The Importance and Anti-Infective Properties of Human Milk
Breastfeeding from a woman who is in good health and nutritional status provides a complete food which is unique to the species. There is no better nutrition for healthy infants both at term and during the early months of life.
Advantages Associated with Breastfeeding
- Prevention of infection
- Nutrition and economic factors
- Breastfed babies are less liable to be overweight
- Breastfeeding provides protection against diabetes mellitus in newborns.
- Breastfeeding decreases ovulation, thus helping to space births
Anti-Infective Properties of Human Milk
There have been numerous reviews of the anti-infective properties of human milk since human milk contains T-lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes, and macrophages – possible important for –
- Preventing necrotizing enterocolitis.
- Preventing non-specific antiviral agents.
- Neutralizing antibodies to poliomyelitis.
- Immunoglobins IgA, IgG, IgM.
- Lactoferrins, which with immunoglobins protect against enteric infections and cholera.
- Preventing non-specific agents, such as lysozyme, lacto-peroxidase, and transferrin, which inhibit bacterial growths.
However, colostrum contains a high concentration of C3 (Serum Concentration), (immunoglobulin A) and lactoferrin which is important for protection against Gram-negative organism in the newborn child. It contains antibodies against the respiratory syncytial virus.
Complementary Feeding In Infants
Complementary feeding refers to the transition from exclusive breastfeeding to family food, which typically covers the period from 6 to 24 months of age even though breastfeeding may continue up to 2 years of age and beyond. That is how WHO defines complementary. It is food added to the diet of the baby, without compromising on breast milk intake.
Guidelines On Infant And Young Child Feeding
- Timely introduction of complementary foods (solid, semi-solid or soft foods) at 6 to 8 months.
- Age appropriate complementary feeding for children 6-23 months while continuing breastfeeding.
- Especially, children should receive food from 4 or more food groups –
1.Grains, roots and tubers, legumes and nuts
2. Dairy products
3. Flesh foods
6. Vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables
7. Other fruits and vegetables
- Fed for a minimum number of times –
- 2 times for breastfed infants 6-8 months
- 3 times for breastfed children 9-23 months
- 4 times for non-breastfed children 6-23 months
- Active feeding for children during and after an illness
Hence, it can be said that infants are born with the ability to learn to like new foods. However, this ability seems to be maximal between 4 months to 2 years.
This is the window of opportunity to introduce complementary foods. Hence, practices that favor the successful introduction of complementary foods include –
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.
- The timing of complementary feeding between 17 to 26 weeks, an introduction to new flavors as early as possible and variety in food texture after around 6 months.
- Most noteworthy, there should be early and repeated exposures to individual foods especially vegetables
- Primarily, the taste properties of complementary foods impact acceptance. Hence, appropriate cooking or preparation may increase acceptance. Thus, exposure may be needed when the food is disliked.
Therefore, the fact that breastfeeding has psychological advantages for the baby. The physical contact between mother and baby is also important.
Written By: Dr. H. Kaur
Edited By: S. Ray