The Concept Of Breast Feeding And Health Benefits Biology Essay

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The concept of breast feeding neonates is to give them immunity against foreign substance(bacteria, pathogens etc) that could be harmful to their health but before this can be understood, the understanding of immune system between the mother and neonates, how the milk is formed and components of the breast milk has to be clarified and understood first.

Ontogeny of Immunity:

In the human foetus, stem cells are seen near the liver at about 5 weeks of gestation and found in the yolk sac at about 6th week. Approximately 10th week, they are found in the fatal liver and from 16 weeks onwards, in the bone marrow. Between 8 and 9 weeks, precursor B cells are found in the liver; early T cells are found in the thymus around 9 weeks. By 12 weeks, all the immune cell types are found in the foetal circulation. After 5 months of gestations, the foetus begins to make its own antibodies; IgM and very little IgG and IgA present. The most antibody of the foetus is IgG which is transferred across the placenta from the Mother. The immune system of the neonate becomes complete at birth but the immune system is still not mature and unable to produce an effective immune response.

After birth, the immune system of the neonate such as(macrophages, neutrophils, dendritic cells) and IgM- and IgG-producing cells are present in the intestine as is able to cope well with antigenic insults of the extra uterine environments but its IgA is very low so the neonate begins to make its own antibodies; maternal IgA in colostrums and milk which also helps protect the neonate from gastro intestinal infections. Lack of the neonate not being able to regulate and active immune response could result in food allergy, autoimmunity and inflammatory bowel disorder, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, eczema, necrotizing enterocholitis, and multiple sclerosis and all this can be prevented by breast feeding due to the IgA found in the colostrums from breast milk.

The breast and breast milk

The female breast is composed of connective tissues, lots of fatty tissues, milk duct and lobules as shown in fig.1.

The lobules are made up of specialised epithelia cells for producing mils and are surrounded by stroma or lamina propria which contains capillaries, granulocytes, mononuclear cells and lymphatic cells. The initial secretion from the breast(colostrums) contains between 106 and 107 leucocytes/ml and reduce to between 104 and 105 leukocytes/ml in mature milk the breast milk and colostrums also have some cytokines and growth factors.

Fig.1. A lactating breast

Schematic diagram of the breast.

Component and constituents of the human breast milk.

The human breast milk contains its own immune system and various growth and cellular factors which provide the neonates with passive immunity in the form of lactobacillus bifidus, lactoferrin, lysozymes and secretory IgA and many others which helps in the development and the nutrition of infants. Below are brief explanations of some of the constituents found in the human breast milk.

Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein that is found in human milk, but not available in formulas. It limits the availability of iron to bacteria in the intestines, and changes which bacteria will survive in the gut. It is found in the highest concentrations in colostrum, but persists throughout the entire first year. It has a direct antibiotic effect on bacteria such as staphylococci and E. coli.

(Jiri Mestecky, John Bienenstock, Michael E. Lamm, Warren Strober, Jerry McGhee, Mucosal Immunology,2004,3rd edition,pp78-79)

Growth Factors: Human breast milk specifically encourages the growth of lactobacillaceae, which are helpful bacteria that can inhibit many of the disease-causing gram-negative bacteria and parasites. There is a striking difference between the bacteria found in the guts of breast and formula-fed infants. Breast-fed infants have a level of lactobacillus that is typically 10 times greater than that of formula-fed infants.

Immunoglobulins: there are various types of immunoglobulins that are found in human milk (IgA, IgG, IgM and IgD). The most concentration is found in colostrum, and available from the breast the first three to five days of the baby's life. IgA, is a type of immunoglobulin that protects the ears, nose, throat, and the GI tract, is found in high amounts in breast milk throughout the first year and helps protect against various bacteria such as pneumococci, staphylococci, shigellae, polio virus and retaviruses.

Lysozyme (a potent digestive ingredient) is also found in the human milk at a level thirty times higher than in any formula. Other components of breast milk vary widely between well-nourished and poorly nourished mothers. Lysozyme has a strong influence on the type of bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract.

