Why breast milk quality varies among nursing mothers, according to paediatricians


A Consultant Pediatrician and Head of Department at the Massey Street Children Hospital, Lagos, Olanike Olutekunbi, says the breast milk of a mother who delivers prematurely differs from that of a mother who delivers at term.

According to her, mothers’ breast milk varies based on the timing of birth and it continues to change throughout breastfeeding period to meet the needs of the growing child.

This corroborates a 1981 study published online by PubMed, a free search engineof references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics.

According to the research titled, Composition of breast milk from mothers of preterm infants, the influence of daily mechanical expression of breast milk on nutritional composition was examined by comparing expressed milk from 12 mothers who delivered preterm with milk from two groups of mothers delivering at term: nine mothers who mechanically expressed all milk and five mothers who nursed their infants at the breast.

Collections were obtained at four-hour intervals over a period of 24 hours so that variability of constituents in milk of different mothers, as well as variability in the same mother over a 24-hour period, could be assessed.

The study authors report that, “Preterm milk contained significantly higher concentrations of protein, sodium, and chloride, and lower concentrations of lactose than the milk from either group of mothers delivering at term.

Continuing, the study noted that the mean concentrations of protein, sodium, chloride, and potassium in early preterm milk were adequate to meet the estimated requirements for the preterm infant.

However, it said, “there was large variability in nutritional composition of milk among mothers and among samples from the same mother.”

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Olutekunbi said that milk composition changes with postnatal age.

She noted that preterm milk has a higher protein content than term milk, which helps the baby to achieve growth potentials, especially brain growth and later-life cognitive functions.

The physician further said that electrolytes are slightly higher in preterm milk than term milk, especially sodium and chloride; but it has a lower calcium and phosphate content than term milk.

Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge. They’re found in the blood, urine, and sweat and are vital to specific processes that keep the body functioning as it should.

“Carbohydrate increases in human milk over time, but more so in preterm milk.

Lactose is a crucial energy source in breast milk. Oligosaccharides (human milk oligosaccharides) are prebiotics in breast milk that serve as food for probiotics (live microorganisms also known as the good bacteria) which fight disease-causing bacteria and strengthen the immune system.