Breastfeeding exclusively during a child’s first six months of life can help ensure that they develop in a healthy way.
Adriana Patricia Osorno Gutiérrez
Clinical Pediatric Nutritionist
Manuel Alonso Alejo Riveros
Babies that breastfeed receive all the nutrients they need and also benefit from their mother’s presence. Through breastfeeding mothers play a special role in their lives by forming a loving and emotional bond that is critical to their development process. Breastmilk has been proven to be one of the most complete and most complex forms of nourishment that humans have access to. If it is such a natural practice that is so beneficial, however, why does it continue to be a taboo? And why are there barriers to breastfeeding, especially in public? If all people promote this practice, it can be sustained, helping to ensure that newborns survive and have less chances of developing infections, allergies and chronic diseases. (It may be of your interest: The benefits of breastfeeding).
According to Adriana Patricia Osorno, a nutritionist from the Pediatric Clinic at the San Vicente Foundation University Hospital in Colombia, this form of nourishment adapts to the nutritional needs of each child. “The composition of breastmilk depends on the baby’s age, or more specifically, on the stage of breastfeeding each child is at. The breastmilk that a child receives when they are newborns is not the same as the breastmilk they get after they are five days or after a month; its composition is even different of the baby is premature.” Babies should be breastfed as they request it and without a set schedule. As the child grows, they will want to feed more and their greatest period of growth generally occurs in their first two years of life.
To better understand the “magic formula” of breastmilk, the following is some information that all of society should know and share•
3 hours is the average frequency for breastfeeding, as this is the time frame through which the baby goes through gastric emptying and becomes hungry again.
- Provides nutrients. Breastmilk always maintains the same number of calories, proteins and fats; however, this depends on the mother’s diet. Breastmilk is a stable form of nourishment in terms of its composition. It adapts to the development of the baby’s gastrointestinal system and in healthy children, it ensures they are not over-nourished or undergo deficiencies.
- Builds the immune system. Breastmilk contains antibodies that are not found in baby formula that protect babies’ immune systems. “The function of antibodies is to protect children from certain diseases throughout their lives, which gives breastmilk an advantage over artificial milks. It is also beneficial to their neural development, the development of their immune system and their blood-forming organs,” states pediatrician Manuel Alonso Alejo Riveros.
- It is a “smart food:”. To provide a baby with all it needs, it contains several different elements: whey proteins that aid in digestion and in the absorption of nutrients; taurine, which enhances the child’s neurological development; iron, which – despite the low levels it contains – allows for greater bioavailability and easier absorption; essential fatty acids; lactose (also in low levels); and lipase to aid in digesting fats.
- Quenches thirst. When a baby breastfeeds, the first thing they receive is sugar water containing carbohydrates and lactose to quench their thirst. As nutritionist Adriana Patricia Osorno explains, “This is why you should not provide the child with other liquids. When they finish breastfeeding, the child has mainly received a good source of fat, helping them to grow and develop, promoting their neural development and quenching their thirst.”
- Healthy mothers. While the quality and quantity of breastmilk depends largely on the mother’s diet, experts suggest that the mother maintain her diet similar to when she was pregnant, including all the food groups in order to meet her needs and ensure that she is producing milk. She should lead a healthy, balanced, complete, and plentiful diet.
- Stimulus and quantity. Producing enough breastmilk not only depends on the total amount of liquid the mother drinks, but also on how often she breastfeeds. “Sometimes, in the first 24 to 48 hours, mothers produce very little, but their production increases on the third day. During this period, colostrum is generally produced and the baby can be fed with it, benefitting from its multiple properties. The more often babies are placed on their mothers’ breasts, the more a hormone is stimulated that makes the mother produce more breastmilk,” explains pediatrician Manuel Alonso Alejo.