Mama’s Milk or Formula- Is Breast Best?
Breast milk is a unique nutritional source that cannot adequately be replaced by any other food.
Nursing is a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal nourishment and a special bonding experience that many nursing mothers cherish.
For centuries, when a woman could not feed her baby herself, another lactating woman, or ‘wet nurse’, took over the job.
It’s only in the last 60 years that we have begun to give babies the highly processed convenience food called ‘formula’.
Infant formulas were never intended to be consumed on the widespread basis that they are today. They were conceived in the late 1800s as a means of providing necessary sustenance for foundlings and orphans who would otherwise have starved.
“Junk Food” in a Bottle
Most commercial formulas are based on cow’s milk. But before a baby can drink cow’s milk in the form of infant formula, it needs to be severely modified. The protein and mineral content must be reduced and the carbohydrate content increased, usually by adding sugar.
Milk fat, which is not easily absorbed by the human body, particularly one with an immature digestive system, is removed and substituted with vegetable, animal or mineral fats.
Vitamins and trace elements are added, but not always in their most easily digestible form.
Formula may also contain unintentional contaminants introduced during the manufacturing process. Some may contain traces of genetically engineered soya and corn, excessive levels of heavy metals (cadmium, lead, aluminium).
The packaging of infant formulas occasionally gives rise to contamination with broken glass and fragments of metal as well as industrial chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A.
Soya formulas are of particular concern due to the very high levels of plant-derived oestrogens (phytoestrogens) that can cause cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designates formula milk as the last choice in infant-feeding: Its first choice is breastmilk from the mother; second choice is the mother’s own milk given via cup or bottle; third choice is breastmilk from a milk bank or wet nurse and, finally, in fourth place, formula milk.
Breast Is Best
- None of the antibodies found in breast milk are found in manufactured formula, which means that formula doesn’t provide the baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does.
- During nursing, the mother passes antibodies to the baby, which help the child resist diseases and lowers the risk of ear infections, respiratory infarctions, and meningitis, and develop their own immune system.
- All of breast milk’s components, including lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat, are easily and completely digested by a newborn’s immature system, so breastfed babies have fewer incidences of diarrhea or constipation.
- Breast milk is rich in digestive enzymes such as lipase and amylase, to promote intestinal health.
- Breast milk has a higher carbohydrate content than formula and has large amounts of lactose. Research shows that animals whose milk contains higher amounts of lactose experience larger brain development.
- Minerals such as iron are present in lower quantities in breast milk than in formula. However, the minerals in breast milk are more completely absorbed by the baby.
A review of 132 studies on allergy and breastfeeding concluded that breastfeeding appears to help protect children from developing allergies, and that the effect seems to be particularly strong among children whose parents have allergies.
Several recent studies have shown that children who were breast-fed are significantly less likely to become obese. Formula feeding is linked to about a 20 to 30 percent greater likelihood that the child will become obese.
A systemic review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of Diabetes Type 2.
Children who are exclusively breast-fed during the first three months of their lives are 34 percent less likely to develop juvenile, insulin-dependent diabetes than children who are fed formula.
Breastfeeding may also decrease the risk of childhood cancer.
Studies have shown that heart disease is less likely to develop in adults who were breast-fed in infancy.
Researchers have observed that bottlefed babies are twice as likely to die from any cause in the first six weeks of life. In particular, bottlefeeding raises the risks of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by two to five times.
Breastfeeding produces not only healthier babies but also brighter children, according to a study. As little as four weeks of breastfeeding for a new-born infant has a “positive and significant effect” on brain development.
Children who had been breastfed consistently outperformed their formula-fed peers in tests of reading, writing and mathematics, researchers from the University of Oxford found.
Breast-fed children develop fewer psychological, behavioral and learning problems as they grow older.
Breastfeeding is a way to help reduce a child’s risk of becoming overweight or obese, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics. Studies in the American Journal of Epidemiology correlates breastfed children to be less overweight than non-breastfed children.
Infants who are breast-fed longer have fewer dental cavities throughout their lives.
In later life, studies have shown that bottlefed babies have a greater tendency towards developing conditions such as childhood inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, dental malocclusion, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hyperactivity, autoimmune thyroid disease and coeliac disease.
On a practical level, breastfeeding is convenient, economical and does not require heating! It’s the perfect package to care for the baby as it develops.
Breastfeeding helps improve mothers’ health, as well as their children’s.
Mothers burn many calories during lactation and may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker.
A study published in the American Journal of Medicine, revealed that mothers who did not breastfeed their children have significantly higher rates of type 2 diabetes later in life than moms who breastfed.
Breastfeeding for at least a year can cut the chances of developing breast cancer by a third in women with a strong family history of the disease.
Breastfeeding appears to reduce the mother’s risk of developing osteoporosis in later years. Although mothers experience bone-mineral loss during breastfeeding, their mineral density is replenished and even increased after lactation.
Breastfeeding is also an effective form of birth control.
Breastfeeding can reduce stress levels as most women report feeling more relaxed during and after breastfeeding. Studies confirm that oxytocin has a healing, relaxation effect for the mother and child.
Women who don’t breastfeed or who stop breastfeeding too soon have a higher risk of postpartum depression.
Above all, breastfeeding is believed to be an incredible bonding experience between mothers and their children.
Although breast-feeding is a natural process, it doesn’t always come easily. If you’re having trouble, it’s critical that you get help as soon as possible, before your milk supply decreases.
Attend some meetings at your local Australian Breastfeeding Association (www.breastfeeding.asn.au) or call a lactation consultant (www.alca.asn.au/)
Unfortunately breastfeeding is not possible for some women due to choice or individual circumstances. Goat’s milk formulas are the closest nutritionally to breast milk and organic forms are best.
Good nutrition when breastfeeding positively affects breastmilk quantity (nutrient levels) and quality, preventing conditions such as cracked nipples, fatigue and postnatal depression and even reduces how much a baby cries.
Talk to an Emed Integrative Medicine Practitioner to receive professional and personalised advice, and ensure adequate nutrition during breastfeeding, so you can provide the best start for your little one.
1. Lactation and Maternal Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Population-based Study, E. Schwarz, et al.The American Journal of Medicine, 2010; 123 (9): 863.e1 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.03.016
2. Ovarian cancer risk is reduced by prolonged lactation: a case-control study in southern China, Am J Clin Nutr 2013 97: 2 354-359; First published online January 2, 2013, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/97/2/354.long
3.Does breastfeeding influence risk of type 2 diabetes in later life? A quantitative analysis of published evidence, C. Owen, R. Martin, P. Whincup, G. Smith, and D.Cook, Am J Clin Nutr November 2006 vol. 84 no. 5 1043-1054, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/5/1043.long