It is well established that breastfeeding is the superior method of feeding an infant. Companies that make infant formula have attempted to imitate the composition of human breast milk, but no substitute exists. The American Dietetic Association recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months and with complementary foods for 12 months. One of the greatest assets of breast milk is that it is designed to perfectly meet the needs of an infant, regardless of the mother's diet.
Human Milk Composition
Each milliliter of human milk provides approximately 0.65 calories, though this varies as the fat content of the milk changes. Fifty percent of the total calories in breast milk comes from fat. Fat content is the lowest in the beginning of a feeding and progressively increases as the feeding continues. The protein content of breast milk generally is lower than that of commercial infant formula. A majority of the carbohydrate in breast milk is lactose, commonly referred to as "milk sugar." Vitamins and minerals in highly bioavailable forms and immunoglobulins are other important components of human milk.
Maternal Diet and Breast Milk Composition
While good nutrition is very important for a breastfeeding mother, the composition of breast milk remains relatively stable regardless of the mother's diet. The most significant factor that affects breast milk production is the demands of the infant. Unless a woman is severely malnourished, even a woman who is lacking calories and protein in her diet can produce milk that will meet all the nutritional needs of her infant.
Fat, Carbohydrate and Protein
The types of fats that a mother consumes does influence the types of fat that will be present in her milk. If you eat mostly saturated fats, a higher percentage of the fats in your milk will be saturated. However, the total fat content, along with the carbohydrate and protein content, is unaffected by the maternal diet. Eating a lot of sugar in your diet will not change the composition of your breast milk.
Breastfeeding is a completely natural and healthy process but very demanding on your body. You need additional calories, vitamins and minerals while breastfeeding an infant. Even though your infant will get the nutrients he needs, it is important for you to get adequate nutrition for yourself. Eating a lot of empty calories from sugar and snack foods instead of more nutritious foods might keep you from getting important nutrients your body needs. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and legumes, nuts and low-fat dairy products to get the nutrition your body needs.
- "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Seventh Edition"; La Leche League International; 2003
- "Krause's Food, Nutrition, & Diet Therapy, Eleventh Edition"; L. Kathleen Mahan and Sylvia Escott-Stump; 2004
- "Nutrition Through the Lifecycle, Second Edition"; Judith E. Brown; 2005
- "Journal of the American Dietetic Association"; Position of the American Dietetic Association"; Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding; November 2009