Human Milk – So Awesome, So Unique!

Written by Amy W. on March 28th, 2013

Activism, Breastfeeding, Feeding With Love, Lactivism
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Feeding Joe

We have all heard the phrases urging us to breastfeed our infants: “Breast is best.” “Human milk for human babies.” “Babies are born to be breastfed!”

And all of these phrases are true.

But none of them come even remotely close to describing the unique, live, nourishing, natural, and “remarkable fluid” our bodies make for our babies. 1

Breastmilk is so awesome. So unique! Nothing can compare to the biological, immunological, and digestive advantages of the perfect infant food coursing through a child’s body. The importance of the breastfeeding relationship is effectively and lovingly promoted by phrases such as “breast is best” and “babies were born to breastfeed,” but the reality of the awesomeness of human milk cannot be captured in a short, catchy, promotional phrase. Breastmilk is truly “an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of [children].”2

Here are just five reasons why no infant nutrition substitute can compare to breastmilk.

  1. Human breastmilk contains large quantities of a protective antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). sIgA is an antibodies “bind to potential pathogens and prevent their attachment to the [child's] cells”3. sIgA is a special antibody that does not increase inflammation, as do other antibodies, and it has adapted to survive in the respiratory tract, esophagus, and the digestive tract – which enables the protective factors to “paint” the child’s whole system with a protective barrier that neutralizes many bacteria and pathogens before they have a chance to attack the child’s body. sIga is naturally occurring in human breastmilk in substantial quantities, and is not present in any commercially produced or homemade infant formula.4
  2. Human breastmilk contains optimal levels of bacteria-fighting leukocytes. These little soldiers are like a body’s infantry. They break up germs and bacteria at the “front line of defense,” and they also attack the pathogens that get through this first defense. These little heroes include macrophages and neutrophils (which break up microbial pathogens), lymphocytes (also known as T cells or natural killer cells, which attack microbial pathogens that the macrophages and neutrophils don’t destroy), and antibody-producing B cells (that create new antibodies for a child’s immune system)5. Breastmilk contains a high level of these heroic little biological soldiers at a baby’s birth, in mom’s colostrum, to protect a child in his or her most virgin and vulnerable state. As a child grows, the levels of leukocytes changes with the age of the child, giving appropriate protection for the nursling’s stage of childhood. What formula does that? None.
  3. Breastmilk contains Lysozyme, a substance with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. What could be a cooler breastmilk component than leukocytes, those hard-hitting, baby-protecting, microscopic soldiers that zap bacteria at every chance? Lysozyme could be that champion, inhibiting the growth of many bacterial species by disrupting layers of the bacterial cell wall. If leukocytes are Batman, lysozyme is Robin. They jump in to be a help to the leukocytes by weakening bacteria and preventing it from multiplying.
  4. The proteins in human milk are unique as well. “Lactoferrin, one of the most abundant proteins in human milk, also limits bacterial growth by removing the iron on which bacteria feed”6. Infant formula, both homemade and commercially produced ones, must contain large amounts of iron, because the iron in formula has a substantially decreased bioavailability. In order for baby to get enough iron from formula, a lot of iron must be present in the system. The excess of iron in formula feeds pathogenic bacteria. In contrast, breastmilk – in which iron is incredibly bioavailable – not only gives an appropriate amount of iron for an infant’s digestion, but also contains lactoferrin in order to remove the excess iron that could become food for pathogenic bacteria. Neat, huh? This is why when formula is necessary, many health professionals will advise to continue feeding human milk along with formula, so that the lactoferrin in the breastmilk can act on the excess iron and inhibit bacteria growth.
  5.  The sugars in human milk are made specifically for human babies and protect against bacterial adhesion. “Complex sugars are found only in trace amounts in cow milk but make up a substantial portion of human milk sugars, where they may prevent adherence of various microbial pathogens by acting as decoy receptors.”7 So, not only are the sugars in breastmilk tailored specifically for human infant digestion, but they help protect against bacteria and viruses by distracting these pathogens from cell receptors in the child’s system! Oh. . . way cool. Don’t you agree?

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When we feed our children human milk, we are feeding them an unequaled form of nutrition and nurture that helps them develop physically, emotionally, and socially. But in addition, we are equipping our children with an army of immunological protectors to keep their busy systems as healthy as possible. Breastmilk is so awesome, and so unique! Hopefully the facts mentioned above paint a clear picture for you of the uniqueness of human breastmilk. When you start to understand the awesome, active components of breastmilk, you can see that it is truly a unique and special substance. Isn’t it amazing that we are able to feed our children with such a protective, nutritional, and custom food that ensures the highest health?

These are only my personal top five awesome biological benefits of breastfeeding. There are many more reasons why breastmilk is awesome and unique, and I have included a list of links below. If you have ever wondered “what’s so great about breastmilk?,” I’m so glad you gave this post a few minutes of your time, and I hope you learned some new facts about the unequaled composition of human milk!

More Resources on the Composition of Breastmilk

Immune Factors in Human Milk by Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC

What Makes Human Milk Special?  from La Leche League International

Really, My Breastmilk is Turning to Water? Shannon, The Artful Mama, responds tactfully and factually to a comment that there is no nutritional value to breastmilk after a year.

What Breastmilk Tastes Like (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) In four comprehensive and entertaining posts, Dionna at Code Name:Mama explores the unique composition of breastmilk.

Attachment Parenting Series: Breastfeeding  The Hippie Housewife hosts a series post on Breastfeeding – breast milk composition, the benefits of breast milk, and how to encourage successful breastfeeding.

The Composition of Breast Milk at APtly Said (Ways of Parenting with Attachment in Mind)

Comparison of Breastmilk and Formula by Dr. William Sears

How Does a Mother’s Diet Affect Her Milk? by Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC assuages fears that breastfeeding mothers must follow a perfect diet. Mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect baby even in times of hardship and famine.

The Secrets of Breastmilk explores the unique and wondrous complexity of mother’s milk.

  1. J. Bruce German, a food science professor at the University of California, Davis
  2. World Health Organization, 2013
  3. Kelly M. Jackson, PhD; Andrea M. Nazar, DO. (2006). Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-term Health. Journal of the American Osteopathic Medicine Association
  4. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition
  5. Kelly M. Jackson, PhD; Andrea M. Nazar, DO. (2006). Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-term HealthJournal of the American Osteopathic Medicine Association
  6. Kelly M. Jackson, PhD; Andrea M. Nazar, DO. (2006). Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-term HealthJournal of the American Osteopathic Medicine Association
  7. Kelly M. Jackson, PhD; Andrea M. Nazar, DO. (2006). Breastfeeding, the Immune Response, and Long-term HealthJournal of the American Osteopathic Medicine Association

About The Author: Amy W.

Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work Amy_willa My NPN Posts

Military spouse, breastfeeding advocate, natural parent, and seamstress, Amy ran into natural parenting by accident, and now blogs at Amy Willa: Me Mothering, and Making it All Work and Natural Parents Network, in order to share her experience and inspire others to live an authentic life and seek peace in parenting. Amy enjoys sewing, selling Silly Bear Handmade cloth diapers and eco friendly home goods at her Etsy shop, and is a passionate and compassionate breastfeeding advocate. She is active in La Leche League International, and pursuing a Public Health Degree and certification as an IBCLC.

One Response to Human Milk – So Awesome, So Unique!

  1. Sherri  

    GREAT Post!!!!! I will FOREVER be a breastfeeding advocate. Nothing can compare!!!

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