From the moment, a baby opens its eyes to this world, its body must adapt to a new life. Every factor to facilitate this adaptation has been put into effect during and after the pregnancy. The clearest example of this is the stage of the formation of mother’s milk.
The formation of the milk is developed by the mother’s hormones. The production of milk is connected basically to a hormone called “prolactin” , produced by the anterior pituitary gland in the brain. During pregnancy, progesterone and the oestrogen hormones produced by the placenta prevent prolactin from being activated and producing milk. But, the placenta is discharged after birth causing the level of progesterone and oestrogen in the blood to fall; after this, prolactin comes into action and contributes to the formation of milk. Because of this communication among the hormones, such a valuable nutrient as mother’s milk is prepared exactly at the moment when the baby needs it. This is indeed a momentous exchange of information. While the placenta is in the body, it performs vital tasks but, at the right time, it must be ejected. This brings with it a very important development for human life. In the stages of human creation, all the things that take place complement one another. Certainly, these are clear proofs that every human being has been constructed by a supreme power.
These stages continue after the baby has come into the world. The production of milk by the mother increases according to the baby’s need for nourishment. In the first days, up to 50 g. is produced; in the sixth month, the production may be as high as one litre. Those scientists who have tried to find the formula for mother’s milk have been unsuccessful after long investigations because there is no standard type of mother’s milk. In every mother’s body, milk is produced according to the needs of her own baby, and this milk nourishes the baby in a way that no other extraneous nourishment can. Research has shown that the antibodies, hormones, vitamins and minerals in mother’s milk are determined by the needs of the baby.
The use of nutrient material other than mother’s milk does not completely meet the needs of the baby. For example, no other nutrient material contains the antibodies required for the baby’s immune system. Cow milk is considered to be the classic nutrient material for babies. When we compare it with mother’s milk, we can better understand the superiority of the latter. In cow milk, there is a higher amount of casein than in human milk. Casein is a protein found in coagulated (sour) milk. This material breaks down into larger pieces in the stomach making digestion difficult. For this reason, cow milk is harder to digest than mother’s milk. The fact that little of this material is found in mother’s milk makes the baby’s digestion easier.
These two kinds of milk are also different with regard to the composition of amino acids. Due to this difference in composition, the total number of amino acids present in the plasma of a baby fed with cow’s milk is greater; the level of some amino acids is too high while the level of others is too low. This has negative effects on the nervous system and, because of the higher protein content, places an extra burden on the kidneys.
Another factor that makes mother’s milk different is its sugar content. In mother’s milk and cow milk , there is the same kind of sugar-lactose. But, the amount of lactose in human milk (L / 7g) is different from that in cow’s milk (L / 4.8g). Besides, the large coagulated particles of cow’s milk pass much more slowly through the small intestine. For this reason, high amounts of fluid and lactose, which are very important, are absorbed in the first section of the small intestine. Coagulated particles of mother’s milk (unlike those of cow milk) pass through the small intestines easily, and lactose and fluid reach the large intestine. In this way, a healthy intestinal structure develops. The second advantage of the great quantity of lactose found in human milk is that it ensures the synthesis of a material called “cerebroside”, which plays an important role in the construction of the essential structures of the nervous system.
Despite the fact that the fat level in mother’s milk and cow’s milk is almost the same, the quality of those fats is different. The linoleic acid in mother’s milk is the only fatty acid required in the nourishment of the baby.
Another factor that distinguishes mother’s milk is the amount and proportion of the salt and minerals it contains. For example, in cow milk, the amount of calcium and phosphorus is high; but the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in cow milk makes it difficult to digest properly. Phosphorus can combine with calcium in the digestive tract and actually prevent the absorption of calcium. Therefore, if a baby is given cow milk in the first days of its life, the way can be opened to certain abnormalities due to a drop of the level of calcium in the blood. 1
Apart from this, human milk is 50% iron. Because cow milk contains a much lower proportion of this mineral, babies fed on cow milk can develop anemia linked to iron deficiency.
Richness in vitamins is another factor that makes mother’s milk indispensable for the baby. From the point of view of the vitamins they contain, mother’s milk and cow milk are quite different. Despite the fact that the level of vitamin A is the same, the level of vitamins E, C and K is higher in mother’s milk. The amount of vitamin D in mother’s milk is sufficient for the baby’s needs.
A baby coming into the world from the protected, bacteria-free womb of its mother must fight against several bacteria in the external world. One of the most important features of mother’s milk is that it protects the baby from infections. The protective cells (antibodies) that pass from the mother’s milk to the baby cause the baby to start fighting against bacteria it had never known before, as if it had actually been informed. The antibodies contained in great quantities in the form of mother’s milk called “colostrum”, which is secreted in the first few days after birth, perform an especially protective function.
This protection that mother’s milk provides for the baby (protection from slight infections to very serious ones), is vitally important for the first few months, and its benefits increase in proportion to the period of breast feeding.
The benefits to the baby of mother’s milk become more evident every passing day. One of the things scientists have discovered about mother’s milk is that it is highly beneficial for a baby up to two years of age. 2
The importance of this recent discovery was revealed to us 14 centuries ago:
“We have instructed man concerning his parents. Bearing him caused his mother great debility and the period of his weaning was two years: “Give thanks to Me and to your parents. I am your final destination.” (Qur’an, 31: 14)
The author, from Nadihal, Bandipora, is a microbiologist. He can be reached at: [email protected]