From the moment you announce your pregnancy, people are full of advice.
Among the most frequent things you’ll hear is “breast is best” – that breast milk is the best source of food for your baby. Indeed, breastfeeding is something that most experts recommend.
But many people don’t understand exactly why breastfeeding is so beneficial for a child.
Is breast milk best because it’s all natural?
The truth is, breastfeeding is good for a plethora of reasons. It can be a wonderful bonding experience between mom and baby, it can be easier than toting bottles around and it can even help mom lose pregnancy weight. But the real reason breast milk is the best thing for your baby is because it contains all of the nutrients your baby needs to survive and thrive, making it the truly perfect food.
"People tend to underestimate what milk is"
One reason breast milk is such a nutrient-dense food for your baby is because it contains a host of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential to your baby’s well-being. As their name implies, micronutrients are nutrients that your body needs in “micro”, or tiny, amounts, but are essential to our health and more importantly, to your baby’s development.
The great thing about breast milk is that even if mom’s diet isn’t ideal and she is deficient in one or more micronutrients, in most cases, baby will still receive all micronutrients they need from breast milk. The best option, of course, is to eat as healthy as possible during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, but if you don’t or can’t, your baby is still getting complete nutrition and everything they need to thrive.
What are the micronutrients that are found in breast milk? What are the benefits they provide to your baby’s body?
There are hundreds of micronutrients, and while we can’t discuss them all, some of the more important ones are: iron, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins A, C, D and E.
Iron: This helps with the production of red blood cells. On its own, breast milk is actually low in iron; however, no iron supplementation is needed for baby because the amount they get through breast milk is more than sufficient for their bodies.
Magnesium: This micronutrient is not often talked about, yet it does so much to support a healthy body! It maintains muscle and nerve function, supports the immune system, helps keep bones strong, and even assists with a steady heart rhythm.
The science behind breast milk is constantly evolving and research consistently finds new benefits that make breast milk so powerful.
Potassium: This is a major one. Not only does it help with your heart rhythm and muscle function, but it has also been shown to reduce your risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis. Mainly though, it works in conjunction with sodium to help maintain blood pressure.
Vitamins: Vitamin A is best known for supporting good vision and bone growth while Vitamin C primarily is an immune booster as well as helps prevent infection. Vitamin D works together with calcium to help build strong teeth and bones, and also helps manage cell growth and Vitamin E assists with DNA repair and metabolic processes.
Are the benefits of micronutrients lost in expressed and/or stored milk?
The answer is…complicated. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of scientific studies about the nutrition difference between fresh breast milk and stored breast milk. The few studies that have been done do show a difference in the nutrient content of fresh and stored breast milk. However, the general consensus is that even though fresh breast milk is ideal, stored breast milk still contains more micronutrients than formula.
One interesting study specifically looked at the levels of antioxidants in fresh vs. stored breast milk. It is well-known that free radicals are abundantly present both in the atmosphere and in our bodies, including infants. Antioxidants are what clear free radicals away. Premature babies are particularly vulnerable to diseases caused by free radicals. To test the antioxidant levels, researchers compared fresh breast milk, breast milk stored in the refrigerator for 2 or 7 days and breast milk frozen for 2 or 7 days as well as 5 brands of formula.
The bottom line is this: If you are able to provide breastmilk to your baby – regardless of how you deliver it – it is the ideal source of nutrition for your little one. So whether you breastfeed directly or pump, you can rest assured knowing your baby is getting the perfect food they need. For a quick, easy reference about breastmilk nutrition, these 2 charts are full of information.
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1 Natural Way offers a complete array of products and services to make moms more comfortable and confident throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding journey. We provide mothers with name brand breast pumps, monthly breastfeeding supplies, maternity compression stockings and postpartum recovery garments, as well as expert and compassionate advice and top-notch customer service. Click here to start the qualification process and find out if you qualify for a breast pump at no cost to you.