Breast Milk, the Food of Life


The Morin khuur is a traditional Mongolian instrument. A mother camel goes through much suffering when it gives birth to a calf, and because of that, it sometimes refuses its young though the young is very little and barely walks. A calf has no way to survive without drinking its mother’s milk. Then the camel farmer plays plaintive melodies with the Morin Khuur to heal the mother camel’s stress. Then the mother camel sheds tears and breastfeeds its young.

A mother goes through tremendous suffering until she gives birth to a baby. However, labor pains are not the end of suffering. Breastfeeding is also a tough job. A mother should become a picky eater of healthy food for the baby, and she may suffer from mastitis as well. Regardless of her pains, her baby sucks milk peacefully from his mother’s breast. Is there any more perfect food than the breast milk to a baby? That’s why mothers want to breastfeed their babies though it’s so hard.

There are so-called super foods that are considered as the most desirable foods with all the nutrients necessary for human. However, there is no single perfect food. There are just some super foods that are close to perfection. One of the super foods is milk; though milk also lacks certain nutrients such as iron, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

Nevertheless, milk is considered as the most perfect super food among the food in nature, because it contains essential nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals, and vitamins, and their ratio is also ideal. That’s why milk is recommended to babies or growing children who need a healthy, balanced diet.

However, there is more perfect food than milk. It is breast milk that a baby receives from his mother. Breast milk is the best food for babies with well balanced nutrients. Actually, milk is also breast milk for calves; so it’s a super food. Then what secret does breast milk have?

Breast milk is the milk produced by the mammary glands of a pregnant woman during her latter-half of pregnancy and after childbirth. Breast milk is the only food that a newborn baby can take in. Its nutrients are well-proportioned so that they can be most absorbed by a baby. Its proteins are casein1 and whey2 like cow milk’s.

1. Casein is a kind of protein that is commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk and between 20% and 45% of the proteins in human milk.

2. Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It contains lactose, lactoalbumin, lactoglobulin, and minerals. Lactoglobulin has immunoglobulin and it is found a lot particularly in human milk.

The ratio of casein and whey of human milk is 6:4 whereas that of cow milk is 8:2. As a result of having more proportion of whey, human milk is more easily absorbed. When it comes to casein, cow milk has lots of alpha-casein while human milk consists of beta-casein that is more absorbable, too. And also, human milk contains 30% more lactose than cow milk, which enhances calcium absorption. Moreover, lactose of human milk causes less allergic responses than that of cow milk does.

What is more surprising is that the nutritional composition and the amount of breast milk change as a baby grows. Breast milk has three different and distinct stages: colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk.

Colostrum is the first stage of breast milk, which occurs late in pregnancy and lasts for several days after the birth of the baby. It is either yellowish or creamy in color. Its amount is not much, but it is high especially in protein and calcium.

The reason it is high in protein is that it contains many immunoglobulins in a form of protein. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that pass from the mother to the baby, and provide passive immunity3 for the baby. Passive immunity protects the baby from a wide variety of bacterial and viral illnesses. Simply speaking, colostrum is like the first preventive injection. It also contains taurine, DHA, and arachidonic acid which are necessary for development of brain and nerves. It’s like a treasure house of essential nutrients for the baby in the early stage of growth.

3. When a person is exposed to a live pathogen or a virus, he may develop the disease but he becomes immune. As a result, when he gets infected again, his immune system reacts to it quickly throughout the body. During pregnancy, such memories of the mother’s immune system are passed into the fetal bloodstream. This is called passive immunity.

As time passes, colostrum is replaced by transitional milk which lasts for approximately two weeks. Mature milk is the final milk that is milky white in color. In this stage, the amount of breast milk increases greatly. Mature milk differs in its nutritional proportion from colostrums because it is to grow the baby. It has more carbohydrates (lactose) and fats in order to provide necessary energy for metabolism and growth. In this way, breast milk changes its nutritional composition according to the baby’s development.

Experts in breast milk say that if a baby is born premature, the ingredients of his mother’s breast milk adapts for growing premature baby. And they also change according to the climate. Breast milk of mothers who live in a hot country has more water whereas that of those who live in a cold country has more fats. Literally, breast milk is the best and the most appropriate, heaven-sent food for a newborn baby.

So far, we’ve understood breast milk is the most perfect food for the baby, but it has more meaning than just being a food. A baby who has just come out of his mother’s safe womb may regard the new environment as foreign and feel uneasy. However, the baby can feel secure when he is breastfed. It’s not exactly the same as in the womb, but at least, the baby can feel the most comfortable in his mother’s arms.

The World Health Organization reported that breastfed children are healthier, more sociable, and emotionally more stable than bottle-fed children. For these reasons, it released a statement in 2011 that it recommends breastfeeding up to six months of age.

In fact, breastfeeding benefits for not only the baby but also the mother. The National Immunization Survey reported that breastfeeding quickens recovery after childbirth and reduces the risk of breast cancer, uterine and ovarian cancer, and diabetes. Most of all, it increases secretion of oxytocin4 which is nicknamed the love hormone and brings forth maternal instinct. This maternal instinct plays an important role in transforming a woman into a mother who raises and protects her child.

4. Oxytocin is a neurohypophysial hormone that helps uterine contractions, facilitating birth, and milk ejection. Not only during pregnancy but even after childbirth, oxytocin is released through breastfeeding, which increases maternal bonding.

Among the breastfeeding mammals, humans are highly dependent on their mothers. To a baby that has come out from the safe womb to the world full of various germs, breast milk is the perfect nutrition and natural antibiotics. A baby can survive and grow through his mother’s breast milk. Why did God let mankind receive such great mother’s love?

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” Isa 49:15

“For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; … As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isa 66:11–13

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. Gal 4:26