Not many foods would be able to bear the name “perfect food”, but breast milk proudly wears the label.
Breast milk compares very differently to other forms of milk, say - like cow’s milk. In nutritional comparison, cow’s milk contains 3 times more protein than human milk, and is substantially lower in complex carbohydrates – of which is the largest component of human milk. We tend to think that protein is best, but for baby, complex carbohydrates are required for development and growth, not heavy protein.
Human milk does have a little more fat in it than in cow’s milk, but the type of fat here is “good fats” – specifically what babies need for brain growth and development. Human milk contains a smaller ratio of calcium, phosphorus and sodium compared to cow’s milk, but again, these ratios are much more adapted to a new infant, whereas the higher levels of these micronutrients in cow’s milk can lead to excesses of these elements. This can be hard on kidneys and other organs.
Often infants do not digest cow’s milk very well. It was explained to me once using this analogy: molecularly speaking, cow’s milk is a much larger “molecule” – something like trying to push a basketball through a garden hose, whereas human milk has a much smaller molecular size – like pushing a marble through a garden hose. Human milk “fits” through babies’ digestive tracts much better than cow’s milk. It’s the protein content and type in cow’s milk that makes it so hard for babies to digest - the protein ratio is too high and consists mostly of casein, whereas breast milk is mostly whey protein. Consequently, many children develop intolerances to cow’s milk and mostly to the protein casein.
Breastfeeding has benefits for both baby and mom. In addition to being low to no cost, it’s always available and extremely convenient. A study in the journal New Scientist indicates that breastfeeding was shown to reduce the risk of heart attack in women as well as help the mothers regain their metabolism after pregnancy – something most moms look forward to. Breast milk is easily absorbed by baby’s delicate intestinal tract and delivers millions of immune boosting factors with each feed.
To increase and maintain milk supply, drink at least 1.5 -2 litres of pure water per day and use herbs like fenugreek to increase production. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains will ensure your milk supply as well as deliver the best quality milk to your baby. Mom should supplement with a quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement suitable for nursing mothers and make sure it has vitamin D in it, or take a separate vitamin D supplement – as cow’s milk is fortified with vitamin D, but human milk has less vitamin D, simply because the D in cow’s milk is added at production.
Nothing brings you closer to the joys of new life than providing that life with perfect nourishment. Breast really is best.
by Erin Bell, Nutritionist, R.h.A., Herbalist
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