The subject for this week’s session was ‘The Composition of Human Milk’. In many ways, this subject is quite scientific, which is a challenge for me, as I am inclined to be happy with the thought, ‘Well, it’s natural so it must be good.’
There is also a big overlap between this subject and ‘The Benefits of Breastfeeding’ and I found that this week we revisited a lot of the information we looked at in week 3 – so I shall try not to repeat myself!
In common with looking at ‘The Benefits…’, our discussion of composition led to comparisons with formula milk.
We began by looking at colostrum, which is unique in its make-up and, as I understand it, impossible to copy – even remotely – with current technology.
As well as being a natural laxative, high in protein, low in fat and carbs, high in zinc, vitamin E and salt, colostrum is full of the ‘magic’ ingredients: macrophages and immunoglobulins.
The macrophages digest disease organisms and the immunoglobulins coat the baby’s gut, protect the baby from infections in the environment and (wow) stimulate the baby to produce his/her own antibodies.
Looking at a comparison sheet (sorry, it isn’t dated), immunoglobulins are virtually absent in formula, whereas they are present in colostrum ‘in abundance’.
I have spent some time this week reading a little about human milk composition in La Leche League’s book, ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’ – a copy of which we have each been given as part of the course. On the topic of immunoglobulins in colostrum, the book states: ‘This is one of the many reasons for insisting that your baby get nothing but your colostrum and milk in the first days of life. Those first doses of colostrum are designed to gently introduce baby’s immune system to the world outside the womb.’ (2004).
As the milk matures, it remains high in these ‘living cells’ – even containing significant amounts of immunoglobulins after baby turns one year.
In looking at mature milk, it can simply be said that the balance of whey, casein, other proteins, enzymes, amino acids, fat and carbs (lactose) are all designed to protect the human infant and feed the growth of the very unique human brain. Not only that, but the complete package is also 100% digestible, resulting in soft stools with a smell not unlike yoghurt or buttermilk (which, like breastmilk, are high in friendly bacteria).
Our discussions during the session veered towards other aspects in breastfeeding:
from the sweet taste of breastmilk being in synch with the baby’s immature tastebuds (babies have sweet tastebuds from birth, with the other 3 tastes following at around a year);
flavours from the mother’s diet affecting the taste of the milk and the mother’s diet also affecting the baby’s wind – foods which can make us all ‘windy’ being the biggest culprits;
to the possibilities of breastfeeding whilst having breast implants – I didn’t think it was possible, but apparently it is, if the implants are on top of the breast;
and the experiences of breastfeeding in unexpected circumstances – our instructor told us of the relief breastfeeding gave her when her car broke down on a long journey and she was still able to feed her baby. I also described feeding my two year old when he was very poorly with a tummy bug and unable to digest anything but breastmilk – an experience shared by another group member, who found that her son recovered really quickly when he went back to exclusive breastfeeding for a couple of days.
We went on to discuss breastfeeding in public. Touching on that Supernanny programme again, the instructor said how the mother had fed her child in the car, but wondered if she would have felt as comfortable feeding her in the supermarket. I said that I have become less comfortable feeding my son in public as he has got older (although, in some repects, feeding him in front of some family members can be more of a challenge!).
We talked quite a bit about how we might have considered ourselves to be rebellious in the past, or in other ways, and then found that that sense of rebellion has abandoned us when it comes to breastfeeding in public.
It is almost as though we carry around with us a feeling of what is culturally acceptable and I wonder if we would be less concerned about breastfeeding in public if we didn’t feel a public scrutiny on our ‘success or failure’ of our parenting skills and style?