Breast milk contains the right amount of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals which are required for the growth and development of a baby. Hence, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
The nutritional value of breast milk changes over time and adapts to the growing needs of the child. Colostrum or the mother’s first milk is yellowish in colour and contains antibodies which protect the infant from infections and sickness, help build immunity and fight against harmful microbes. A pregnant woman’s body starts producing colostrum from the third or fourth month of pregnancy; the hormone prolactin influences the other’s body to produce milk throughout pregnancy. As the baby grows, this milk matures.
The protein content of the breast milk is much lower as compared to cow’s milk. But the amount of protein required by the baby for the development of the eyes and the brain is adequate in breast milk. High protein is anyway introduced much later in a baby’s diet as the baby’s digestive system is not equipped to digest such food items. The lactose content in cow’s milk is also much higher than that in breast milk, which is again difficult for a baby to digest. Breast milk also contains easily digestible fats which can be broken down and absorbed by the baby’s digestive system. Of course, for babies with lactose intolerance, even mother’s milk may not be suitable.
The nutritional value of breast milk starts decreasing from 10 months postpartum. By this time, complementary solid foods would already have been introduced in the baby’s diet to make up for the nutrition that is not available in breast milk. This is the right time to introduce cow’s milk. By this time, the child’s digestive system is strong and developed enough to digest cow’s milk.