Did you know that the only place human beings are not exposed to germs, such as bacteria or fungi, is in their mothers’ uterus? Yes, from the moment human beings are born into this world they are exposed to millions of germs. What kind of a system of protection are babies equipped with that, despite all their vulnerability and defenselessness, allows them to survive in this world?
In addition to protecting the infant from life-threatening enemies, the nutrition of a newborn should be suitable for their development and appropriate for their digestive system and sensitive kidneys, which are not ready to accept any ordinary food. If it was up to the parents to design and create the necessary nutrition for babies, what would they do? Would they be able to come up with a formula that would provide the necessary nutrition, protect them from bacteria and viruses, and also be fit for their digestive system? Millions of dollars are spent on infant nutrition, but no one has come up with anything better than mother’s milk.
A diet for a newborn should include the following elements in certain proportions: water, proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, fatty acids, minerals and vitamins (A, and B with all its subgroups, C, D, E and K).
Water is a major necessity for the human body, being composed of mostly liquid. In the 10th week of pregnancy, 94% of an embryo is liquid, whereas 79% of a newborn is liquid. As the baby reaches its 3rd month, the total liquid in its body is 70%, while at age 1 this amount is reduced to 60%. The amount of total liquid in an adult body is about 55% of the total body-weight, and while the amount of liquid that passes through an adult body daily is about 6% of its total weight, this amount is 4 times higher (25%) in infants. Dehydration can occur very fast in babies. This is why infant nutrition should be high in water. Not surprisingly, breast milk, which pours from the fountain of compassion of the Almighty, is 90% water. Breast milk also contains solid (casein) and soluble (whey) proteins, which are essential for the growth and repair of the body. Casein in breast milk forms much softer clogs and is easier to digest compared to the casein in cow’s milk. Moreover, the whey in breast milk plays an important role in protecting the babies from infections, since it has an anti-infective property. Cow’s milk, for example, does not contain the anti-infective proteins that are essential for human babies. Since their immune system is not yet fully developed, babies are not able to fight off infections, and their defense is provided by breast milk, which acts not only as nutrition, but also as a live fluid that protects babies against infections. There is no formula or food that can replace breast milk, as it contains live macrophage and lymphocytes. (WHO-1993, UNICEF, 1993 – Nutrition–H-1OF)
In sura al-Qasas in the Qur’an we are told of the Pharaoh’s unimaginable cruelty, and how he was punished by God as an admonition. The Pharaoh had been told by a fortuneteller that a baby, a successor of the sons of Ishmael, would be born, and would bring his kingdom to an end. Frightened by this prediction, the Pharaoh commanded that all newborns in the country be killed. At the time, Moses’ mother was pregnant with him. As she gave birth to Moses, her only worry was to protect him from the Pharaoh’s soldiers. At this moment she was guided by divine inspiration:
Suckle (your child), but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear nor grieve; surely We will bring him back to you and make him one of Our Messengers. (Qasas 28:7)
“Suckle (your child),” or in other words, “breastfeed him,” were God’s words to a mother whose only worry was saving her baby’s life. If one reads the verses preceding and following the above verse carefully, it is clear that the main idea in the verse is to protect the baby. Now, why would such a verse advise the mother to breastfeed? It is because the Pharaoh’s soldiers were not the only threat to the baby. After years of medical research, we now know that an infant’s immune system has not yet developed, and therefore they need to be protected against bacteria and viruses, which in Moses’ story were a more immediate threat to the baby than the Pharaoh. It is certain that the baby would be exposed to bacteria and viruses before the Pharaoh’s soldiers found him. Being under such a great anxiety, a mother might not be able to take good care of cleaning and feeding her baby, which would increase the risk of infection to the baby. For this very reason, God advised Moses’ mother to breastfeed the baby first. It is God Who creates and provides breast milk through the mothers’ body, and He certainly knows that not only is it a source of food and nutrition, but that it also helps to protect the baby against infections. God may, of course, choose to provide direct protection, without requiring breast milk, but then, living in a world of cause and effect, we are reminded of the perfect balance of this universe.
A breastfeeding mother should be free of anxiety and stress, as these will negatively affect the mother’s milk production. (WHO-1993, UNICEF, 1993 – Nutrition–H-1OF) The Qur’an, after advising breastfeeding, continues to comfort the mother “. . . when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear nor grieve; surely We will bring him back to you and make him one of Our Messengers.” Breastfeeding mothers have high levels of prolactin in their boies. As well as stimulating milk production, this hormone also functions as an anti-depressant for the mother. In this context, it is very significant that the mother is advised to breastfeed. It is incredible that a verse that is nearly 1400 years old is perfectly in accordance with the results of 30-years of research on breast milk.
