The perfect food for babies is breast milk. From an evolutionary point of view, breastmilk has been the exclusive food for newborns for generations. It has promoted the healthy development of robust and happy babies for centuries.
This article will discuss breast milk from a nutritional perspective. It will explore the ingredients of breast milk, how we can influence our own breast milk, and therefore what impact we have on our baby’s development. There is a lot of varying research around breast milk and some research is still inconclusive. This article represents my professional opinion based on personal research, wide reading, and testimonies.
On a sensitive note, I understand that breast feeding is not possible for some mothers. This article is not designed to address the issues around breast feeding, it is only to function as a resource for why breast feeding, and the mother’s diet during nursing, is so crucial for the baby’s development. For no reason at all should a mother be filled with feelings of guilt if breast feeding is not possible - we need to become more supportive around this issue.
Breast Milk vs. Formula
If you have the blessed opportunity to breast feed, please understand that formula milk is not an exact substitute for breast milk. Breast milk contains all the necessary nutrients for newborns, it helps attach the mother and child, it triggers hormone activity in the mother, and it promotes post-birth weight loss.
You may have read some studies claiming that breast milk has no benefits over formula. These studies are ill-informed and don’t take the mother’s diet during pregnancy and nursing into consideration. It is important for nursing women to obtain all the necessary nutrients from a nutrient-dense diet during nursing, as it is her diet that determines the nutrient quality of her breast milk. If a mother is not obtaining the necessary nutrients through her own diet, then neither will her infant. An example of this is if a mother is deficient in vitamin D, it is highly likely that her breast milk will have this same deficiency.
The World Health Organisation has published a report recommending exclusive breast feeding for the first 6 months of a newborn’s life. This is to be followed by continued breastfeeding along with appropriate supplementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Benefits of Breast Milk
Colostrum is the milk that comes forth during the first week of a newborn’s life. It is a highly concentrated milk of protein and antibodies from the mother’s own immune system to protect the baby from illness in those first vulnerable weeks.
Following those first weeks, breast milk helps form the immune system of the infant, it removes toxic materials, and establishes a healthy gut in the baby. On this note, it is vitally important that the mother has healthy microbiota, meaning she has a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria. This is because breast milk consists of antibodies that protect the child from sickness and disease. These antibodies are identical to those found in the mother’s gut and are transported to the mammary gland of the mother to provide milk to her infant. If you have gut issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, intestinal parasites, SIBO, dysbosis, or other digestive problems, I suggest you seek help in this area. If you need some assistance, read this article on ‘How to Heal Your Gut.’
It are the complex sugars in breast milk that form the perfect food for the infant’s gut bacteria. This is similar to how plant matter high in resistant starch forms the perfect food for an adult’s gut, which establishes healthy microbiota and digestion in adults. Similarly, breast milk is the perfect food for creating a healthy gut for the newborn.
Breast milk is also comprised of protein and enzymes that help the baby absorb all the nutritious fats in the milk. It contains vitamin A, D, and B12, plus minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and iodine.
Sally Fallon, M.D., explains that quality breast milk contains adequate amounts of cholesterol, which is crucial for an infant’s development. This is true to the point that breast milk also contains an enzyme that ensures babies absorb the total amount of cholesterol present in their mother’s milk. Cholesterol supports healthy brain, gut, and nervous system development.
Other benefits include:
- Protection against disease and chronic illness
- Less risk of obesity and heart disease later in life
- Higher IQ
- Less risk of asthma and allergies
- Healthy teeth
Breast Milk Deficiencies
A common deficiency found in breast-feeding women is a lack of vitamin D. I don’t necessarily suggest supplementing with vitamin D if you don’t have proof of a deficiency, however you can support your levels of vitamin D by taking Fermented Cod Liver Oil daily during nursing. Fermented Cod Liver Oil is a very old-fashioned supplement that is a wonderful concoction of both vitamins A and D, which work in unison to support healthy fetal development.
Other deficiencies in newborns often come about from a vegetarian or vegan nursing mother. Vitamin B12 deficiencies in babies of vegetarian mothers have been reported. Also, babies born to vegetarians can often have low levels of DHA, which is important for optimal baby development, especially brain development.
Is Breast Milk Harmful?
The answer to that question depends entirely on what the mother’s diet consists of. It is the mother’s nutrition that informs the quality of her breast milk, as well as how harmful it can be to the infant. Breast milk from mother’s who consume foods containing trans-fats, such as fast foods, take-aways, processed foods, deep-fried foods, foods from packets, e.g. crisps, has lower amounts of important fats. Breast milk that contains unhealthy trans-fats has been known to cause asthma, allergies, and other diseases in the baby. On the other hand, milk from mothers who consume grass-fed butter regularly and other raw dairy products, has sufficiently higher levels of fatty acids that support baby development.
Another common harmful substance found in breast milk is soy. So many people these days consume soy instead of cow’s milk, and I need to make a note of this; soy is a terrible alternative to cow’s milk. Soy is chokablok full of estrogens, which can cause hormonal unbalance, unnecessary weight gain, and infertility. In my opinion, soy should be avoided at all costs. If you are allergic to cow’s milk, perhaps try an organic almond milk, or avoid milk alternatives all together.
Optimal Nutrition for Healthy Breast Milk
The question we are all left with is this; How do we ensure we obtain all the necessary nutrients to promote healthy breast milk?
The answer is this; a nutrient-dense diet consisting of quality fats (especially grass-fed butter), fish, meats with the fat intact, some nuts and seeds, loads of vegetables, fruits, raw dairy products, and liver (if you can stomach it – try pate), and perhaps a fermented cod liver oil supplement. This will ensure you are obtain ample nutrients for healthy breast milk. For a closer look at nutrients and diet, I suggest you read my previous article on ‘Nutrition During Pregnancy’ as it outlines the exact diet appropriate for nursing women.
I advise women on how to meet their baby’s and their own nutritional requirements pre-conception and during pregnancy, how to manage morning sickness and weight gain, and how to best prepare their bodies to develop a healthy baby. Please get in touch if you would like some guidance.
Feed, nourish, value yourself.