Lipids are fats – insoluble substances found in the body. Among the various types of lipids found in our bodies are fats, fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, steroids and waxes. Lipids are essential for supporting the cell structure; they produce hormones and maintain body temperature. But their most important task is to store energy in the body.
Lipids are the main source of energy in a baby’s diet; therefore it is crucial for normal growth and physical activity.
What Roles Do Lipids Play In Breast Milk?
Lipids make up 3 to 5 percent of the composition of breast milk. Lipids provide the baby with half the calories and half of the energy from feeding.
The taste and acceptability of foods are enhanced by fats, and lipids mainly determine the texture and flavor of foods. Dietary lipids provide essential fatty acids (EFA) and facilitate the absorption of lipid-soluble vitamins. Lipids help with weight gain and development of brain and eyesight.
What Are The Functions Of The Various Lipids Found In Breast Milk?
Scientists have identified a variety of different lipids in breast milk. Research is ongoing on these lipids, because scientists still do not know the functions and need of many of them. These are some of the lipids found in breast milk that researchers do know about.
These are the primary lipids found in breast milk. Triglycerides are fat and they make up 98% of the fat found in breast milk. These lipids are responsible for energy storage. Energy is contained in the bonds that hold the triglyceride molecules together. Energy gets released when the triglycerides are broken down.
This is a form of steroid, and it is needed for the development of the brain and nerves. Cholesterols also help produce hormones, which are needed to regulate the functions of the body. According to several studies, children exposed to breast milk cholesterol seem to have better heart health as they grow. Lower levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and lower risk of heart disease have been found in adults who were breastfed as children.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
DHA, a long chain, polyunsaturated fatty acid, is an essential fatty acid that is needed for the development of the central nervous system and the brain. This lipid is also crucial for vision and the development of the eyes, especially for premature infants.
Through the first years after birth, new synapses are formed inside the baby’s brain at very fast rates. DHA is an integral part of these neural synapses and signaling membranes and therefore plays important roles in the early brain, neural and visual development that cannot be replaced by any other fatty acid.
Arachidonic Acid (ARA)
Scientists do not entirely know the importance of this fatty acid in breast milk. ARA may play a role in the growth of the infant, or it may be needed to balance the DHA.
Complex lipids are believed to be crucial for the brain, skin, stomach and intestines. These lipids are found in a baby’s brain. Complex lipids help fight infection and reduce inflammation in the intestines, thereby shielding the baby against a serious condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
How Can A Mother Make Sure Her Baby Receives Enough Lipids From Breast Milk?
The amount of fat in breast milk doesn’t stay the same. It keeps changing throughout the day and over days, months and years as the baby grows. It even changes during each feeding. When a mother first starts to breastfeed her infant, her breast milk is thinner and lower in fat. But, as the baby keeps suckling, the breast milk gets thicker and has a higher amount of fat. The longer the baby breastfeeds on the same breast and the closer she gets to empty that breast, the more fat she will receive.
Breast milk produced for premature infants also has very high-fat content. It has around 30% more fat than the breast milk that is produced for full-term babies.
Consumption of oily fish, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, coarse/whole grains, eggs, dairy, and dark green, leafy vegetables may be helpful in this regard. This may have a long-term impact on health promotion and disease prevention.
However, it should also be noted that it isn’t primarily the mother’s diet that influences breast milk fat content. Age, weight, the time of day, the baby’s age and how ’empty’ the breast is (because hindmilk is higher in fat than foremilk) determine its fat content.
Suggestions On How To Increase Lipid In Breast Milk
Eat fish 2 to 3 times a week, but make sure the fish is low in mercury and other contaminants. DHA are only sourced from Marine Fish and Microalgae. 2 to 3 portions of fish each week equal around 228 to 340 grams. If you are a vegetarian, an algal DHA supplement is recommended.
Fat to carbohydrate ratio in the diet influences the fatty acid composition of breast milk. Try to eat a diet that is around 40-50% carbohydrates, 30-35% fat, and 20-25% protein.
To optimize breast milk fat, eliminate Trans fats (vanaspati ghee and margarine) from the diet. Avoid cakes, cookies, French fries, potato chips, burgers, mayonnaise etc. which may have trans fats or oxidised fat from high heating of vegetable oils.
How About Taking Fish Oil Supplements?
Experts recommend skipping fish oil supplements if you are getting sufficient DHA from fish already.
First of all, the daily consumption of fish oil supplements by breastfeeding mothers may decrease their infant’s Arachidonic Acid (ARA) levels over time. Second, DHA may work together with other nutrients in fish, such as Choline, to support the baby’s brain development and third, fish is also a great source of Vitamin D, Selenium, Protein, some B Vitamins, and other nutrients crucial for the baby’s development, which will be missed out on, if only taking isolated Fish Oil Supplements.
Lipids are very important components in a mother’s milk. In fact, the milk from a healthy mother has about 50-60% of its energy (kilocalories) as fat. The cholesterol in human milk supplies an infant with close to six times the amount most adults consume from their food.
When a woman has many children, the level of fat in her milk usually decreases with each succeeding child. This will not happen, however, if the mother maintains a high-quality diet.