Most everyone has heard the phrase “Breast is Best!” and, for a lot of reasons, it’s true.
That said, most health practitioners would rightly add that “Fed is Best!” because a happy and healthy baby is one that eats well. But there’s no escaping the fact that there are wonderful benefits to breast milk that simply can’t be replicated in formula.
Colostrum production starts early
Colostrum is the thicker fluid that mother’s produce in the early days after the baby is born, before the breast milk begins to flow. It is developed as early as 4 months into the pregnancy, and contains significant amounts of the antibodies within white blood cells, calcium, potassium, proteins, various other vitamins and minerals and other disease fighting properties that will protect a baby.
In fact, colostrum contains approximately 3-5 million white blood cells per milliliter; compare that with breast milk when baby is 5 months old, where the white blood cell concentration has dropped to something closer to 100,000 cells per milliliter. This is still a very high concentration relative to what a body naturally produces on its own, and goes a long way to contributing to baby’s immunity being built up.
Breast milk builds immunity
Within the white blood cells contained in breast milk are various antibodies and other bioactive elements that help build a baby’s immunity to disease also help prevent some of the basic ones like diarrhea, other gastrointestinal upsets, and ear infections. Long term, babies who receive breast milk have lower incidences of asthma and diabetes.
Babies have a nose for breast milk
The scent is unique between babies and mothers and babies will instinctively turn towards the smell of their mother’s breast milk when hungry.
Breast milk evolves as baby’s needs changes
Breast milk production is triggered by hormones but it is also regulated by the needs of the baby. For example, a premature baby will trigger in the mother to produce milk that is higher in fats and proteins. A sick baby will trigger the mother to produce milk that contains more white blood cells and antibodies, to fight the illness. The combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins that can be found in breast milk changes as baby’s needs change.
Breast milk also evolves during a single feeding: while it starts out more watery, by the end of a feed, it will be thicker and creamier with higher fat content.
Taste of milk changes with what mom eats
Various accounts state that breast milk has a nutty flavor, with undertones of sweetness. But those flavors will change depending on what mom eats. If you like spicy, sweet or salty foods, some of that will transfer to baby via the breast milk. This isn’t a bad thing as it acclimates baby to different flavors long before they begin to start solid foods, at about 6 months of age.
Even if mom is sick, breast milk can still be a benefit baby
As the mother’s body produces more antibodies to fight off an illness like a cold, those antibodies pass to the baby through the breast milk, helping further baby’s building up of their own natural immunity. In fact, many times when a mother gets sick, the baby does not get the same illness, despite being exposed and at close range.
Breast milk is the ultimate fast food: no running to the store for formula, mixing and measuring it properly at 3 a.m. Without a second glance at the diaper bag, mom and baby can be off running errands because there is always a ready supply when baby is hungry. What could be better than that?