What is mature milk?
Breast milk begins to ripen in about two weeks, but it becomes fully mature only when the baby is four weeks old. From this moment, its composition will hardly change – the most significant changes in it have already occurred during the first month.
Shortly after reaching maturity, breast milk is saturated with components that protect the baby from bacterial and viral infections.1 It is probably no coincidence that it is during this period that the baby begins to take various objects into the mouth.
The most significant change in milk composition occurs if you or a child become ill. In this case, the number of white blood cells that help fight the infection increases dramatically.
At any stage of breastfeeding, milk is a living liquid, and mature milk is no exception. Even if we knew exactly what it consists of and why all these ingredients are needed (and this is still the subject of research), we still would not be able to accurately reproduce the composition of breast milk, because for every mother it is adjusted to the specific needs of the child.
“Breast milk consists of components that enter the breast along with blood,” says Professor Peter Hartmann of the University of Western Australia, an expert in the field of lactation, “The cells that produce milk are responsible for their selection, and I must say that they are very selective!”
Breast milk performs several tasks: it provides the baby with nutrition and protection, helps to develop and forms a taste. At the same time, nothing is required of you – the body itself produces the necessary composition.
What is the difference between “front” and “back” milk?
At the beginning of each feeding, mature milk appears more fluid. It is called the “front” or, as Professor Hartmann prefers to say, “pre-shading”. As you feed, the milk gradually becomes thicker and more greasy, and then it is already called the “back”, or “post-milk”.
“The fat content depends on how full or empty the breast is,” Professor Hartmann explains. “The amount of fat increases for about 30 minutes from the start of feeding, and then decreases as the breast is full. The concentration of fat in pre- and postmilk depends on how much milk the baby took from the breast in the previous feeding. Therefore, at one time of the day, pre-milk may contain more fat than post-milk at another. ”
“In mature breast milk, within one day, the fat content remains virtually unchanged, regardless of the frequency of feeding,” adds Professor Hartmann.
Mother’s milk is more than just nutrition
Although the baby needs solid food from about six months old, breast milk along with other products can provide the baby with half the daily calorie intake even in the second year of life.3 At the same time, its benefits go far beyond ordinary food.
“We believe that the production of milk in mammals was originally designed to protect newborns, and the nutritional function appeared later,” says Professor Hartmann, “Most of the nutritional components of breast milk also play a protective role. Therefore, breast milk is of great value, but it is extremely difficult to study it! ”
Professor Hartmann gives several examples. Alpha-lactalbumin, the main protein in breast milk, has antibacterial properties and promotes the development of the baby’s immune system. 4 Lactoferrin, a protein that supplies iron to the body, also has antifungal properties. 5 A fatty acids in breast milk have antiviral and antibacterial action. 6
The development of the intestines, immune system and brain
Any milk contains lactose, or milk sugar, but in addition to it, breast milk contains more than 200 types of oligosaccharides.7 These complex sugars contribute to the development of the immune system, the formation of a healthy gastrointestinal tract and its protection. Neither cow’s milk, nor milk formula can be compared closely with mother’s milk in terms of oligosaccharide content, and their properties have not yet been fully studied.8
Any milk contains fats, but the mixture of fats in mature breast milk is truly unique. The human brain is much more complex than the brain of any animal, and it is more than half composed of fats, 9 therefore it is natural that for the development of such a complex system we need an individually selected complex of fats.10
Compared with other mammals, humans are born at an earlier stage of development, but during the first six months the mass of our brain almost doubles.11 Therefore, it is not surprising that children need more protection and nutrition for brain development in the first months and years of life.
“Breast milk is always better for the baby than any milk from the store.”
Proteins are complex molecules that perform many important functions to maintain our health. Some proteins serve as “building blocks” for growth and recovery, others participate in the most important chemical reactions that occur in our body.