Breast milk: All you need to know about its composition
Not always exactly the same thing, because its composition changes over time and with the seasons, and even during the course of a feed, to best adapt to your growing baby. Nature really does know how to do things well! Let us explain it all.
What does breast milk contain?
Above all, it is 85 or even 90% water! Then there are fats, carbohydrates such as lactose, proteins, vitamins, minerals and lots of other substances that protect your baby, such as antibodies, hormones, fibre... Let’s take a closer look at its ingredients:
Proteins and enzymes that have multiple functions, such as supporting your baby’s growth and development. These also act on the immune system to protect your baby from infections.
One of these substances is lactoferrin, a remarkable protein that is present in large quantities in breast milk and has multiple benefits for your baby.
It helps reinforce baby’s immunity thanks to its antibacterial and antiviral action. It also contributes to the development of a healthy gut flora, containing good bacteria.
Fatty acids (fats or lipids), such as ARA and DHA, essential fatty acids belonging to the Omega 6 and 3 groups. These are necessary to form the nervous system and for brain and eye development. These fatty acids are called “essential” because the human body cannot make them on its own; they are supplied by the diet only. So try to eat a balanced diet to make sure that your body gets all these nutrients, and your baby too.
Carbohydrates, including lactose, which supply the energy needed to support your baby’s rapid growth.
It also contains oligosaccharides (of which there are 200 different ones!), non-digestible fibre that helps populate the gut with good bacteria.
Vitamins, minerals and trace elements for healthy growth, organs that function well and strong bones. For example, zinc plays a role in bone growth, and vitamins A, C and D contribute to good development of your baby’s immunity.
White blood cells that boost the immune system. And antibodies that protect baby from diseases and infections by fighting viruses and bacteria.
Hormones! Some of these regulate sleep, others appetite and some, like oxytocin, promote mother/baby bonding.
Breast milk over time
In the first few days, your milk is much thicker and more yellow than “mature” milk. This is colostrum. It is also sometimes called “yellow gold” because it is extremely rich in antibodies, lactoferrin and nutrients and acts a little like a vaccine to protect baby from infections from the new world around him.
After 4 to 10 days, the amount of milk increases, at the same time as your baby’s requirements. The composition of this transitional milk changes: it is creamier and contains fewer and fewer proteins and more and more fats and carbohydrates to boost growth.
After 10 days, the milk is mature! Its composition is relatively stable. However, it can change from day to day, depending on the mother’s diet, feeds and baby’s requirements. At the start of a feed, the milk is more watery to quench baby’s thirst and at the end of the feed it has a higher fatty acid and carbohydrate content to satisfy your baby’s hunger. For example, during very hot weather, the milk has a higher water content to keep your baby well hydrated. Nature knows how to do things well. And after 6 months, if you want to continue breastfeeding, your milk will still be as good and suitable for your baby’s needs!