What Breast Milk is Made of: Liquid Gold Science

What is breast milk made of, and what sets it apart? Find the answers here.

Pregnancy is an exciting, beautiful and deeply personal time, during which your body will naturally start to accommodate your growing baby while producing and responding to new hormones. Most exciting of all, your body will also prepare to make milk that will eventually be a vital source of wellness for your little one once he or she is born.

Science of Breast Milk Composition

You may already know that your breasts will make milk on an “on-demand” basis. This means that how often and how much milk is removed from the breasts are primary factors that determine continued production of breast milk. In short, more milk will be produced if your breasts are emptied more frequently, through nursing or pumping. In fact, research shows that nearly every mother’s milk supply follows a relatively predictable journey through a few distinct lactation phases. However, you may be wondering about the science of breast milk composition itself; specifically, what makes it the ideal nutrition for your infant, how your milk’s diverse components work together to protect your baby, and even how breast milk is different from formula.

What is Breast Milk Made of?

It’s important to remember that breast milk is a living fluid that changes throughout your breastfeeding journey to readily meet the evolving needs and overall development of your baby. Colostrum (or “first milk”) is different from mature milk created later. In fact, colostrum contains about double the amount of protein than later milk and is jam-packed with vital components to address the unique health needs of your baby while promoting overall wellbeing, particularly in the areas of intestinal development and infection risk reduction.

Breast milk itself contains millions of live cells per millimeter. These include leukocytes to protect your baby from infection and stem cells that can then transform into other cell types like fat, bone, liver and brain cells. In fact, the stem cells that your newborn receives from your breast milk may even act as the foundation for their own internal building and repair system Many healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are also prevalent in breast milk and optimize crucial brain growth and development, especially in preterm babies who may have missed specific markers from the final trimester of pregnancy

As vital as healthy fats, stem cells, and leukocytes are, they are only a tiny fraction of what breast milk is made of. In actuality, there are thousands of important ingredients in your breast milk. To find out what they are and how they benefit your growing baby, take a look at this detailed breakdown.

How is Breast Milk Different from Formula?

The overwhelming majority of breast milk’s components cannot be replicated artificially. In most cases, formula contains only water, fat, protein, DHA/ARA, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. While the science of breast milk composition continues to evolve as more research is reported, breastfeeding has long been considered the gold standard for your baby’s nutritional, developmental, and wellness needs. To learn even more about what breast milk is made of and how it differs from formula, there is plenty of helpful information available: What Makes Breast Milk So Unique?