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Breast Milk The 'Ultimate Personalized Medicine'

Breast milk is the gold standard in infant nutrition. Nothing can compare and nothing can replicate the nutrient density perfectly and naturally customized for an infant. New research underlines the beneficial effects of breastfeeding on short-term child health.

Breast milk is often described as the gold standard of infant nutrition. © / szeyuen

Breast milk is always better than formula because it provides critical nutrients and a diverse array of antioxidant protection as well.

Earlier studies have shown that breast milk lowers the incidence of diarrhea, influenza and respiratory infections during infancy, while protecting against the later development of allergies, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.

Some studies have even suggest that children up to the age of one that are fed beverages other than breast milk are at risk of becoming malnourished.

Babies fed a dairy-based formula grow up to have higher blood pressure than babies who are breast-fed, British researchers reported.

While breast milk decreased infantile mortality and reduced gastrointestinal and airway infections, mechanisms to explain this were still unclear.

Recent meta-analyses underline the beneficial effects of breastfeeding on short-term child health by decreasing infant mortality and morbidity.

Breast milk was found to not only contribute nutrients, immunoglobulins, antimicrobial proteins, complex oligosaccharides, hormones, but also xenobiotics to the infant.

The review also found some of the protective factors provided by breast milk exerted significant influence in the infant gut, such as the mucosal immune system and the intestinal microbiota.

Breast milk is often described as the gold standard of infant nutrition, because breast milk provides all the macronutrients and vitamins required for the development of the suckling infant.

Recent studies underline the beneficial effects of breastfeeding on short-term child health by decreasing infant mortality and morbidity , and on long-term development by reducing the risk for obesity .

Other studies have gone even further, identifying the rich source of bioactive factors, including immunoglobulins , cytokines , antimicrobial proteins , hormones , and oligosaccharides , that breast milk provides.

Breast Milk Is a Meal

Let us begin by crunching some numbers. At the beginning of lactation, each human breast produces, on average, 450g of milk daily. After 15 months, the daily output can still reach up to 200g of milk, although the amount largely depends on the intensity of breastfeeding. To accommodate this increased energy expenditure, the nursing mother has to increase her daily caloric intake of around 2000kcal by an additional 500kcal. This supplement nearly compensates for the 625kcal required for the daily production of 700-900g of breast milk. The process itself is efficient, given that the conversion of dietary energy to milk energy has been estimated to reach 80%. Altogether, the energy expenditure bound to milk production is considerable and is comparable to the daily caloric uptake of the brain.

The true structural and functional richness of breast milk emanates from the many components included in its fat, protein, and carbohydrate fractions. The composition of breast milk differs largely among mammals. For example, marine mammals have a milk that is rich in fat, fast-growing mammals have a milk that is rich in proteins, and marsupials and primates have a milk that is rich in carbohydrates. In humans, the ethnicity and age of nursing mothers have little impact on overall milk composition, but the stage of lactation has the largest effect on the individual classes of macronutrient. In general, colostrum has high concentrations of bioactive proteins and oligosaccharides, whereas mature milk has proportionally high levels of lipids and caseins.

The maternal diet has little effect on most macronutrient classes, although dietary lipids definitively influence the fatty acid composition of breast milk. Lipids are the largest source of calories, yielding 40-50% of the total dietary energy of breast milk. In addition to triglycerides and cholesterol, the lipid fraction of early milk includes several lipid mediators, such as anti-inflammatory lipoxins and resolvins. Milk proteins are often subdivided into insoluble caseins that build micelles, and soluble whey proteins, which include bioactive proteins, such as secretory IgA (sIgA), lactoferrin, lysozyme, and α-lactalbumin. The carbohydrate fraction comprises lactose (50-70g/l) and complex oligosaccharides (7-12g/l). Despite its structural simplicity and the universal occurrence of glucose (Glc) and galactose (Gal) in living organisms, the disaccharide lactose that combines Glc and Gal is only found in mammals.

Formula Can't Compare

"One of the problems with formula is that it contains no DHA, no cholesterol, no lipase, no lactoferin, no lysozymes, no live white cells, etc and this all has an overall effect on the therapeutic potential and absorption on baby," said doula and breast feeding specialist Misha Schlereth.

