The Surprising Truth About the Micronutrients in Breast Milk
There are so many amazing reasons to breastfeed, for both babies and mothers. But did you know breastmilk contains a wide array of immunity boosters that helps our babies to avoid infections?
Breastfeeding can, of course, grow a mothers bond with her baby, make life much easier than bottle feeding (once mum and baby have gotten into the swing of things with their newly learnt skill) and mums do burn more calories, which can result in pregnancy weight loss, for some mums...
But one of the most impressive and underappreciated breastfeeding facts is that breastmilk contains all of the necessary micronutrients to provide a strong foundation for your baby’s health and wellness.
What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals required in small amounts that are essential to our health, development, and growth.
Even though they come in small “micro” portions, these nutrients are hugely important in human nutrition, especially for preventing and healing from various illnesses and medical conditions.
Micronutrients Play a Unique Role in Breastmilk
These tiny, invisible elements work intricately together – sometimes in ways that are not fully understood yet – to create a complete nutritional system that a baby can thrive on.
The science of breastfeeding research is still evolving and we are still finding new elements and ingredients that combine to make breastmilk so powerful.
Breastmilk is a unique combination of nutrients essential to a child’s health. It regulates the baby’s cells and tissues and trains them on how to function and respond to things properly.
Breastmilk is a Complete, Perfect “First Food” for Baby
Breastmilk provides all nutrients, vitamins and minerals that an infant needs for growth in the first six months of life, where no other liquids or food are needed. It continues to be an absolutely essential part of our baby’s diet up until two years of age and beyond.
Some of the micronutrients in breastmilk are a product of the mother’s diet and, in most cases, the baby will get all the benefits of micronutrients even if the mother is deficient in those elements.
Of course, the best advice is to eat as healthily as possible, but, even if you do not have a fantastic diet, by breastfeeding you are still providing all these amazing additions to your baby through breastfeeding.
Let’s learn more about micronutrients and why they’re some of the most important benefits of breastfeeding:
Micronutrients Are Nature’s Wonder Drugs
Also known as “vitamins and minerals,” micronutrients include such substances as copper, fluoride, iodine, selenium, sodium, and zinc, vitamin A, C, D, E and K, and also the B-complex vitamins.
Why Are Micronutrients Important?
Micronutrients come in small packages, but, if your body doesn’t have those little bits of “medicine” where it needs them, it can lead to big health problems. Micronutrients are necessary for the healthy functioning of all your body’s systems, from bone growth to brain function.
Micronutrients are particularly important for babies. A lack of these important vitamins and minerals has a profound impact on the baby’s immune system.
Why Do Babies Need Micronutrients?
The amount and types of vitamins in breastmilk is directly related to the mother’s vitamin intake. This is why it is essential that breastfeeding mums try and eat a good diet with adequate nutrition, including plenty of vitamins such as fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) and water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid).
Micronutrients work together to support and organize the correct balance a baby needs to grow strong.
Ten Micronutrients Babies Need – and Why:
Iron: Iron helps the baby’s body produce red blood cells. Breastmilk is quite low in iron concentration but there is almost always enough iron for a baby’s needs.
Even when a mother is iron deficient, she will still produce iron-sufficient milk and there is no need to use iron supplements in addition to breastfeeding a baby.
This is one of the biggest breastfeeding myths – some people believe that babies need iron supplements, but it’s not true.
Magnesium: Keeps bones strong and maintains a steady heart rhythm. This micronutrient also supports the immune system and helps maintain muscle and nerve function.
Potassium: Works together with sodium to control the body’s water balance to help maintain blood pressure. Potassium also assists with muscle function and heart rhythm, and may reduce the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis later in life.
Vitamin A: Important for good vision and bone growth. It protects the baby’s body from infections and supports the health and growth of cells and tissues in the body, including the hair, nails, and skin.
Vitamin C: Helps to form and repair red blood cells, bones, and tissues; boosts the immune system, and prevents infection.
Vitamin D: Helps the body absorb minerals like calcium and builds strong teeth and bones. Also helps strengthen the immune system, produces insulin and manages the growth of cells.
Vitamin E: Minimizes the production of free radicals, which damage cells. Strengthens the immune system, DNA repair and metabolic processes.
Zinc: Needed by more than 70 enzymes to help with digestion and metabolism. Essential for growth.
Clearly, breastmilk is a fascinating and powerful source of nourishment for our babies. We are still learning more about the complex ingredients that make breastmilk such a perfect “first food” for babies. If everyone on Earth could breastfeed as babies, the long-term health and wellness of all people on our planet would likely improve.
What are your thoughts on this? What have you learned about breastmilk that is surprising or impressive to you? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion at the Medela Australia Facebook page.