A new study confirms what mothers and doctors have long believed: human milk is the best source of nutrition for infants.
The wholesome sufficiency of “mother’s milk” isn’t just a turn of phrase; it’s a biomedical reality. Access to human milk, whether through mothers or donors, can be a major supporter of neonatal health.
Human milk supports health and growth for preterm babies.
In particular, babies born preterm or with health challenges benefit from consuming human milk, whether from their own mother or from a screened donor.
Recent research on infants with congenital heart conditions affirms that a diet rich in human milk can have a life-changing impact on health and development. These babies typically struggle to gain the healthy amount of weight associated with normal growth. Human milk and human milk-derived fortifiers supply not only nutrients but also prebiotics and immunological components to support infants’ growth. It is also better tolerated than milk products from other mammals.
Babies with congenital heart disease or defects also often undergo surgery before they are released from the hospital. When they receive a diet of exclusively human milk, those infants show improved growth and decreased risk of complications immediately after surgery.
Human milk also offers other benefits.
In addition to providing nutrition and immunological protection, human milk may confer other benefits. Human milk has been shown to protect against diabetes, obesity, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune disorders.
Some cultures even value other “milk therapies,” including topical applications to treat everything from pink eye to diaper rash. Scientists have made treatments directly from compounds in human milk, and many alternative and folk remedies show signs of having health benefits.
A compound as powerful as human milk — available so widely, inexpensively and with minimal side effects – shows great promise. With additional research, scientists and health care providers can continue learning about the complex impact and benefits of human milk. Increased understanding can, in turn, encourage full use and equal access to the wonder drug produced by the human body.