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Pinky McKay is a IBCLC lactation consultant, best-selling author and one of the specialists on our online series of classes for parents of babies: Active Babies Smart Kids. Below is some very interesting information from her latest article on breast milk.
1. Your breast milk is LIVE
Just like human blood, breast milk is a living fluid containing a range of germ killing substances, healthy bacteria, antibodies, white blood cells, antimicrobials, cell wall protectors and proteins that offer protection against bacteria and viruses.
The live bacteria in breast milk influences your baby’s gut health. Exclusive breastfeeding, (nothing other than breast milk), will colonise your baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that may have life-long benefits by helping develop resilience against conditions such as diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
If you catch a bug, specialised white blood cells will appear in your breast milk to protect your baby. Conversely, if your baby becomes sick, the transfer of germs from baby to your breast will trigger the production of specific antibodies. These antibodies will be deposited into your milk to boost your baby’s immunity and help her fight off illness. Substances in your breast milk will also enhance the development of your baby’s immature immune system.
And you don’t need a lot of breast milk to help your baby stay healthy – according to a report by the Iowa Extension Service, every teaspoon of breast milk has 3,000,000 germ-killing cells in it; so if a baby gets even one teaspoon a day, it is very valuable!
2. Kissing your baby will change your breast milk
That irresistible urge to plant kisses all over your baby will also help to boost her immune system. When you kiss your baby, you are sampling the pathogens on her skin, which are then transferred to your lymphatic system where you will produce antibodies to any bugs. These antibodies will then pass through your breast milk to your baby and boost her immune system.
3. Breast milk changes during a feed
The fat content of your breast milk changes throughout a feed and your baby can regulate this by his sucking, as long as you allow your baby to feed as long and as often as he needs. When your baby is thirsty and begins to suck, he will firstly get the more ‘watery’ foremilk to quench his thirst. As the feed goes on, he will stimulate your letdown reflex. As your milk ‘lets down’ this reflex will be squeezing the higher fat milk or ‘hind milk’ to your baby to meet his energy needs. This means that your baby can control the kind of milk he needs at each feed through the kind of sucking he uses, as well as how long he feeds.
4. Breast milk changes as your baby grows
The composition of breastmilk not only changes during a single feed but nutrients, including macronutrients and immune factor concentrations, change according to the age and development of your baby, providing the perfect food as he grows from birth through to weaning.
For instance, studies show that the milk of mothers with premature babies contained more calories, a greater fat concentration, more protein, sodium and secretory IgA (sIgA) than the milk of newborn term mothers.
However long you breastfeed, your milk will not ‘lose its goodness’. Some immune factors actually become more concentrated during the second year of life, right when your baby becomes mobile enough to play with other children and is exposed to a greater array of bugs!
5. Breast milk is different at night time
Your day and night milk have different components. Studies by researchers in Spain have found that night milk contains higher levels of neucleotides (proteins) that stimulate GABA, a sleep inducing neurotransmitter, and melatonin. Evening breast milk is also rich in tryptophan, a sleep inducing amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin as well as amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is a vital hormone for brain function and development that makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood and helps with sleep cycles.
6. The taste of breast milk changes according to your diet
It’s thought that exclusive breastfeeding could make your baby a less fussy eater when he starts eating family foods because the flavours of foods you eat will influence the taste of your breast milk, familiarising your baby with these flavours. It has also been shown that babies love the taste of vanilla, garlic and cinnamon flavoured breast milk, (when mothers eat foods with these flavours), so may empty your breasts more effectively, enhancing milk production.
7. Breast milk is different for boys and girls
Tests on mothers’ milk have shown that levels of fat, protein, vitamins, sugars, minerals and hormones vary enormously and there is evidence to suggest that milk made for female and male babies may be differ depending on circumstances such as culture, safety and the level of income of a family.
Katie Hinde, an Assistant Professor in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, has found higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that regulates metabolism, in Rhesus Macaque milk for male infants. Whether this translates to differences in human milk composition between mothers of male and female babies or not, Hinde’s work shows that milk differences could change infant behaviour and may affect growth and development.
8. Breast milk contains stem cells
Stem cells are passed from mother to baby in breast milk and these help boost immunity. Dr Foteini Kakulas of The University of Western Australia has demonstrated that stem cells from breast milk can now be directed to become other body cell types such as bone, fat, liver and brain cells.
9. Breast milk can kill cancer cells
Studies into the antibacterial agents of mother’s milk reveal that not only does breast milk kill bacteria, your magic mother’s milk can kill 40 different types of cancer cells. It’s all about a protein in breast milk called ‘Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells’ (known as HAMLET). HAMLET was recently tested on patients who had bladder cancer by Swedish researchers from the University of Lund. After each treatment, the patients’ urine was tested to reveal that dead cancer cells had been excreted yet HAMLET had not affected healthy cells.
Pinky McKay is an IBCLC lactation consultant, best-selling author of ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ and ‘Parenting by Heart and creator of Boobie Bikkies, natural, organic and lactogenic cookies to boost energy and support a healthy breast milk supply. Find Pinky’s original article here.
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