“A newborn has only three demands. They are – warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three.”
There is absolutely no alternative to breastmilk. It is the best source of nutrition for the infant. In the first month of the life of an infant, breasts produce a thick yellowish fluid called colostrum. It is rich in nutrients and proteins. It’s produced in very small quantities, but it is sufficient for the needs of the newborn in terms of quality. After the first month, colostrum turns into milk, and it keeps on increasing according to the needs of the baby. It has been found that there is no ideal composition of human milk, and it is not easy to control the complexity of its nutritional quality and quantity received by breastfed infants. It contains about 87% of water, 1% protein, 4% lipid, and 7% carbohydrate (including 1 to 2.4% oligosaccharides). It also consists of innumerable amounts of minerals and vitamins. It’s easy to digest, low in fat and plays a crucial role in building the immune system of the newborn. It contains millions of live cells that produce immune-boosting white blood cells and stem cells that are vital in helping organs develop and heal. It also consists of thousands of proteins which are useful for the development of the infant.
Amino acids present in breast milk are known to increase at night and are responsible for inducing sleep in the infant.
Human milk or breast milk also comprises over 200 complex sugars called oligosaccharides that prevent infections from entering the bloodstream and helps in lowering the risk of brain inflammation. Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, present in breast milk protect the baby against illnesses and infections by neutralizing bacteria and viruses. It also contains 1,400 microRNAs, which regulate gene development and help in preventing diseases from taking root in the body. It plays a vital role in supporting the baby’s immune system and plays a role in remodelling the breast.
Breastfeeding is without a doubt the “gold standard” practice of food supply in the initial months of postnatal life. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding, which is defined by breast milk as the sole source of sustenance. Along with being a critical source of nutrition to the infant, research shows that breastfeeding is not only just a meal at the breast but also has a significant and far-reaching impact on the cognition, behaviour and mental health, both in the infant and the mother. The impact of breastmilk on the infant’s health is so immense that it has been argued that it plays a pivotal role in reducing the risk of cognitive impairments among children. There is compelling evidence suggesting that cognitive abilities are impacted positively well beyond infancy, even into adulthood. A longer duration of breastfeeding has been shown to have a positive impact on cognitive performance. There are enough studies to demonstrate that breastfeeding duration during infancy is positively associated with reading ability at 53 years of age, as measured by the National Adult Reading Test.
There is accumulating research to suggest that the absence or short duration of exclusive breastfeeding might be associated with the development of autism spectrum disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social impairments. in general, breastfeeding experience has been associated with improved cognitive abilities, paved the way for better brain development and reduced risk for antisocial behaviour and atypical social development including ASD.