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Guide to breast milk nutrition

guide to breastmilk nutrition The perfect combination

SUMMARY

Your breast milk and its nutrition is unique to you and your baby and designed to support them from their very first hours. With complex carbohydrates, proteins, LCPs (long chain polyunsaturated fats), nucleotides, oligosaccharides, vitamins, minerals and antibodies it contains the perfect combination of nutrients to support their growing needs.

Why breast milk is best

Breast milk is the only food designed especially for your baby and contains all the nutrition they need for the first six months of life. It’s a complex substance which has been researched for many years. And while it’s known to contain the perfect combination of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals and other substances needed for your baby's healthy development, there’s still much more to be learned about breast milk.

What is certain is that breast milk is full of antibodies that help boost your baby’s ability to fight off the infections that you’ve had in the past. Breast milk is also unique to each mum with a nutritional content completely tailored to their baby.

Breast milk and immunity

Colostrum, the yellowish coloured milk your body produces after giving birth, is full of germ-fighting antibodies. It’s extremely concentrated, so your baby only needs a small amount at each feed, which may be quite frequent. These calorie-rich first feeds coat the lining of your baby’s gut to help protect them from germs and reduce the risk of developing allergies at a later date.

As you continue to breastfeed, your breast milk will still contain antibodies. And as you come into contact with new infections, your breast milk will contain new antibodies which will automatically give your baby some immunity. What’s also incredible is that your breast milk will vary in taste according to what you’ve eaten – which in turn means your baby may be more likely to accept a wider range of tastes when it comes to weaning3.

What’s in breast milk?

Breast milk is naturally made up of the proteins whey and casein, carbohydrate in the form of lactose, fats including LCPs, vitamins and minerals. Through extensive research into breast milk, we’ve learnt a lot about the functional benefits of key components such as LCPs, nucleotides and oligosaccharides, which all play an important part in the first few months of your baby's life, contributing to their general wellbeing and healthy development.

LCPs

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, or LCPs, are important for the development of your baby’s brain. Research has shown that two particularly important LCPs – AA and DHA – are found in breast milk1. There’s also evidence that consuming more LCPs during pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding can be beneficial for your baby’s development, encouraging better visual and brain development and movement skills2.

Research shows LCPs can be beneficial for your baby’s development.

The main ways to include LCPs in your diet are by eating fish, eggs and meat. Oily fish like mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon are a good source of both AA and DHA. LCPs can also be made by the body from the essential fatty acids found in leafy greens, nuts, vegetable oil and seeds. However, the process of converting the fats in these foods into beneficial DHA isn’t very efficient, which is why oily fish are considered the best source.

Antibodies

Your breast milk contains an enormous amount of antibodies that help to support your baby’s immune system.

Varying fat content

The amount of fat in breast milk varies during each individual feed, as well as from feed to feed during the day (24 hours). This variation in fat can be detected through the consistency of your breast milk. Sometimes it can appear thinner and more watery and as the fat content increases it becomes thicker and creamier.

Nucleotides

Breast milk is rich in nucleotides, which are the building blocks for all cells in the body, including the immune system. Research has shown that nucleotides support the activity of certain cells within the immune system, helping protect the body against infection.

Oligosaccharides

The oligosaccharides found in breast milk help to maintain your baby's healthy gut flora by increasing the levels of friendly bacteria and decreasing the levels of potentially harmful bacteria. Feeding your baby’s natural friendly bacteria with a daily intake of oligosaccharides can be good for their digestion and help support their immune system – just two of the important nutritional roles your breast milk plays.

View references

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1. Jensen RG. Handbook of milk composition. London Academic Press 1995.

2. European Food Safety Authority Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies. Scientific opinion: DHA and ARA and visual development. EFSA Journal 2009;941:1-14.

3. Beauchamp G and Mennella J. Flavor Perception in Human Infants: Development and Functional Significance. Digestion. Mar 2011; 83(Suppl 1): 1–6.

Last reviewed: 28th July 2014
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