The 31st World Breastfeeding Week (WBW 2022) fell on August 1 to 7, 2022, with the theme of “Step up for Breastfeeding - Educate and Support”.
Breast milk contains protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and mineral substances.
The protein in breast milk has rich amino acids that are of high nutritional value and can be easily digested and absorbed. The lactose content in breast milk is higher than that in cow milk, and is the main source of energy for babies under six-month old. The fat in breast milk is mostly in the form of fine-particle emulsions in which the content of the easily absorbable oleic acid fat is twice that of cow milk.
Breast milk is high in vitamins A, E and C and relatively low in vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and K, as well as folic acid.
The total mineral content in breast milk is about 1/3 that in cow milk. Breast milk has an appropriate proportion of calcium and phosphorus. The absorption rate of iron in breast milk is significantly higher than that of cow milk. Breast milk contains lower level of zinc than cow milk, but with higher absorption rate.
The immune components in breast milk are unique compared to other milk substitutes.
Breast milk contains immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin A (IgA). Its colostrum has the highest antibody concentration. Breast milk also contains neutrophil granulocyte, immunocompetent cells, leukomonocyte and macrophage as well as lactoferrin and other beneficial substances.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk is rich in nutrition, with high calories and an appropriate proportion of nutrients, which is suitable for the digestive capabilities and needs of babies, especially during their first six months of life. Breast milk has potent immune benefits that can prevent infection, which is unmatched by formula. It can boost the maturity of infants’ immunity. Breastfeeding is also beneficial to the mother's postpartum recovery.
Changes in breast milk during different periods
Colostrum: Colostrum is the breast milk secreted by mothers within the first five days after childbirth. Colostrum is yellowish and slightly thick with high protein content and less fat, and contains immune substances such as secretory immunoglobulin A and lactoferrin as well as vitamin A, taurine and mineral substances.
Transitional milk: Transitional milk is secreted by mothers between the sixth to tenth day after childbirth. It has the highest fat content but its content of protein and mineral substances gradually decreases. Lactoferrin and lysozyme stay at stable levels in transitional milk but those of secretory immunoglobulin A and IgG decrease remarkably.
Mature milk: Mature milk is secreted by mothers ten days after giving birth. It contains lower lactoprotein. Total daily breastmilk yield increases to 700 to 1000 ml.
The right way to breastfeed
Preparation before childbirth: Most healthy pregnant women have the ability to breastfeed. Pregnant women should learn about the benefits of breastfeeding and enhance their confidence. They should stay in a healthy state, maintain balanced nutrition and get adequate sleep while avoiding negative influence.
Pregnant women in the third trimester should keep their breasts in good state. Wash the nipples with clean water daily, but do not use soap to avoid dry breast skin. Pregnant women should use bras matching their breast sizes to support the breasts and prevent breast sagging.
The first two weeks after childbirth is a crucial period for breastfeeding. New moms are advised to do the following three things:
Breastfeed as soon as possible. The first breastfeeding can happen within the first five minutes after birth. Although breast milk is in low secretion at that time, the infant can adapt to the mother's breasts. The stimulation of strong sucking helps to promote milk secretion and builds connection between mother and child.
Mother and infant should stay in the same room in order to let the mother feed the baby as needed.
Breastfeed the infant as needed. Do not restrict the frequency and interval of breastfeeding. During the first few days after childbirth, breast milk is in low secretion. Do not feed the baby with sugar water or formula out of concern that the baby is not having enough to eat, which will reduce the baby's sucking intensity on the mother's breasts and affect milk secretion. Apply hot compress to the breasts for 3 to 5 minutes and massage them before breastfeeding.