Why are infants kept on milk?

          The first kind of food a baby gets is mother’s milk. Why is this so?

          Milk is a highly nutritious food substance with which the female mammals feed their young. It contains most of the nutrients needed for growth and is, for most mammals, the main source of nutrition for several months after birth. In fact the milk of each species of mammals, including human beings, is a complete, wholesome and easily digestible food for its own young ones after their birth.

          Milk is produced in special glands called mammary glands. Most of the female mammals have teats or nipples from which their young can suck milk. These teats are connected to the mammary glands by a series of tiny ducts.

          Although the same ingredients are present in the milk of all mammals, their proportions vary. Milk is 80% to 90% water. It contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. These constituents are needed for growth and repair of bones and tissues and of the normal functioning of the endocrine glands which produce hormones for growth. Proteins (mostly casein and albumin) supply all the essential amino acids for growth and repair. The carbohydrates (mostly lactose or milk sugar) are a good energy source and help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. The fats are in tiny droplets. Milk is converted into soft curd in the stomach of the young due to which digestion can proceed smoothly without the disturbance that fatty foods often cause. Milk also supplies vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K and niacin. These are needed for formation of healthy bones and tissues.

          If a mother takes diet rich in necessary nutrients, her infant will invariably receive all that he requires from her milk. This will also provide certain antibodies to help build immunity to diseases. Immediately after the birth the infant needs food every three to four hours, consuming about 600 ml of milk a day. By about 6 weeks this hunger cycle will have lengthened and the infant may pass a night without needing to be fed. 

         If human babies are not fed by their mothers, they may be bottle-fed with pasteurized cow’s milk, diluted and sweetened or mixing milk powder with water. These can be a valuable substitute for breast milk, but there are hazards involved. If not properly washed, the bottle may contain many bacteria which may cause harmful diseases to the baby.

          Some mothers believe that stronger milk helps the infant to sleep and grow better. But this is a faulty reasoning. A concentrated feed will contain too much sodium and the infant’s kidneys would have to work furiously to eliminate it. This may cause dehydrations. Although the infant may appear to be growing quickly yet instead of building stronger bones and more muscles, the baby would just accumulate excess fat, which is not a healthy sign.

         Babies have also been fed on milk of goat, buffalo, reindeer, caribou, sheep, camel, llama, and mare etc.

         During the second part of the first year, the infant is gradually weaned from milk to solid food. It is important that a balanced diet is maintained for a proper healthy growth of the baby.