Breast milk, particularly human milk, is used to feed the new born infant until he or she is capable enough to digest other forms of food. The milk obtained from the breast contains almost all the nutrients required for the balanced growth of the infant. Young children as well as toddlers are also breast fed for some time until they get to be weaned off.
While nursing the baby is the ideal way of feeding, the breast milk can be collected and fed to the infant via a feeding bottle or a spoon. Naso gastric tubes as well as supplemental drips are also used to feed the baby with human milk especially when the infant has been delivered prematurely.
Human milk is also being sold online now and nursing a baby of another woman has been in vogue since the ancient times, a process known as wet nursing. Milk bank which stores human milk is also one of the best ways of obtaining milk for a new born especially when the mother is unable to feed it due to lack of milk secretion.
Secretion of Human Breast Milk
The mother produces milk under the influence of lactating hormones namely oxytocin and prolactin. The milk is extremely nutritious and helps in boosting up the immunity of the new born. The first milk known as colostrums is yellowish in color and is extremely rich in immunoglobulin IgA. The milk helps the infant to prevent the accumulation of bilirubin which is one of the chief reasons for neo natal jaundice.
Breast milk secretion takes place naturally and remains constant as the mother continues feeding the infant. The production may, however, be hampered due to illness or deficiency of hormones. Taking prescribed medicines or home remedies may increase the production of milk appreciably in such cases.
Human Milk: Composition
The amount of nutrient present within the mother’s milk varies on a day to day basis according to the need of the infant. The dilution is also another factor that changes as the new born grows. Proteins, minerals and essential sugars are available in the milk which help the baby to satiate the thirst.
Carbohydrates are present in the milk and are usually high in the milk that is suckled first. There are several proteins present within the breast milk which combine with oleic acid and forms a complex compound called “hamlet”, a substance responsible for preventing cancerous cells and tumors in the infant.
Although breast milk is considered to be the best for baby, the mother can unwittingly pass on unwanted substances like alcohol, a host of viruses as well as drugs which may end up harming the baby. It is advisable to visit a professional medical practitioner before breast feeding if the mother is on drugs or habituated to alcohol consumption.
Formula milk is regarded as an alternative to human milk but doctors now prescribe mother’s milk which is also available from milk banks in most developed countries now.
Breast Milk Benefits
Both the world Health Organization (WHO) as well as the “American Academy of Pediatrics” advice mothers to breast feed the baby for the initial six months provided all things remain normal and the health of the mother is not affected by child birth. The primary benefits of breast milk on the new born infant that cannot be ignored include:-
- Protection from a host of infections.
- Boosting up of the immunological system.
- Reducing the risk of developing allergies.
- Having positive effect on the intelligence of the baby.
- Reducing risk of becoming unhealthily obese if fed on breast milk.
- Has anti-cancer properties which can protect the baby from the dreaded disease.
- Breast feeding is also considered to be beneficial for the mother’s health.
- The process of feeding leads to an enhanced bonding between mother and child.
Alternative Uses of Breast Milk
- Used for preparing certain anti-bacterial and anti-fungal medicines especially in alternative medicines.
- Can be used as a home remedy for getting rid of minor infections along with insect bites and skin rashes.
- Cleansing products like soap has also been produced from breast milk although it was not marketed commercially.
- Used as a substitute for cow’s milk in certain restaurants which led to controversy.
Human Milk: Trivia
A restaurant located in London caused an uproar by including breast milk ice-cream in its menu which was named as “Baby Gaga”. The product was withdrawn by the health officials who stated that the ice-cream would be tested to check whether it was fit for consumption.
Adult consumption of human milk has not been proved to be beneficial conclusively.