Species Specific

June 2, 2012

The goal of this first class of The Lactation College’s second semester is to help everyone with the concept that mammalian milk is species specific.

First, mammals.

As a review, mammals have certain common characteristics. They are warm-blooded, have hair or fur, most are born alive, and they have more complex brains than other animals. In addition, the young are fed milk produced by the mother’s mammary glands. After all, the term ‘Mammalia’ means ‘of the breast.’

Species specific means that the milk of each mammalian species is perfectly designed to supply its offspring with what is needed for optimal growth and survival.

Some examples:

  • The armadillo needs to build a protective bony shell (so that milk contains high levels of calcium and phosphorus).

  • The hooded seal pup needs to lay down blubber to stay warm in the icy sea water, and gets only about four days of nursing on a floating sheet of ice before the ice breaks up (so that milk contains 60% fat, the fattiest of all mammalian milk).

  • The Australian tammar wallaby joey matures in the mother’s pouch, which isn’t the cleanest environment (so that milk contains extremely high levels of a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides, known to offer protection against infections).

With this in mind, what does the human infant need? (For those of you who are new to the College, a lot of the pictures I share are of my two ADORABLE grandsons and my three kids when they were young. I know I am biased! This is a picture of one of my grandsons when he was just days old.)

The human infant arrives earlier than is ideal because the infant’s large cranium needs to be able to fit through a space defined by the human mother’s pelvic bones. Being born early means arriving with an immature immune system which places the infant at extremely high risk for infections. Species specific milk to the rescue as the primary function of human colostrum, the infant’s first-first food, is a protective one.

In addition, humans are brainiacs, right? Human milk is designed to grow, support and develop a highly complex brain. Right from the start, human milk is setting up the optimal bacteria in the gut, feeding those bacteria special nutrients so they can spin off substances to grow the brain, and then later on providing the infant with special fat to keep growing the brain. (Much more on that later.)

For each mammalian baby, mama’s milk is very special stuff.  

That’s it for today. Next up we will figure out a way to remember what is in human colostrum.

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