5 Fascinating Facts About Breast Milk

5 Fascinating Facts About Breast Milk


Did you know your breast milk not only changes from month to month, but throughout the day as well?

“People tend to underestimate what milk is," says Katie Hinde, a biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University. "That's in part because you go to the store and there's an entire aisle dedicated to buying milk that is literally a homogenized, standardized food. It leads us to take mother's milk for granted."

Here are five fascinating facts about breastmilk to appreciate:

1. BREASTMILK IS PACKED WITH IMMUNITY. 

White blood cells protect the body from illness and disease. The earliest form of milk you produce, colostrum (“liquid gold”), contains 1 to 5 million white blood cells per milliliter. Even on the low end of the spectrum, that’s 100x more than what your blood carries! By six months, the white blood cell count drops down to 100,000 cells per milliliter – 10x your own concentration. 

Most immune factors decrease after the first year of breastfeeding. However, second-year milk sees higher concentrations of Lysozyme, an immune factor that attacks bacterial cell walls, protects infants against Salmonella and E. Coli, reduces inflammation, and promotes healthy intestinal flora.

2. FAT, CARBS, PROTEIN, SODIUM, & CHOLESTEROL LEVELS ARE ALWAYS FLUCTUATING.

The nutritional composition of breast milk changes from week to week, and throughout the day. 

 

Colostrum (100 ml)

Mature Milk (100 ml)

Calories

58

70

Carbohydrates

5.3g

7.4g

Fat

2.9g

4.2g

Protein

3.7g

1.3g

 

Newborns can easily digest colostrum’s chemical composition, which revs up their digestive system and helps them pass those first few stools. Colostrum contains 10x more beta-carotene than mature milk, as well as higher vitamin E and zinc levels for rapid skin and eye development. 

Mature milk, which appears in one to three days, is 3-5% fat, packed with vitamins and minerals and vitamins for the baby’s growth and development. Over the course of one feeding, the fat content of mature milk can range from 1% at the beginning, to 5% at the end. This change serves as a form of appetite control for little eaters. 

Babies enjoy the fattiest feeding first thing in the morning to help them prepare for the busy wakeful hours of finessing their motor skills and exploring their surroundings. Later in the day, the fat content of breast milk decreases, while lactose and protein content go up. Lactose levels are high to provide enough calories for the baby’s explosive growth during the night. 

The longer you breastfeed, the higher the cholesterol content, which is important for nerve conduction in the brain and thought to be heart-protective for babies as they age. The fat content also goes up after a year of breastfeeding to provide for the increased caloric needs of the growing child.

3. BREAST MILK IS A POTENT COCKTAIL OF HORMONES.

Animal studies confirm that the hormone level fluctuation triggers certain developmental milestones, such as the babies’ eyes opening, sex organ development, and growth spurts. There is much to learn about how breastmilk hormones influence human baby development. Here’s what we know: 

  • Melatonin – Varies throughout the day to help baby wake, sleep, and form a circadian rhythm.
  • Thyroxine – Levels increase over the first week to mature baby’s intestines and metabolism.
  • Epidermal Growth Factor – GI booster high in colostrum and month one for mothers of preemies.
  • Leptin – High for first 180 days to control weight and appetite; influences healthy microbial flora.
  • Endorphins – Diminishes pain; No wonder ill or injured babies find mother’s milk comforting! 

Babies often fall asleep after nursing, which is that way by design. You release the relaxation and bonding hormone Oxytocin with every breastfeeding, which has a calming effect for you and your baby, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. The positive benefits of this hormone extend long after your baby weans: both mother and breastfed child have a decreased risk for heart disease!

4. MICROBIAL CONTENT CHANGES FROM DAY TO DAY, AND SEASON TO SEASON. 

Over 150 sugars (oligosaccharides) feed your baby’s intestinal microbes to keep healthy digestive bacteria flourishing. Bacteria from your body transfers through your milk to help your baby establish his or her own gut flora and immune system. The precise microbial makeup changes from day to day, and season to season.

According to Hinde, babies suckling at the breast create a vacuum and the ensuing “baby spit backwash” delivers messages to the mother’s mammary gland receptors. If a particular pathogen is identified, the mother’s body begins to produce antibodies to fight it, which then travel back to the baby’s body.

5. FLAVORS FLUCTUATE AND INFLUENCE YOUR BABY'S PALATE.

Each mother has a “unique flavor profile.” Incredibly, babies can detect the unique scent of their mother’s milk -- and prefer it. Mature human breastmilk tastes “sweet and a little nutty, with an almost vanilla-like flavor.” However, breastmilk can taste saltier after having mastitis, during the last few months of pregnancy, or when milk consumption falls below 400 ml per day – a change in flavor that may affect the baby’s desire to wean.

Early breastmilk experiences deliver unspoken cultural messages to our offspring and help babies determine their own taste preferences. Whatever you eat transfers subtleties of flavor in your milk – be it spicy, sweet, or salty – for up to eight hours after ingestion. You can think of the variations as the different flavors in a craft beer or a glass of wine. Breastfed babies tend to have adventurous palates when starting on solids.

"You have information about your whole life span that could be in your milk," Hinde explains, pointing to the fact that vegetarian mothers who ate meat as teenagers still pass on those fatty acids to their infants. "Milk is telling the baby about the world its mother has lived in.”  

We have only just scratched the surface of the 200+ known constituents found in amazing breast milk. These facts highlight what a tremendous gift breastfeeding is to your developing baby. While you revel in the miracle of motherhood, do take a moment to make sure you are at your best – confident and relaxed in what you’re wearing. Save 10% at the Kindred Bravely store on your affordable, comfortable and flattering breastfeeding wardrobe. Use code "BREASTISBEST" at checkout for 10% off.

 

5 Fascinating Facts about Breast Milk