It is a great feeling to become a mother. As soon as you hold your baby for the first time, you know that you want to give him or her the best of everything. As a mother, you're also anxious to ensure that your baby is growing and developing optimally. To grow well your baby needs the right nutrition and loving care. The first step to this is breastfeeding. With World Breastfeeding Week being observed this week (1-7 August), now is a good time to recap why breast is best.
Soon after delivery, you will observe a thick yellowish fluid called colostrum being secreted from your breasts. It is often referred as the first milk. Colostrum contains a high concentration of calcium, proteins, fat soluble vitamins, white blood cells and antibodies. Feeding this milk to your baby not only provides nourishment but also gives protection from infection and helps build lifelong immunity. Colostrum then gradually gives way to more mature milk which is less viscous, whitish in color, lower in protein but higher in water, lactose and fat to meet your baby's changing nutritional needs. It is also a source of antibodies, nutrients and hormones.
When you're breastfeeding, do remember that the composition of your milk is dependent on what you eat.
Did you know that the first year of a child's life is a period of intense growth? The body weight of the child doubles by six months and triples by 12 months of age. Breast milk is extremely important to support this rapid growth. Here are some of its nutritional benefits:
- Breast milk contains carbohydrates only in the form of lactose. Along with providing energy, lactose facilitates the absorption of calcium in the body. Lactose also encourages the formation of gut friendly bacteria. These bacteria's support the baby's developing immune system.
- The protein in breast milk is in a readily absorbable and digestible form thereby aiding in the building of muscle mass necessary to support the growth of the baby.
- The fat content of the mother's milk provides energy to support growth of the baby.
- DHA, an essential component that aids in brain development. It is also present in the mother's milk. Studies have shown significant (but modest) improvement in IQ associated with breastfeeding.
- Breast milk also contains essential vitamins and minerals which are again easily digested in gaining appropriate growth.
- Breastfeeding is the best way to introduce taste variety to your baby. This helps set healthy dietary habits in your baby.
As the above benefits show, it is appropriate to call mother's milk the nectar of life for babies.
The government of India recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, after which complementary foods can be introduced. It is also recommended that breastfeeding be continued until two years and beyond.
Breastfeeding not only nourishes your child but also helps in developing a unique bond between you and your baby. When you're breastfeeding, do remember that the composition of your milk is dependent on what you eat. In simpler terms, what you eat is what your baby gets.
So, choose a healthy nutritious diet for yourself and your baby and remember to exclusively breastfeed for six months.