Breast milk is the perfect food for baby, with numerous advantages over baby formula, especially in the first four months or so. Here's why:

  • It's always available.
  • It's free.
  • It contains active infection-fighting white blood cells and natural chemicals that give increased protection against infections in the first months, when these can be the most serious.
  • It can help prevent SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • It contains the perfect proportion of nutrients that your baby needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calcium.
  • It is easily digestible.
  • It may protect against allergies and asthma in the future.
  • It may decrease a baby's risk of obesity in the future.
  • It may contain some fatty acids that promote brain development.
  • Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose weight more easily.

Most baby formulas are derived from cow's milk (although dairy-free formulas are also available). When milk -- from the breast or from a cow -- is digested, it breaks down into two byproducts: curds and whey. The curd is white and rubbery, and the whey is liquid.

When cow's milk breaks down, the curd that forms is hard for human babies to digest. Breast milk, on the other hand, forms more whey than curd, and the curd is softer and more easily digested. Because the baby can digest breast milk more easily than cow's milk, he's less likely to decorate your favorite sweater with spit-up.

Formula makers are striving to make their formulas contain more whey and less curd, so they can be digested more like breast milk. Some formulas, like Nutramigen and Alimentum unfortunately are made of hydrolyzed protein, which is quite processed and offers little nutritional value. In all cases, breast milk is still the gold standard that formula companies are continually trying to match, but it may very well be an impossible feat.

One of the amazing things about breast milk is that your milk is specially formulated to have the right composition for your baby, and to contain exactly the right amounts of nutrients. Bottle-fed babies receive the exact same nutrients every time they eat. Breast milk, on the other hand, continually changes in composition so that your baby gets what he or she needs at any age.

A simple comparison of breast milk over formula shows its superiority:

Fats Rich in brain-building omega 3s, namely DHA and AA
-Automatically adjusts to infant's needs; levels decline as baby gets older
-Rich in cholesterol
-Nearly completely absorbed
-Contains fat-digesting enzyme, lipase

-Doesn't adjust to infant's needs
-No cholesterol
-Not completely absorbed
-No lipase
Fat is the most important nutrient in breastmilk; the absence of cholesterol and DHA, vital nutrients for growing brains and bodies, may predispose a child to adult heart and central nervous system diseases. Leftover, unabsorbed fat accounts for unpleasant smelling stools in formula-fed babies.
-Soft, easily-digestible whey
-More completely absorbed; higher in the milk of mothers who deliver preterm
-Lactoferrin for intestinal health
-Lysozyme, an antimicrobial
-Rich in brain-and-body- building protein components
-Rich in growth factors
-Contains sleep-inducing proteins

-Harder-to-digest casein curds
-Not completely absorbed, more waste, harder on kidneys
-No lactoferrin, or only a trace
-No lysozyme
-Deficient or low in some brain-and body-building proteins
-Deficient in growth factors
-Does not contain as many sleep-inducing proteins.
Infants aren't allergic to human milk protein.
-Rich in lactose
-Rich in oligosaccharides, which promote intestinal health

-No lactose in some formulas
-Deficient in oligosaccharides
Lactose is considered an important carbohydrate for brain development. Studies show the level of lactose in the milk of a species correlates with the size of the brain of that species.
Immune Boosters
-Rich in living white blood cells, millions per feeding
-Rich in immunoglobulins

-No live white blood cells-or any other cells. Dead food has less immunological benefit.
-Few immunoglobulins and most are the wrong kind
When mother is exposed to a germ, she makes antibodies to that germ and gives these antibodies to her infant via her milk.
Vitamins Minerals
-Better absorbed, especially iron, zinc, and calcium
-Iron is 50 to 75 percent absorbed.
-Contains more selenium (an antioxidant)

-Not absorbed as well
-Iron is 5 to 10 percent absorbed
-Contains less selenium (an antioxidant)
Vitamins and minerals in breast milk enjoy a higher bioavailability-that is, a greater percentage is absorbed. To compensate, more is added to formula, which makes it harder to digest.
Enzymes Hormones
-Rich in digestive enzymes, such as lipase and amylase
-Rich in many hormones: thyroid, prolactin, oxytocin, and more than fifteen others
-Varies with mother's diet

-Processing kills digestive enzymes
-Processing kills hormones, which are not human to begin with
-Always tastes the same
Digestive enzymes promote intestinal health. Hormones contribute to the overall biochemical balance and well- being of baby.
By taking on the flavor of mother's diet, breastmilk shapes the tastes of the child to family foods.
-Around $600 a year in extra food for mother

-Around $1,200 a year
-Up to $2,500 a year for hypoallergenic formulas
-Cost for bottles and other supplies
-Lost income when baby is ill


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