Breastfeeding: Benefits of mother's own milk
What are the benefits of a mother’s own milk?
Breast milk contains just the right balance of nutrients in the form that is most easily used by your baby’s body. The benefits of breast milk include:
- Nutrients - Breast milk is rich in the nutrients that best promote brain growth and nervous system development. Research has found that breastfed babies perform better on different kinds of intelligence tests as they grow older. They also develop better eye function, mostly to certain types of fat in human milk. The sugars and protein in breast milk are also designed to be used easily and more completely by your baby.
- Anti-infective properties - Only breast milk contains the many different kinds of disease-fighting factors that help prevent mild to severe infections. Babies who are fully or almost-fully breastfed, or at least fed breast milk from a bottle, have significantly fewer gastrointestinal, respiratory, ear and urinary infections.
- Easily digested - Since nature designed human milk for human babies, breast milk is the most easily digested food your baby can receive. Your baby uses less energy breaking your milk down more completely into its basic ingredients, so the nutrients, anti-infective factors and all the other ingredients in your milk are more available to fuel your baby's body functions and to promote her development.
- Bio-availability - Bio-availability is a fancy way of referring to how well a body can use the nutrients in a food. The high bio-availability of nutrients in your milk means your baby gets more benefits from the nutrients it contains even for nutrients that appear in lower levels in breast milk when compared to infant formulas. Your baby's body can absorb and use them most effectively.
- Suitability - Your milk is best suited to, and gentler on, your baby's systems. Suitability is also thought to be one reason that breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergic-related skin conditions and asthma.
How is a preterm mother's milk different?
The milk of mothers who give birth prematurely is slightly different than milk produced by women after a full-term baby's birth in the following ways:
- Several studies found more fat, protein and the minerals sodium, chloride and iron in preterm milk than in full term milk. The variation in nutrient content seems to specifically benefit a preterm baby.
- Generally, premature babies who receive their own mothers' milk develop better eye function. They, and other high-risk babies fed mothers' milk, usually perform better on different kinds of intelligence tests as they grow older. This is mostly due to certain types of fats (fatty acid chains) in human milk, which are not available in artificial formulas.
- During the last weeks of pregnancy, a baby builds a lot of body tissue. Because premature babies are born early, they must build this tissue after birth. Tissue building requires protein. Preterm milk has a bit more protein, and the protein is in a form that is more easily used by your premature baby.
- Preterm milk has higher levels of anti-infective properties. Antibodies in human milk directly protect against infection.
- A nutritious, yet easily digested first food is important for any baby, but it is particularly beneficial for the immature digestive tract of a premature baby and the more sensitive systems of many other high-risk babies.
- The digestibility, bio-availability and suitability of your milk means your baby's body is able to work less yet receive more nourishment. This results in less stress for the baby's heart, lungs, bowels and kidneys, which allows your high-risk baby to use more energy to grow and get better.
Is a mother’s milk enough?
Although your milk is best, it’s not always complete with the nutritional needs of very small premature babies or some very sick newborns. Fortunately, adding to, or "fortifying," a mother's milk doesn’t appear to diminish the nutritional and anti-infective benefits your baby will gain from receiving your milk, and may help to better provide the nutrition your baby needs.
- Because Vitamin D deficiency (Rickets) has been discovered in some infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends Vitamin D supplements for all breastfed infants. Please consult your pediatrician on this matter.
- Hind milk feeding - When a higher calorie count is the only consideration, you may be asked to pump your milk for several minutes and then stop to change collection bottles. The milk collected after the first several minutes is called hind milk and tends to be higher in calorie-rich fats. The earlier milk obtained while pumping is called fore milk and it is higher in other nutrients. Freeze any fore milk for later use if asked to provide hind milk for some feedings. Don’t obtain only the hind milk for feedings, unless directed to do so by your baby's doctors and nurses.
- Human milk fortifier (HMF) - HMF contains several nutrients, especially certain minerals that are needed for proper bone development in low birth weight babies. HMF is added directly to a bottle of your own milk. Usually a powdered version is used when plenty of your own milk is available. Liquid HMF will be used if reduced amounts of your breast milk are available.
- Premature infant formulas - Sometimes, feedings of a mother's milk may be alternated with feedings of a premature infant formula. This may be done if HMF is not considered the best option, or when reduced amounts of your breast milk are available.