Breast milk is known for being a nutritious powerhouse for your baby in his/her growing years. The perfect blend of nutrients, it supports the healthy growth and development of your little one. While physical growth is apparent to the naked eye, your baby’s mental growth may not be.
Brain Development In The Early Years
Most brain growth and development occurs before the age of 2 years. When your baby is around 2 years old, the brain has already grown to 80% of its final size. To support this rapid growth, the body requires these essential fatty acids and nutrients. They cannot be ignored as they improve your baby’s IQ score, problem-solving abilities and cognitive development. During this age, breast milk is the primary nutrition source, and the most reliable source of DHA and ARA for your little one. Hence, it is crucial to breastfeed your baby to provide optimum nutrition for cognitive development.
Other than these specific nutrients that promote brain development, babies also need balanced nutrition - a good blend of carbohydrates, protein and fats as well as micronutrients like minerals and vitamins - for optimal growth and brain development in the early years.
Breast milk is known for being gentle on the tummy, as it has the appropriate ratio of whey and casein proteins, making it easy for a baby’s body to digest. Breast milk also has a marginally higher fat content, which helps your baby fulfil calorie requirements without burdening his small tummy.
Fats In Breast Milk
The high fat content of breast milk helps your baby receive essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce on its own and have to come from dietary sources. Essential fatty acids play an important role in organ development and health. They also keep unhealthy weight gain under control.
The essential fats in breast milk also include Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LC PUFAs) called DHA and ARA, which play a role in brain, nervous system and visual development in the early years.
DHA and ARA
A major part of the fatty acid content, around 25% of the fat in breast milk, consists of DHA and ARA, which support optimal health, growth and development.
- DHA and ARA are both phospholipids, found in cell membranes, and DHA is even found in the brain cells or grey matter.
- Phospholipids are a type of lipid or fat that form cell membranes. They are an important component in the baby’s nerve cell functions and conducting nerve impulses.
- Apart from DHA and ARA, your baby also needs minerals like Iron and Iodine, which help in the formation, growth and functioning of nerve cells. Iron is especially important to support the rapidly occurring brain growth.
- Choline, a trace element, found in breast milk, influences nerve cell formation and the transmission of neural impulses.
These nutrients, found in breast milk, influence your child’s cognitive abilities and memory functions.
Infants require the right nutrition to ensure brain development, as it helps in overall growth - not just in infancy, but for years to follow. Breastfeeding thus forms a strong foundation for normal and healthy growth. The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and it is good to continue to do so until your baby is around 2 years old. It’s the best choice you can make for your little one.
Disclaimer: All the information provided in the blog is for reference purposes only. Please do not consider this as a medical advice. Start Healthy Stay Healthy programme is for educational purposes only, in partnership with doctors. Always consult a doctor if you have any questions related to your own health or the health of your child.