What are the benefits of breast milk?
Breast milk is unique and is the ideal food for the baby. It fosters proper growth to the newborn. The composition of human breast milk among others includes nutrition, growth factors, hormones, enzymes, blood cells that fight infections and immune-protective factors. The lactation is robust and mother’s breast milk is adequate in essential nutrients, even when her own nutrition is inadequate. Mature breast milk usually has constant levels of about 7g/dL carbohydrate and about 0.9g/dL proteins. But the composition of fats essential for neonatal growth, brain development, and retinal function varies according to a woman’s intake, the length of gestation, and the period of lactation. Vitamins and minerals also vary according to maternal intake.
However, even when these nutrients are lower in breast milk than in formulas, their higher bioactivity and bioavailability nearly meet the complete needs of neonates than provided by even the best infant formulas. Also, in many instances human milk components compensate for immature function, such as a neonate’s inability to produce certain digestive enzymes, immunoglobulin A (IgA), taurine, nucleotides, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition, the breast milk contains various cells (such as macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes) that play a critical role in the immune protection of the baby.
Babies on breast milk have lower risk for the development of allergy. Human milk lacks inflammatory mediators, and contains anti-inflammatory agents such as antiproteases, antioxidants, and enzymes that degrade inflammatory mediators and modulators of leukocyte activation. Furthermore, IgE (the principal immunoglobulin responsible for immediate hypersensitivity reactions), basophils, mast cells, eosinophils (the principal effector cells in these reactions) are absent in breast milk. The mediators from these cells are also absent in human milk. Immune and nonimmune protecting agents are present in milk throughout lactation and some, such as lysozyme, are present at higher concentrations during prolonged lactation than during the early stages. Therefore, although it is advocated that breast-fed infants receive food supplements after 4 to 6 months of exclusive breast-feeding, it is advisable to breast-feed for longer periods.
Moreover, the breast milk promotes the development of healthy gut flora that acts to suppress the development of the allergic reaction.