Because breast milk is the gold standard for baby and toddler nutrition, researchers and scientists have been studying the nutrients for centuries trying to establish what exactly breast milk provides. Abbott’s 90 years’ experience and research into infant nutrition has helped us to unravel the complexity of breast milk nutrition and identify the individual components that help your baby grow up as healthy and strong as they can be.

The composition of breast milk is individual to each and every baby and provides all the nutrients and energy they need to support their growth and development. It also provides a range of protective elements including growth factors and antibodies. The composition of breast milk changes as your baby grows, for example straight after birth, breast milk is packed full of antibodies at a crucial stage of your baby’s immune system development.

One of the main components of milk is protein. Breast milk is made up of two types of milk protein, whey protein and casein protein. An important difference between these two proteins is the speed at which they are digested. Whey protein is digested more readily by your baby’s tummy whereas casein is slower to digest, keeping them fuller for longer – this is particularly beneficial for hungry babies!

Linoleic acid (LA), omega 3, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), omega 6, are important in everybody’s diet but they are especially important for babies.These long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) are considered ‘essential fatty acids’ because they cannot be made in the body, so your baby is completely reliant on their diet for these nutrients. Omega 3 and 6 are critical in the early stages of life as they support the development of the brain, nervous system and eyes.

To keep digestion working smoothly, breast milk contains prebiotics. Prebiotics, also known as oligosaccharides (e.g. galacto-oligosaccharides, GOS), allow the healthy bacteria in our digestive systems to thrive by acting as ‘food’. Higher levels of healthy bacteria in your baby’s gut also provide a protection against harmful bacteria, and therefore support your baby’s immune system.

Many organisations provide tailored support to breastfeeding mums. See our Good to know page for a list of contact details for a range of services. If you have any concerns about feeding your baby or your baby’s health, please contact your health visitor or GP.

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