Do you know that the nutrients in breast milk are essential for the healthy growth of a baby's brain and eyes? Read on to know how mother's milk helps a child's development.
By Monali Bordoloi
Motherhood can be a wonderful experience and breastfeeding her baby is an important part of that experience, for a new mother. The first time a mother sets eyes on her newborn, she forms a unique bond with her, which is strengthened when she nurses the little one with her breast milk.
Mother's milk is like a shield that protects the baby from all kinds of infections, as it has immunity-boosting properties. The first few days after birth, the milk contains a thick, yellow-coloured substance called colostrum. It has high amounts of vitamin A and is low in calories. It is also packed with vitamin E, zinc and antibodies. This is Mother Nature’s way of providing for the newborn, what is best for him. By day two or three after birth, the colour and texture of the milk changes. As more matured milk is produced, the nutritional value it contains also changes.
As the baby grows, her nutritional needs increase. Accordingly, a higher amount of mother’s milk is secreted to meet the baby's nutrition needs. Breast milk has vitamins A, B1, C, D and E, which are essential for the baby’s organ development. Vitamins and minerals present in milk also lay the foundation for building the child’s immunity. However, the concentration of vitamins present in breast milk can vary from mother to mother. This may depend on the mother's diet and on how long she has been lactating.
Maximum brain development for babies happens from the foetal stage to about three years of age. This happens mainly with the help of a fatty acid called Docosahexaenoic acid, commonly known as DHA, and cholesterol. DHA is basically a building block for the brain and nervous system. It is, therefore, essential for the mental growth of babies. It is also critical for the healthy development of your baby's eyes.
Most formula food for infants available in the market contain DHA but the source of this fatty acid isn’t too reliable. Also, formula food (with or without DHA) can never be as good as breast milk.
The amounts of DHA in breast milk may vary from one mother to the other. It is highly dependent on the type of food the mother is consuming. Some foods help produce a higher amount of DHA in breast milk.
Here is a list of foods that a breastfeeding mother can consume to increase the DHA levels in her milk:
There is not enough evidence to prove that consumption of vitamins and mineral supplements by a lactating mother would produce milk with a better nutrient profile.
A well-balanced diet takes care of most of the nutrients that a lactating mother needs. If a mother is deficient in certain nutrients, she may not be able to produce adequate breast milk. The quality of the milk may also be affected. That means the child will get lesser nutrients and will grow at a slower rate. If a breastfeeding mother is deficient in nutrients like iodine, vitamin B6 and B12, she needs to have extra nutritional supplements to replenish the necessary nutrients. However, if the mother suffers from any deficiency or if she is not able to eat a certain group of foods, she might need some form of supplementation. Consult an experienced nutritionist to start on some vitamins and mineral supplements with DHA.
Hence, it is of the utmost importance that the lactating mother eats nutritious food so that both she and the infant have a happy and healthy breastfeeding experience.
With inputs from Priya Kathpal, nutritionist and founder of Nutrify.
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