What’s In Your Breastmilk? Part 1
What’s In Your Breastmilk? Part 1
Welcome to the breastmilk lab! We’re going to break down the content of breastmilk so that you can understand a bit more why the doctor says what you eat is so important when you’re breastfeeding. Part 1 covers the macro-nutrients (water, fat, carbs, and protein). Part 2 will cover the micro-nutrients.
Breastmilk contains a lot of water, and it is the only fluid that babies need (except for rare medical situations). Staying well-hydrated helps your body make enough milk, but it also ensures that your milk has enough water in it! Many lactation consultants advocate that nursing moms “drink to thirst,” and as you’ve probably realized, you can be thirsty all the time! You can stay ahead of the intense need for water by keeping a large bottle of filtered tap water with you at all times. It’s totally ok to occasionally add lemon or berries (as long as no allergies are present) to increase your satisfaction with staying hydrated.
About 55% of the calories in breast milk come from fat, and this fat is the foundation of your baby’s nutrition needs. This fat supplies energy to the liver, brain, and muscles, and is crucial to the growth of the brain and reproductive organs. Where does this fat come from? Some of it comes from fat stores that accumulate during pregnancy (thank your body for thinking ahead!), or fat stores that you already had before conception. The rest comes from what you eat right now, or what you ate last week. Your body is awesome, because it creates medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) from all of these fat sources in order to make them more digestible for baby.
Here’s a couple of types of fat that are the most important:
Linoleic acid (a type of omega 6) is an important component of breast milk which promotes overall growth and skin health. Linoleic acid cannot be made by humans and must come from food. While many Americans get too much linoleic acid from processed foods, some healthful foods that contain it are eggs, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and sesame seeds. Dairy is also a good source, and Swiss cheese has the highest amount per serving. I recommend eating a variety of sources in order to increase your overall nutrient diversity.
Omega 3 fatty acids are another important fat for baby’s brain growth, and it is more likely to be insufficient in breastmilk. Eating wild Alaskan salmon two times per week is a safe and effective way to get the omega 3s you need for baby’s health as well as your own. However, not everyone wants to (or can) eat fish. The easiest way to ensure that you have enough omega 3s in your milk is to take a high quality DHA supplement, such as Nordic Naturals Postnatal Omega-3, New Chapter Wholemega for Moms (this one has linoleic acid too!), or Thorne Omega Plus. There are also plant based DHA formulas made by Nordic Naturals if you prefer to avoid animal products entirely.
Get this - cholesterol is actually required for your baby’s growth and development. It is an essential component of cellular growth. And, your body makes it regardless of if you are vegan or not! Breast milk has more cholesterol than formula, which is great because a higher intake of cholesterol in infancy is associated with lower blood cholesterol levels later in life. 85% of your cholesterols levels are created internally (regardless of food cholesterol), but you can get a little extra by eating high quality eggs. I recommend looking for eggs collected from pastured chickens, as these have a higher overall nutrient content. Some chickens have access to feed with flax seeds, which increases their omega 3 content as well!
Carbs make up 40% of breastmilk, in the form of lactose and a few other types. Lactose is created in your breasts, increases calcium absorption, and is easily digestible (unless a lactase deficiency is present). Oligosaccharides are the second main source of carbohydrates in breastmilk, and help protect baby’s digestive system agains pathogenic microorganisms.
Since your body makes these carbohydrates specifically for breastmilk, your carbohydrate intake can safely vary more than that of fat and protein. However, it’s important to remember that your body favors carbohydrates for energy, and if you choose to dramatically limit carbs your energy (and milk production) may be affected.
Much lower in volume than protein in cow’s milk, the protein in breastmilk is specially formulated in the early months to protect baby by having antiviral and antimicrobial aspects. Protein in mature breast milk is primarily casein, which also helps with calcium absorption.
Breast milk also contains whey, which includes a special protein called lactoferrin. Lactoferrin carries an easily-absorbable form of iron and limits bacteria production. Secretory IgA also protects against bacteria and viruses, and levels of this can be increased by eating fish.
A protein called bifidus factor helps baby build a healthy gut microbiome by promoting the growth of bacteria in the Lactobacillus genus. Finally, non-protein nitrogen is also an important ingredient in breastmilk. This element is used by baby to make amino acids that act as building blocks for muscles and hormones.
After reading all of that, you might wonder how you are supposed to keep track of all the data in order to make sure your breast milk has enough nutrients. The good news is, your body does a pretty great job of regulating all of that for you!
The best thing you can do to help is to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and quality animal proteins. The more diverse your nutrient intake, the more nutrients you can offer to your baby.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn more about the micro-nutrients in breast milk and specific foods you can eat to improve your levels.
Author: Sarah Petty | Sage Wellness | www.sageadvicewellness.com
Grey's Cowbell specialises in lactation cookies, lactation muffins and lactation drinks as well as other products. Our primary focus is to provide a superior product that yields a highly effective result. Our cookies, muffins and bottled drinks help breastfeeding mothers dramatically increase and sustain their breast milk supply.