Lactose-another ingredient in breast milk-is a kind of carbohydrate that is suitable for the digestive system of babies. Its slow digestion balances the sugar levels in the baby’s body. Lactose also increases the absorption of calcium. Together with some fat molecules, galactose-a type of molecule found in lactose-forms compounds that are essential for the development of the brain in infants. It also plays a role in the increase of a bacterium called “lactobacillius bifidus” found in the infant’s intestine. These harmless bacteria form the intestinal flora, which eventually protects them from diarrhea. In premature babies, more than 90% of lactose in breast milk is transmitted to the blood through mucous in the intestines after breast feeding. This preventive care can neither be provided by the mother nor is it initiated through the desire or ability of the baby. In addition to having so many benefits for babies, another positive aspect of lactose is that the amount found in breast milk is not affected by the mother’s diet.
There are more than 100 types of sugar, known as Oligosaccharides, found in breast milk. Oligosaccharides and other anti-infective elements in the intestines prevent harmful microorganisms from holding on to the intestines by clinging to them.
Babies get most of the energy they need from the fats found in breast milk, which are easily absorbed in the baby’s intestines. The fat ratio in the breast milk increases at the end of the breast feeding session; this gives the baby a feeling of fullness and prevents overfeeding. In this way, babies are also protected against obesity and other connected health risks that may occur in the future, including heart and vessel diseases, hypertension, diabetes, etc.
The mother’s diet does not affect the quantity or quality of minerals found in breast milk. Breast milk provides as much minerals as the baby needs, using the mineral stocks of the mother. It also contains all the necessary vitamins for the baby’s first month, as well as growth factors, enzymes, and ten other hormones, whose benefits are still unknown.
Breast milk in mothers who give birth to a premature baby is different than regular breast milk; this helps to satisfy the unique needs of a premature baby. In the first few weeks after the birth of a premature baby, the amount of protein in the mother’s breast milk is higher in comparison to that of a mother who delivered full term. A premature baby needs 2 grams of protein per one kilogram of its body weight daily, twice the amount needed by a full term baby. Also the protein quality (casein/whey ratio) of breast milk for a mother who gave birth to an underweight baby is adjusted accordingly: 30% of casein and 70% of whey protein. The fat in breast milk provides 50% of the total calories, which is the ideal combination for underweight babies. The digestion and absorption of this fat, the types of fatty acids, and the distribution of these acids over the triglyceride molecules are perfect.
It is well known that breastfed premature babies have better visual ability, and that long-chained fatty acids, carotene, taurine and vitamin E-all of which are contained in breast milk in perfect ratios-play an important role in visual ability.
The First Two Years of Life and Breastfeeding
One liter of breast milk alone provides 2/3 of all the protein and all of the vitamin A and C an infant needs up to the second year. If a baby can get 1.5 liters of breast milk daily, they will be provided with most of the nutrition they need. This is why breast feeding should continue through to the end of the second year, if possible.
The true value of breast milk has only recently been discovered. In the 1960s, a massive advertising campaign for baby formula was able to “discover” almost every day another element that existed in formula, but was lacking in breast milk. This was broadcast via television, especially in the US. As a result of these scientific (!) findings, mothers were alienated from breast feeding and a formula generation was born, all in the name of “science.”
In 1980, breast milk was recommended for only the first four months of life. It was claimed that after four months, breast milk did not have any nutritional value and was just like water for the baby. In 1986, breast milk was recommended for the first six months. And finally, starting from 1993, breast milk was recommended for the first two years, after it was discovered that even during the second year, breast milk still provides most of the necessary nutrition for infants. A verse from the Qur’an says:
And the mothers should suckle their children for two whole years for him who desires to make complete the time of suckling; and their maintenance and their clothing must be borne by the father on equitable terms. No soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor a father on account of his child, and a similar duty (devolves) on the (father’s) heir, but if both desire weaning by mutual consent and counsel, there is no blame on them. (Baqara 2:233)
Medical researches have just discovered within the last 10 years that breast feeding should continue for two years, yet the Qur’an has been giving us the same advice for 14 centuries. If one is rational, one must agree that no one else but God could have known this so many years ago. And who else could possibly have provided us with such information, information that it would have been impossible to discover with the limited science and medical research of the 7th century?