adequate nutrition, including vitamins. The fat soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, are all important for the infant’s wellbeing and health. Water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, and panthothenic acid are also essential.
As Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in human milk. It provides approximately 40% of the total calories provided by human milk. In addition to this Lactose helps in decreasing the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the stomach, which further helps to improve the absorption of phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. It also helps to fight disease and even promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the stomach.
Human milk consists of the perfect combination of proteins, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates, which is ideally the perfect source of nutrition for your baby. Leukocytes are living cells that are only found in the human milk. They help to fight infection. Hence it is the enzymes, living cells, antibodies and hormones that make the human milk ideal.