(Ian R. Sanderson, W. Allan Walker, Development of the gastrointestinal tract,1999,pp234)

  Allergic factors: Babies, who are exposed to non-human milk, usually develop antibodies to the foreign protein due to the type of protein normally used in formulas which in mostly the protein from cow's milk. Carnitine: can be found in both breast milk and formula, but carnitine in breast milk has higher bioavailability. Babies who undergo breast feeding have significantly higher carnitine levels than their counterparts. Carnitine is necessary to make use of fatty acids as an energy source.


table 1: Compounds with immunological properties in human milk

Anti-microbial compounds

Immune development compounds

    Immunoglobulins: sIgA, SIgG, SIgM


    Lactoferrin, lactoferricin B and H






    Nucleotide-hydrolyzing antibodies

    Growth factors


    {kappa}-Casein and {alpha}-lactalbumin

    Milk peptides


    Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids




    Free secretatory component

    Adhesion molecules

    Oligosaccharides and prebiotics

Anti-inflammatory compounds

    Fatty acids

    Cytokines: IL-10 and TGFß

Maternal leukocytes and


    IL-1 receptor antagonist

    TNF{alpha} and IL-6 receptors



    Complement and complement receptors

    Adhesion molecules

    Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids


    Toll-like receptors

    Hormones and growth factors

    Bifidus factor



Tolerance/priming compounds

    Long-chain polyunsaturated

    Cytokines: IL-10 and TGFß

    Hormones and growth factors fatty acids

    Anti-idiotypic antibodies

Advantages and disadvantages of breast milk

There are various advantages and disadvantages of the human milk through breast feeding.


It is free or less expensive

Because the milk obtained during breast feeding is natural, it is free and for some mothers who might need supplements, it is still cheaper than buying formula milks.

The baby receives antibodies e.g. IgA through the colostrum which helps build the immune system against various infections, type1 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Breast milk is easily digestible

It contains the right amount of natural nutrients made in the body and alters time to time to suit the baby's need for growth and healthy living.

It is believed, from researching that babies who breast feed have higher IQ than babies who had formula milk.

Breast fed babies are less likely to be obese and also free from allergies compared to babies who receive formulated milk which make from cow's protein.

Breast milk also protects the baby against various illnesses such as vomiting, chest pain, urine and ear infections.

Breast feeding helps develop an emotional bonding between the mother and the baby.

Breast milk also helps decrease the chances of breast cancer.

Disadvantages of breast milk/breastfeeding

It is very challenging and demanding because the mother has to feed the baby about 10 times in 24hours which can be very tiresome having to wake up at unusual times.

It can be very painful because most mothers can develop sore on the nipple breast as the babies suck so hard when they want their milk during breast feeding.

In some places, it is classified as a public indecency to breast feed a baby in public.

Certain social habits such as smoking, caffeine, alcohol etc must be given up for the sake of the baby during breastfeeding period.

Choosing the right clothing could be difficult because the baby must be able to have an easy access to breast for breast feeding.

For certain mothers breast feeding is not an option or ideal for them due to various and personal reason; could be the fear of giving up an old habits(smoking ,alcohol e.t.c), the inconvenience times of breast feeding, bad health condition, culture and many more and so for that reason, formula feeding is their best option.

The very first ever formula milk was produced in the 1860s in Switzerland by a man called Henri Nestle from cow's milk and cereal and many researches have been done to better the formula milk to suit babies of different sizes, shapes and age but event that, just as the breast milk, the formula milk has its advantages and disadvantage.


It is a way out for mothers who can produce breast milk, due to bad health or dieting.

Formula milk digest very slowly compared to the breast milk and so babies do not need to be fed every few hours.

Unwell mothers can not pass any illness through the formula to their babies.


There are lack of antibodies and growth factors found in the formula milk to help the baby's immune system, just nutrients, unlike the many antibodies in the breast milk

Formula fed babies have the tendency of developing firm bowl movements (constipation) and gas.

It is very expensive product to buy

Its time consuming considering the bottles and nipples has to be thoroughly washed and sterilised before and after use.

Breast cancer - the risk of breast cancer is decreased by 4 % for each year of breastfeeding, according to D Hollander in Breast cancer Risk is Reduced By 4 % for Each Year of Breastfeeding [International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 28, 2002].

Could cause various diseases such as;



stress and anxiety




Without the benefit of a doubt, this concludes that the human milk is the only natural bioactive fluid from the colostrums which is equipped with nutrients, growing factors and live cells and most importantly, all the antibodies but abundance in IgA from the mothers colostrums which helps with the baby immune system to fight against infections and other illness.

From the constituents and components of the human breast milk compared to the formula milk, it clearly indicates it is better to breast feed a baby than use a formula. Some of the advantages of breast feeding not only helps with the building and strengthening the immune system but also to develop an emotional bond with the mother is very essential in life.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best when he stated, "A pair of substantial mammary glands has the advantage over the two hemispheres of the most learned professor's brain, in the art of compounding a nutritious fluid for infants." With the ever-expanding knowledge resulting from current research, commercial formula clearly cannot replicate all of the valuable properties that are inherent in human milk.

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