Ayurveda elaborates on a unique yet scientific set of facts surrounding breastmilk. The scriptures present several details regarding the formation of breast milk, ejection and the quality of breastmilk.

Breastmilk – quick facts

The Ayurvedic texts state that the production of breastmilk takes place only three days after the woman delivers her baby. Until then, it is a ghee-like substance, which is now well known as colostrum that is secreted. A part of the food that the mother has during her pregnancy days gets converted into breastmilk.

How?

One of the Ayurvedic scriptures called the Harita Samhita explains: After the mother consumes some food, it reaches the stomach where it gets digested. This food, which is carried to different parts of the boy, reaches the channels of the breast and gets metabolized by the hormones and enzymes(pitta). Finally, it transforms into breastmilk.

It also says that when the mother exerts force to deliver the baby during labor, the breastmilk channels are also opened. It gets filled up with the aforesaid component.

Did you know?

Both the nourishment of the mother as well her mental well-being have an impact on the quality and quantity of breastmilk. This is because the production of gastric enzymes and metabolites are not only dependent on the kind of food but also on the emotional aspect of the person. Grief, anger, and even depression can cause lower and excessive productions of the pancreatic enzymes, thus leading to inefficient digestion. As a result, it is said to be of a lower quality.

Hence, breastmilk or stanya is said to have a psychic mental/emotional component as well as a metabolic/digestive component. It is the psychic component which is also responsible for the continuous production of breastmilk at the sight, touch or cry of the baby.

Feeding right

According to Ayurvedic doctors, a baby should be breastfed from the beginning. The mother needs to sit facing the east and the child should begin feeding on the right breast. In doing so, the mother receives the rays of the sun. Thus, initiating the production of Vitamin D in the child and the mother.

They also explain that this method will help the mother and the baby to get used to the initial stages of latching and holding the baby.

When you baby consumes air...

As the baby suckles, she also consumes air obstruct the air and food passage. Hence the baby's head should be held erect over the mother's shoulder after the feed and the back should be patted as well as rubbed. This way, the baby expels the air that was swallowed. This will help reduce regurgitations and abdominal cramps.

Characteristics of normal healthy breastmilk

  1. Volume: The lactating mother should express about two Anjalie two handfuls of breastmilk.
  2. Colour: The breastmilk would be a whitish-yellow (i.e similar to the colour of a conch shell)
  3. Taste: It tastes sweet with an astringent after-taste
  4. Odour: It smells similar to that of honey
  5. Breastmilk is not a heavy meal. On the other hand, it is rather light and provides all the nutrients required by the baby.
  6. It cools the baby’s body
  7. Interestingly, upon digestion, it turns sweet
  8. It provides strength and longevity to the child

A few more qualities

Healthy breastmilk, if mixed with water, will not settle down at the bottom of the vessel nor float above. The physiology of lactation involves formation, expression and maintenance of lactation. Hence, a woman whose body and tissues develop in an ideal manner will be able to produce sufficient breast milk. It is due to this reason that mothers are vaccinated for TB, Rubella and other such teratogens which may affect the child through breast milk. In other words, a mother with an ideal quality of milk needs to be free from diseases in all aspects.

During the first four days

The breastmilk that is produced after giving birth is commonly known as colostrum. It lasts for about four days from the start of lactation. It is a viscous lemon yellow secretion from the breast. It is the combination of the nourishment that the breast tissue has been receiving from the third trimester until the baby is four-days-old.

That is the breast tissue begins the process of the breastmilk secretion even before the delivery which gets expressed as colostrum and the eventual secretion transforms into breastmilk.

Its physiology should be noted:

  1. Four days post the beginning of the lactation phase, the secretion from the breast is neither colostrum nor breastmilk. It is called transitional milk.
  2. This milk persists for 5-10 days, after which the normal breastmilk known as mature milk which has low proteins, high carbohydrates, low Vitamin B but adequate fat-soluble vitamins is secreted.

Ayurveda states that breastfeeding allows the mother, despite being deprived of the nourishment from the food she digests because of breastfeeding, can to withstand all troubles out of the sheer affection, compassion and desire to protect her child. This a pious yet important duty of the mothers is done with no expectations in return and should be applaudable.

(With a few additional inputs by Dr. Dhanya Dilip)

Dr Elizabeth John has been working as an Ayurveda doctor for over 25 years and holds an MD as well as a PhD in Ayurveda. Presently, she is the Professor and Head of the Department of Shalya at the Karnataka Ayurveda Medical College (KAMC), Mangaluru, Karnataka, India.