What affects breast milk composition? Here are 5 things to know

A breastfeeding mother's environmental surroundings can affect breast milk since organic pollutants and other contaminants can accumulate in it.




Breast milk is the first source of nutrition for a baby, which is why mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed the infant for the first six months at least. There are several external factors that affect breast milk, not just its supply but also composition. Here are five such factors:

Smoking

If a breastfeeding mother is smoking, it is likely that nicotine and other toxins can be transmitted via breast milk to the baby, according to healthline. This can impact the baby’s sleep pattern and increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SID). It can also cause the mother to produce less breast milk.

Your baby’s health

Breastmilk can change colour if you or your baby is sick. When a baby is ill, they will send a cue through their saliva to the mother’s body through feeding, stimulating an increase in immune cells in breast milk, as per a 2013 study published in Splash! by International Milk Genomics Consortium. Breast milk contains antibodies to protect the baby.

Day/night time

Experts say breast milk changes its composition throughout the day. A study in the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia found morning breast milk to have a cortisol level (hormone that influences the development of the breastfed infant) three times higher than evening milk. On the other hand, melatonin, which helps sleep and digestion, rises in the evening milk and peaks during midnight. It also contains higher level of DNA building blocks. The varying hormones in breast milk help your baby develop a circardian rhythm.

Read| The working mom’s guide to breastfeeding

Food and medicines

The food and medicines (if any) you consume can affect the milk’s smell and taste. For a 2008 study, researchers in Denmark tested how the food a mother eats affects breast milk flavour. Mint appeared in the milk in lower concentrations and peaked later, while the taste of banana was found only up to an hour after eating. Research has also shown that eating raw garlic can affect the smell of breast milk. Medicines can also change the colour of your breast milk.

Read| Formula versus breast milk: What your baby should have and when

Environmental toxins

A breastfeeding mother’s environmental surroundings can also affect breast milk since organic pollutants and other contaminants can accumulate in it. In a 2014 study titled Save Breast Milk from Pollution, researchers write, “Through breastfeeding, a mother may transfer potentially toxic chemicals to the suckling infant, exercising systemic and harmful effects on the health of children.”

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