Breastfeeding is a remarkable quality nutritional contribution for children
You dream of having your baby’s meals ready at a moment’s notice, with an exemplary nutritional composition without having to pay a cent… Here are the secrets and promises of breast milk!
A brief overview of breastfeeding
Some figures on breastfeeding
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “More than 820,000 lives of children under 5 years of age could be saved each year if all children from 0 to 23 months of age were breastfed in optimal ways.
This statistic reflects the importance and benefits of breastfeeding. There is a consensus that mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children rather than turning to industrial milk at the global level. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the child is 6 months old.
In Belgium, children born between 2005 and 2011 were on average exclusively breastfed for 11 weeks. At birth, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding approaches 78%. After 12 weeks, it decreases to 52%.
Do all women produce enough milk and can they breastfeed?
Numerous scientific studies show that breastfeeding should be encouraged for the nutritional and psychological well-being of the child. All women who wish to do so can exclusively breastfeed their child(ren), as nature does it well and breast milk naturally adapts to the needs of the child(ren).
A mother can and should have confidence in her ability to feed her child through her milk. Studies show that the mammary glands naturally produce more milk than the child needs for growth. Therefore, even in multiple pregnancies, the decision to breastfeed twins is fully considered since breast milk production will naturally increase to adapt to greater demand. Also, studies show that milk storage capacity in the breast adapts to the infant’s demand.
What is the composition of breast milk?
A constantly changing composition
The composition of breast milk guarantees great richness and complexity. This explains why industrial milk cannot compete. Beyond the nutritional composition, the composition of breast milk evolves during the weeks of breastfeeding, but also the day from one feeding to another. These mechanisms of adaptation to the child’s needs cannot be reproduced with standardized products such as industrial milk.
During the first 3 days, breast milk is called “colostrum”. It contains less energy, less fat, but more immunocompetent cells. This first milk protects the newborn, who is particularly vulnerable to infections during his first days.
The so-called “mature” milk replaces the colostrum in less than a week. It should be noted that variations in the mother’s diet can influence the composition of breast milk, for example, in terms of vitamin or mineral content such as iodine or selenium.
Supplementation in the breastfed child
Breast milk is still known for its low iron content. However, studies show that iron in breast milk is more bioavailable than iron in cow’s milk. This means that iron present in breast milk will more easily reach the blood and act on the body. According to the WHO, after the child is 6 months old, food diversification in addition to breastfeeding can provide sufficient iron to children. If the child is born with low birth weight or prematurely, there is still a significant risk of anemia.
Vitamin K1 & D intake
At birth, professionals recommend that all children receive a vitamin K1 supplement. Insufficient reserves lead to a risk of hemorrhagic disease in the newborn. For children who are exclusively breastfed, this vitamin K1 intake should be maintained throughout breastfeeding. Similarly, vitamin D supplementation may be recommended for breastfed infants. Always refer to the recommendations of the medical personnel supervising your pregnancy.
Mother's diet during breastfeeding
The mother’s diet must be as varied and balanced as possible at any time. Breastfeeding does not imply a specific diet. Nevertheless, lipid intake must be of good quality, as it determines the omega 6 and omega 3 content of breast milk.
Lipids will allow the development of neurosensory capacities in the infant. However, breast milk production remains relatively stable if the mother eats a balanced diet.
Moreover, opting for a varied diet also allows the child to become familiar with smells and tastes. Thus, the child becomes familiar with many foods from an early age, which facilitates the transition to food diversification.
Breast milk represents a natural and nutritious source of nourishment that it would be a shame not to take advantage of. All women can breastfeed their children if they wish. Indeed, the lactation process starts naturally as soon as the placenta is expelled during childbirth. The composition of breast milk adapts to the needs of the child. Many health professionals help women to breastfeed in the best possible conditions.
Key take-home messages
- The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the child is 6 months old.
- Breastfeeding promotes the nutritional and psychological well-being of the child
- The composition of breast milk changes during breastfeeding according to the child’s needs
- Food diversification after the child is 6 months old allows for the supply of missing nutrients such as iron
Lebacq T. Allaitement maternel exclusif. Dans : Lebacq T, Teppers E (éd.). Enquête de consommation alimentaire 2014-2015. Rapport 1. WIV-ISP, Bruxelles, 2015.
Programme national nutrition santé, Allaitement maternel : les bénéfices pour la santé de l’enfant et de sa mère, 2005
Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance, L’allaitement maternel, guide à l’usage des professionnels de la santé, 2020