5 Interesting Facts About Nutritional Composition of Breast Milk
When it comes to the nutritional composition of breast milk, there are a lot of different things that can be said. Breast milk is the best thing a baby can drink. It’s full of essential nutrients and proteins that help it Babygrow and even contains antibodies that protect it from illness. Breast milk is also super-easy to digest, so your Baby will get all the nutrition he needs without getting bloated or gassy. Breast milk contains more than 60 nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
Thanks to scientists and baby formula manufacturers, the nutritional composition of breast milk has been de-mystified. So what exactly is in breast milk to make it the “perfect food” for babies?
1. Fats in Nutritional Composition of Breast Milk
The nutritional composition of breast milk begins with fat. Breast milk has many nutrients, but fat is the most abundant. The main component of breast milk is fat—it makes up about 40% of its weight. If you take all the water out of breast milk, almost half of what’s left behind is fat. And there’s lots of cholesterol, too. Don’t worry: babies, infants, and young children need fats because it is needed to develop the nervous system.
Specifically, fats are needed to cover & protect nerve cells. They are also integral parts of cell membranes. Researchers have found that breastfed babies grow up to be adults with lower cholesterol. It is suggested that exposing babies to cholesterol in breast milk allows their bodies to learn how to regulate cholesterol so that they have lower cholesterol levels as adults.
In breast milk, there is an enzyme called lipase. Lipase breaks down fat so that the fat is in small globules. This allows for better digestion and absorption in the Baby’s stomach. In contrast, the fat globules in baby formula are significant because they are from cow’s milk (cow’s milk is used to make most formulas). The fat from cow’s milk is not absorbed as well by human babies. Formula manufacturers have tried to correct this by replacing cow’s milk fat with plant oils (corn, coconut, olive, peanut, and others).
The nutritional composition of breast milk includes fats and cholesterol. These components are necessary for developing babies. Research published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that high cholesterol levels in breast milk may lead to lower adult cholesterol levels.
2. Carbohydrates in Nutritional Composition of Breast Milk
The next significant component of breast milk is carbohydrates (37%). Most people know carbohydrates as the macromolecules in bread, pasta, and rice. But in breast milk, most of the carbohydrates are in the form of lactose. Lactose is a disaccharide: it is made up of two sugars (galactose and glucose) linked together. Lactose gives Baby energy to do what babies do: breathe, eat, cry, wriggle, poop, learn, grow, and develop.
Lactose is converted to lactic acid by the Lactobacillus (a naturally occurring gut bacterium). The lactic acid makes Baby’s stomach acidic. This prevents the growth of harmful bacteria that are not supposed to be in the Baby’s stomach. Cow’s milk (used to make baby formula) has less than 10% lactose. Formula manufacturers try to match the nutritional composition of breast milk by adding more lactose.
Lactose is a disaccharide composed of one glucose and one galactose unit. Lactose is the predominant carbohydrate in breast milk.
3. Proteins in Nutritional Composition of Breast Milk
There are high protein levels in colostrum, which gradually decrease as Baby grows older and older. By six months of age, babies should get an external source of protein, for example, in cereals or other solid foods.
Mature milk has many different proteins, but the two major players are whey and casein. Whey is a smooth, liquid protein, whereas casein is a coarse protein that tends to curdle. In breast milk, 60% to 80% of the proteins are of the whey type. Whey is easier to digest and absorbed well in the Baby’s stomach. Because of this, babies fed on breast milk will have runny poops and be hungry more often. Cow’s milk has more casein and less whey. Casein is harder to digest & absorb because it clumps in a Baby’s stomach.
Formula-fed babies are hungry less often because the formula isn’t being digested. As well, when the Babies poop, the poops are more solid. Formula manufacturers try to correct this by adding emulsifiers to help break apart the casein. Other than whey and casein, there are many other essential proteins:
- antibodies (helps fight against bacterial and viral infections),
- lactoferrin (binds to iron and helps Baby absorb iron. It also prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms that use iron),
- bifidus factor (encourages the growth of Lactobacillus, which helps prevent the growth of other harmful stomach bacteria),
- lipase, amylase, lysozyme, and other enzymes (helps in digestion and creates a healthy environment in Baby’s intestines).
An antibody is a kind of protein. It is often shown as a Y-shaped molecule. Antibodies work by binding to and incapacitating foreign particles such as bacteria.
4. Vitamins, Minerals, & More in Nutritional Composition of Breast Milk
Breast milk contains vitamins and minerals, which, for the most part, can be simulated in formulas. However, the nutritional composition of breast milk includes over 100 different components, most of which we still do not know how they affect babies’ growth and development. Currently, formula manufacturers have not been able to recreate breast milk’s nutritional composition.
Breast milk is considered to have the perfect combination of nutrients. Formula manufacturers use breast milk’s contents as the standard to compare.
5. Vitamin K in breast Milk
One of the most common questions regarding breast milk is whether or not it contains vitamin K. The answer is yes, but not enough. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium and promotes bone growth. It’s found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale and in meat and dairy products.
Babies are born with tiny vitamin K in their bodies, so they need to get it from their diet at birth—and since most babies don’t eat solid foods until they’re around six months old (or even longer), a one-time intramuscular shot of vitamin K at birth is the best way to prevent low amounts of vitamin K and VKDB in infants. Healthcare providers should discuss with parents the risks of not receiving this dose of vitamin K.