EARLY LIFE NUTRITION
Understanding More About Breast Milk
The perfect nutritional mixture for infants
Breast milk is the original superfood - a complex substance containing the perfect nutritional mixture for infant growth and development. The composition of breast milk can vary from mother to mother as it is uniquely formulated to fully support the needs of a growing infant. This unique composition imparts many specific health benefits to a baby such as short-term immunity via the transfer of antibodies and other immune-boosting substances. This can help to protect infants from a myriad of infectious diseases (gastrointestinal and respiratory), especially during the early weeks and months of life, when they are most vulnerable.
What makes breast milk special?
We have been studying the composition of breast milk at Nutricia for over four decades and are proud of our heritage as pioneers in breast milk research. Breast milk is actually made up of thousands of different components. We have learnt that it is not just a few ingredients in breast milk which offer specific benefits but actually the unique interaction between all of the different components. If you imagine breast milk is like an orchestra with each of the components represented by a different musical instrument. The harmonious melody produced by the orchestra is a result of the interaction between the various instruments, not the individual instruments themselves. Similarly, in breast milk it is the interplay between all of the components that results in the miracle that is breast milk. This means our research extends beyond just studying individual components but also understanding how the components interact too.
A few key components of breast milk
Breast milk oligosaccharides stimulate the growth of good bacteria.
Breast Milk Oligosaccharides
Breast milk oligosaccharides are unique and complex. They are the third largest solid component in breast milk and selectively feed and stimulate the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system of the infant. Good bacteria are important for the gut and immune system.
Antibodies continue to be acquired through breast milk after birth.
Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, consist of 5 main forms; IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD and IgE. These protective proteins play an important role in the functioning of the immune system as they identify and neutralise foreign objects. An infant starts to acquire antibodies through the placenta prior to birth, however after birth an infant acquires these antibodies through breast milk.
Important for the development of the infant’s immune system.
White Blood Cells
White blood cells can also be known as leukocytes. These are cells which form part of the immune system. Their main role is to help to defend the body against foreign materials. Colostrum (the breast milk received in the first few days after birth) contains high amounts of white blood cells which are important for the development of the infant’s immune system.
Breast milk fats
Breast milk contains important fats including DHA (docasahexaenoic acid) which is an omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is a vital ingredient for the growth and development of brain tissue and also for the retina in the eye of infants.