Breastfeeding & Feeding

Breast Milk – Baby's "Superfood"

With MAM Expert Associate Professor Nadja Haiden, M.D.


Chia seeds, goji berries, acai... A wide variety of food is labeled "superfood", but what is the superfood for babies? Breast milk, of course! Doctors, midwives and lactation consultants all agree: breastfeeding is best for the baby. For instance, it contains vital components such as antibodies and hormones like leptin. So how do these substances make breast milk a true magic potion abound in health benefits? Find out how and much more in this article. 

Breast milk contains a variety of different nutrients that are perfectly adapted to meet the baby's needs during its first few months, providing the best possible source of nutrition. These nutrients include proteins, fats and carbohydrates in addition to vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
There's a good reason why breast milk is nicknamed "liquid gold". And the amazing thing about it? Every mother's breast milk is naturally tailored to her baby.


Breast milk's vital components in brief:

Nutrients:

The perfect balance of nutrients in breast milk plays a role in the baby's healthy metabolic programming. This protects the child against lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure when they grow older.


Antibodies:

Breast milk contains a variety of cells and messenger substances that help build up and train the child's immune system and strengthen the child's defenses to fight infections. These cells include various white blood cells, i.e. living cells, that can fight pathogens. As a result, breastfed children end up having fewer respiratory tract infections, fewer bouts of diarrhea and fewer ear infections compared with formula-fed children.


Growth factors and hormones:

These substances regulate hormone levels, support healthy growth and aid in organ and individual tissue maturation. The hormones leptin and ghrelin, for instance, are responsible for regulating appetite. Having the right balance between the two is essential for having a healthy sense of hunger and satiety.


Digestive enzymes and messenger substances:

Breast milk is very easy for the baby to digest, which is mainly down to the enzymes that it contains. Breast milk includes a number of these digestive enzymes for fats, proteins and carbohydrates, making it easier for the baby to break down and process the nutrients. It also contains messenger substances that ensure vitamins, such as vitamin B12, and iron are absorbed easily.


Probiotics and prebiotics:

Breast milk contains various types of lactic acid bacteria – or probiotics – that help develop healthy gut flora. They stop bad bacteria and viruses from adhering to the intestinal mucosa, protecting your baby from gastro-intestinal infections and diarrhea. Breast milk also contains indigestible carbohydrates called prebiotics that nourish the lactic acid bacteria, almost as though they are the food for the probiotics. Some prebiotics have properties that prevent the growth of pathogens.


Nucleotides and stem cells:

Nucleotides are the building blocks for our genetic information, making them essential for our bodies. In addition to these building blocks, breast milk also contains stems cells from which almost any tissues can be formed, such as nerve tissue, organ tissue and blood cells.


To sum it all up, we can safely say that breast milk is a unique superfood packed with health benefits for babies.

MAM Expert

DR. NADJA HAIDEN

Associate Professor Nadja Haiden, M.D. is a pediatrician specializing in Neonatology at the Medical University of Vienna.

She leads a research team investigating nutrition in preterm infants and sick newborns, and she is head of the committee on nutrition at the Austrian Society for Pediatric Medicine (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Kinder- und Jugendheilkunde).

Photos: 
Shutterstock
Natascha Kanta 

Sources: 
Dieterich CM et al. Breastfeeding and health outcomes for the mother-infant dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013 Feb;60(1):31-48. doi: 10.1016/j.pcl.2012.09.010. Epub 2012 Nov 3.
Uvnas-Moberg K, Petersson M. Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing. Z Psychosom Med Psychother. 2005;51(1):57-80.
Victora CG et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-490.
Hassiotou F, Hartmann PE. At the Dawn of a New Discovery: The Potential of Breast Milk Stem Cells. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov; 5(6): 770–778. Published online 2014 Nov 3. doi: 10.3945/an.114.006924


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