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Updated 09 February 2016

Breast milk 101

Why is breast milk so good for a newborn’s development? We investigate.

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Breast milk is essential to a baby’s development, and can help protect against infection as well chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and asthma. But what makes breast best? Let’s take a closer look.

What is in breast milk that makes it so good for baby?

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for a new baby. The nutrients it provides for your baby include:

- Proteins: Breast milk contains the proteins whey (60%) and casein (40%). These proteins promote digestion and stave off infection.

- Fats: The fats in breast milk are a primary source of energy for your baby. They are also necessary for brain, retina and nervous system development.

- Vitamins: Depending on the diet of the mother, breast milk can be a rich source of Vitamins A, C, D, E, riboflavin and niacin. These vitamins are vital to the health and development of your baby. For this reason, mothers need to ensure that they get adequate nutrition and vitamin intake. 

- Carbohydrates: Lactose is the main carbohydrate found in breast milk. It accounts for about 40% of the total calories provided by breast milk, making it a significant energy source for your baby. Lactose also helps reduce the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the stomach, which improves the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.  It can also help keep disease at bay.

What to eat to stimulate milk production

Garlic is not just food flavouring; it can also be used to help stimulate breast milk production and increase your breast milk supply. Not keen on the taste of garlic? Try supplementing garlic instead. No more garlic breath!

Oats are an incredible source of nutrients that are good for you and baby. They help build, maintain and increase your milk supply, and are thought to ease feelings of anxiety and depression – which is great news for new mothers or women struggling to breastfeed.

Carrots are full of beta-carotene, which is believed to enhance lactation. Carrots sticks are also a great low-calorie option to snack on when you’re peckish.

Fennel contains phytoestrogens, which are believed to promote lactation and breast tissue health. Fennel seeds are also thought to increase breast milk supply and help prevent colic in babies.

Spinach is an excellent source of calcium, iron, and Vitamins K, A and folate – all of which are important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. This nutrient-dense Superfood also increases the nutritional value of breast milk and assists with lactation.

Nuts such as cashews, almonds and macadamias are known for boosting breast milk production. They are also high in good fats, essential vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants that improve the quality of breast milk.  

Sesame seeds are rich in calcium, an important nutrient for mothers who breastfeed. Increasing your intake of calcium is vital to your own health and also crucial to your baby’s development.   

Ginger can help elevate and support a healthy production of breast milk. It can also increase the let-down reflex, which is the natural reaction that allows your breast milk to flow out of your breasts to your baby. This will ensure that your baby gets a sufficient milk supply and grows at a healthy pace.  

How to store breast milk

Expressed breast milk should be labelled, dated and stored in a clean, capped glass or hard plastic BPA-free container. But before expressing or handling your breast milk for storage, remember to:

- Keep your breast pump clean. Wash the parts in hot, soapy water, and rinse them thoroughly before expressing more milk.

- Wash your hands properly. Keeping your hands clean will prevent bacteria from growing in the stored milk.

- Sterilise your container and the storage area. Keep everything as clean as possible.  

Read: Manual expression beats pump for poor feeders

Once your breast milk has been expressed, it can be stored safely and kept fresh:

- At room temperature for up to six hours.

- In a cooler box with ice packs, for up to 24 hours.

- At the back of the fridge, where it's coldest, away from meat, eggs, or uncooked foods for up to five days.

- In the fridge’s freezer compartment for two weeks.

- In a standalone deep freezer for up to six months.

Breastfeeding tips

Educate yourself Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding before giving birth. The information out there is endless!

Eat well Your diet can affect the taste, smell, nutritional value and supply of your breast milk.

Stay well-rested Breastfeeding can zap your energy. Get as much rest and sleep as possible.

Ask for help Lactation consultants are there for a reason. If you aren’t managing or if breastfeeding is painful for you, get help right away.

Don’t give up Breastfeeding can be tough at first, but don’t despair. Give it time. 


References:

Zuppa AA, Sindaco P, Orchi C, et al. 2010. Safety and efficacy of galactogogues: substances that induce, maintain and increase breast milk production. J Pharm Pharmaceut Sci
13 (2): 162-174.

NHS Choices. 2012. Expressing and storing breastmilk. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. www.nhs.uk

Younger Meek J, et al. Breastfeeding beyond infancy. In: American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books; 2011.

Breastfeeding the Newborn: Clinical Strategies for Nurses. Biancuzzo, Marie, 1999. Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby Renfrew, Mary et al, 2004.

Your guide to breastfeeding. Womenshealth.gov



 
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