Human milk provides optimal nutrition for infants and children for improving their health, growth, and development. It contains many unique properties such as nutrients, growth factors, hormones, enzymes, and anti-microbial factors that provide immunity to many acute and chronic diseases.
Macronutrients of Human milk: These include vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D, and iodine.
Bioactive components: These are elements that can affect biological processes and play an important a role in healthy body function.
|Bio-active Components||What are their functions?|
|Macrophages and stem cells||These cells protect against infection and healing.|
|Immunoglobulins (IgA/sIgA, IgM, IgG)||Anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory response to microbes and allergens|
|Cytokines IL-6, IL-7, IL-8, IL-10, IFNγ, TGFβ, TNFα||Antibody production, Anti-inflammatory, Stimulates inflammatory immune activation|
|Chemokines (G-CSF, MIF)||Help the gut against infections, help anti-pathogen activity of macrophages|
|Cytokine Inhibitors TNFRI and II||Anti-inflammatory effect|
|Growth Factors (EGF, HB-EGF, VEGF, NGF, IGF)||Protective against damage from low oxygen. Promotion of healing, nerve growth, Stimulation of growth and development, increased red blood cells and hemoglobin|
|Hormones (Calcitonin, Somatostatin)||Regulation of healthy gut (intestines)|
|Metabolic hormones (Adiponectin, Leptin,Ghrelin)||Reduction of infant BMI and weight, anti-inflammatory, regulation of energy conversion and infant BMI, appetite regulation, Regulation of energy conversion and infant BMI|
|Oligosaccharides & glycans, HMOS, Gangliosides, Glycosaminoglycans||Brain development; anti-infectious|
|Mucins (MUC1, MUC4)||Block infections by viruses and bacteria.|
Exclusive Breast Feeding
Global guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for an infant for a minimum period of the first 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding is an infant’s consumption of mother’s milk without the use of milk powder supplements.
Mother’s health Benefits from breastfeeding
- Healthy Breast Cells: Breastfeeding also increases differentiation, or maturation, of the ductal cells in the breast that is believed to increase resistance to cancer growth.
- Cancer prevention: It is reported that it can reduce the number of menstrual cycles lowering the hormonal exposure that can help prevent cancers grow.
- Prevents stress and depression post-delivery: During feeding, a hormone called oxytocin is released that is found to promote nurturing and feeling of relaxation to the mother thus improving the mother’s mental health.
The world health organization (WHO) supports the use of donor human milk in situations where a mother is unable to produce enough or if the mother’s own breast milk is unavailable. The milk banks are the non-profitable market in human milk that provide services to the community for babies in need. The main priority of milk banks is to provide milk for fragile and sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units of the hospitals for therapeutic purpose for nutrition.
Human Milk trade
The informal market in human milk is rising with great demands of human milk even outside hospital community. Now, human milk can be made available by sharing largely through social media and the Internet-based marketing. It is often called “informed sharing” where Mothers feel safe buying human milk from donors that share their health information online.
Personal Consumption of Human Milk
Many human milk traders are increasingly profiting by selling human milk for personal consumption on the internet. Similarly, it has also been reported that a dessert called “Baby Gaga” an ice-cream recipe that used human milk was being served in one of the restaurants in UK for monetary profits.
Threat of spread of diseases
- While the milk itself is sterile via breastfeeding, human milk is usually not collected in a controlled or sterile environment. This can cause contamination of the milk. It has been reported that 93% of breast milk sold online are contaminated.
- Many serious diseases spread through body fluids. Therefore if human milk is infected with viruses, it can spread life-threatening diseases like hepatitis B and C, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-aids) and syphilis.
- Even if the milk is collected by a sterile technique, if it is not stored in proper conditions, there can be a risk of bacterial growth such as staphylococcus, streptococcus and salmonella microbes leading to an infectious spread.
It is the responsibility of all the parents and consumers to understand the importance of human milk and to support its use for the purpose of nutrition children in need. It is also important to raise awareness on the trade of human milk and the potential health risks involved to maintain a safe and healthy community.