Have you ever wondered why breastmilk is referred to as liquid gold? Well, there are several reasons – in fact – almost 101 reasons! The most important of these is naturally its nutritional formulation that is completely optimised for your baby providing them with a perfectly healthy meal with added probiotics, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antibodies. Here are some nutritional facts about human breastmilk just in case you were wondering.
Human breastmilk composition – in short
Breastmilk contains hundreds of nutrients, some of which are still unidentified, but most of which fall into the fallowing categories:
- Macronutrients – These include protein, fat and lactose (milk sugar) – all needed for energy or cell growth for your baby. Milk comes in three phases – firstly, directly after birth is colostrum – very high in fat and immunologic components (antibodies) but also contains growth factors and some micronutrients and minerals. Colostrum is produced in the breast tissue as early as the second trimester of pregnancy and mainly serves to boost your babies immunity. It will be replaced by transitional milk about four days after your baby is born (when your “milk comes in”) and make way for “mature milk” at about six weeks postpartum. Transitional milk will share some of the properties of colostrum but will be in much greater quantities and will be full of protein, fat and lactose to feed your growing baby.
Mature milk’s composition will remain relatively constant, with some small fluctuations due to weather and diet. Its main ingredients are again fat, proteins and lactose in slightly different proportions than transitional milk.
- Micronutrients – these include some of the minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Potassium, Chlorine, Iodine) and vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D) your baby needs.
- Bioactive components – which includes immune factors such as IgA, IgM, IgD, IgG, Lactoferrin, Lysozyme, macrophages and lymphocytes along with many other elements some of which are still unidentified.
- Growth factors – These are components needed for neural and cellular growth of your baby and include the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) superfamily, Erythropoietin (Epo) and growth-regulating hormones such as Calcitonin and somatostatin.
- Pre – and probiotics – these agents selectively encourage the growth of beneficial organisms in your babies gut to ensure optimal digestion of food. Breastmilk also contains its own unique microbial community that will help colonisation of your baby’s gut. This bacterial community can vary from mother to mother and over time – adapting to what your baby needs at a certain time.
Other uses of breastmilk (if you have some to spare…)
So there is definitely some extra reasons this miracle liquid has been revered among mothers and babies. So, aside from nourishing your baby – here are some common and some uncommon uses for breastmilk that you may find helpful.
- Home remedies: With breastmilk’s antibacterial properties, home remedies are definitely first on the list – from an earache (few drops in the ear) to a sore throat (drink or gargle) as well as acne and diaper rash (apply with cotton wool). You can even use it as a nose decongestant for baby or adults – just drip a few drops in each nostril. Blocked eye ducts can also be treated with few drops of breastmilk.
- On the aesthetic side – you can use breastmilk as a facial cleanser or make-up remover. The lactic acid in milk acts as a cleanser while the proteins and vitamins nourish skin. It is even great for treating sunburn.
- Lastly – if you are creative you can even make soap, yoghurt or cheese from breastmilk – maybe not for everyone…
Who is Helene Steenkamp?
Scientist, Writer, Scientific proofreader. I am a Namibian born South African citisen with a great love for nature and its intricacies. I write from home for my own website BioParentology which is focussed on parenting, pregnacy, birth, breastfeeding, health and exersise research. I completed my PhD in molecular phylogenetics at the University of Pretoria in 2011, and has since worked as a postdoctoral researcher in this field at the university as well as the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa. Through my work I have published several peer reviewed scientific articles with the use of phylogenetic tools, where I mostly specialised in bacterial and viral genetics. I have also co-supervised 5 MSc students in the field and have assisted them not only in data analyses but also in article structuring and scientific writing. To complement this I completed a course in proofreading and copy editing in 2012
References and further reading
Jenness, R. 1979. The composition of human milk. Semin Perinatol 3(3):225-39.
Ballard, O., and Morrow, A.L. 2013. Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors. Pediatr Clin North Am 60(1): 49–74.
Kellymom Parenting and Breastfeeding: http://kellymom.com/nutrition/milk/bmilk-composition/#General
Ask Dr Sears – Comparison of human milk and formula: https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/why-breast-is-best/comparison-human-milk-and-formula
Earth 911 – Six amazing uses for breastmilk: http://earth911.com/living-well-being/health/6-amazing-uses-for-breast-milk-besides-feeding-baby
Code Name: Mama – 58 Medicinal, Cosmetic, and Other Alternative Uses for Breastmilk: http://codenamemama.com/2012/02/20/medicinal-cosmetic-alternative-uses-breastmilk/
Image Credit: iStock/Aliseenko