There are many benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers. Breastmilk contains a wide array of immunity boosters that help babies avoid infections. Breastfeeding can help mothers bond with their babies and burn calories to lose that “baby weight” after pregnancy. But one of the most impressive and underappreciated breastfeeding facts is that breastmilk contains all the necessary micronutrients to provide a strong foundation for the baby’s health and wellness.
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 a baby – it provides nutrients, vitamins and minerals that an infant needs for growth for the first six months of life, and no other liquids or food are needed. 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. Let’s learn more about micronutrients and why they’re some of the most important benefits of breastfeeding:
What Are Micronutrients?
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. Micronutrient deficiencies, which affect over two billion people around the globe today, are the leading cause of mental retardation, preventable blindness, and death during childbirth.
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 moms 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 of 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. It is important, however, to introduce foods that are iron-rich when your baby is ready for complementary feeding.
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 and also helps strengthen the immune system. (This article contains more information about breastmilk and Vitamin D.)
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 and intersecting 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 be vastly improved.
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 Singapore Facebook page.