May 15, 2012
Move Over Formula: Breast Feeding Is The Best Feeding For Babies
Many new mothers struggle with breastfeeding their newborns, especially in the first few weeks. However, when comparing the quality of breast milk to formula, there really is no competition. Breastfeeding is the best feeding and formula has little to offer an infant in terms of nutrition, digestion and immunity.
Breast milk is the perfect food for baby, with numerous advantages over baby formula, especially in the first four months or so. Here's why:
- It's always available.
- It's free.
- It contains active infection-fighting white blood cells and natural chemicals that give increased protection against infections in the first months, when these can be the most serious.
- It can help prevent SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- It contains the perfect proportion of nutrients that your baby needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calcium.
- It is easily digestible.
- It may protect against allergies and asthma in the future.
- It may decrease a baby's risk of obesity in the future.
- It may contain some fatty acids that promote brain development.
- Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose weight more easily.
Most baby formulas are derived from cow's milk (although dairy-free formulas are also available). When milk -- from the breast or from a cow -- is digested, it breaks down into two byproducts: curds and whey. The curd is white and rubbery, and the whey is liquid.
When cow's milk breaks down, the curd that forms is hard for human babies to digest. Breast milk, on the other hand, forms more whey than curd, and the curd is softer and more easily digested. Because the baby can digest breast milk more easily than cow's milk, he's less likely to decorate your favorite sweater with spit-up.
Formula makers are striving to make their formulas contain more whey and less curd, so they can be digested more like breast milk. Some formulas, like Nutramigen and Alimentum unfortunately are made of hydrolyzed protein, which is quite processed and offers little nutritional value. In all cases, breast milk is still the gold standard that formula companies are continually trying to match, but it may very well be an impossible feat.
One of the amazing things about breast milk is that your milk is specially formulated to have the right composition for your baby, and to contain exactly the right amounts of nutrients. Bottle-fed babies receive the exact same nutrients every time they eat. Breast milk, on the other hand, continually changes in composition so that your baby gets what he or she needs at any age.
A simple comparison of breast milk over formula shows its superiority:
| NUTRIENT FACTOR
|| BREAST MILK CONTAINS
|| FORMULA CONTAINS
||Rich in brain-building omega 3s, namely DHA and AA
-Automatically adjusts to infant's needs; levels decline as baby gets older
-Rich in cholesterol
-Nearly completely absorbed
-Contains fat-digesting enzyme, lipase
-Doesn't adjust to infant's needs
-Not completely absorbed
| Fat is the most important nutrient in breastmilk; the absence of cholesterol and DHA, vital nutrients for growing brains and bodies, may predispose a child to adult heart and central nervous system diseases. Leftover, unabsorbed fat accounts for unpleasant smelling stools in formula-fed babies.
-Soft, easily-digestible whey
-More completely absorbed; higher in the milk of mothers who deliver preterm
-Lactoferrin for intestinal health
-Lysozyme, an antimicrobial
-Rich in brain-and-body- building protein components
-Rich in growth factors
-Contains sleep-inducing proteins
-Harder-to-digest casein curds
-Not completely absorbed, more waste, harder on kidneys
-No lactoferrin, or only a trace
-Deficient or low in some brain-and body-building proteins
-Deficient in growth factors
-Does not contain as many sleep-inducing proteins.
| Infants aren't allergic to human milk protein.
-Rich in lactose
-Rich in oligosaccharides, which promote intestinal health
-No lactose in some formulas
-Deficient in oligosaccharides
| Lactose is considered an important carbohydrate for brain development. Studies show the level of lactose in the milk of a species correlates with the size of the brain of that species.
-Rich in living white blood cells, millions per feeding
-Rich in immunoglobulins
-No live white blood cells-or any other cells. Dead food has less immunological benefit.
-Few immunoglobulins and most are the wrong kind
| When mother is exposed to a germ, she makes antibodies to that germ and gives these antibodies to her infant via her milk.
-Better absorbed, especially iron, zinc, and calcium
-Iron is 50 to 75 percent absorbed.
-Contains more selenium (an antioxidant)
-Not absorbed as well
-Iron is 5 to 10 percent absorbed
-Contains less selenium (an antioxidant)
| Vitamins and minerals in breast milk enjoy a higher bioavailability-that is, a greater percentage is absorbed. To compensate, more is added to formula, which makes it harder to digest.
-Rich in digestive enzymes, such as lipase and amylase
-Rich in many hormones: thyroid, prolactin, oxytocin, and more than fifteen others
-Varies with mother's diet
-Processing kills digestive enzymes
-Processing kills hormones, which are not human to begin with
-Always tastes the same
| Digestive enzymes promote intestinal health. Hormones contribute to the overall biochemical balance and well- being of baby.
By taking on the flavor of mother's diet, breastmilk shapes the tastes of the child to family foods.
-Around $600 a year in extra food for mother
-Around $1,200 a year
-Up to $2,500 a year for hypoallergenic formulas
-Cost for bottles and other supplies
-Lost income when baby is ill
The first liquid the breasts produce (starting a few months before the baby is born) actually doesn't even look like milk. Colostrum, which is yellow and thicker than breast milk, is a great example of how your body custom-makes the right nutrition for your baby. Here are some of its benefits:
- Colostrum has a high concentration of antibodies, especially IgA, an antibody that helps protect the lungs, throat, and intestines.
- Colostrum helps "seal" the permeable newborn intestines to prevent harmful substances from penetrating the gut.
- Colostrum is very high in concentrated nutrition.
- Colostrum has a laxative effect, which helps the baby pass the first bowel movements (and prevents newborn jaundice).
- Colostrum is low in fat, high in proteins and carbohydrates, and very easy to digest.
Within a few days after delivery, your body begins to produce mature milk that takes over the work of giving your baby the necessary ingredients for healthy growth. Colostrum is still present for around two weeks; the milk produced during this time is called transitional milk.
Breastfed babies often want to eat again sooner after a feeding than bottle-fed babies, which may lead you (or an outspoken relative) to conclude that you aren't producing enough milk, or your milk isn't rich enough.
Breastfed babies eat more often than bottle-fed babies because the fats and proteins in breast milk are more easily broken down than the fats and proteins in formula, so they are absorbed and used more quickly. This means that breastfed babies often have fewer digestive troubles than bottle-fed babies. (Fats in formula aren't as well absorbed, which is one reason why bottle-fed babies have more unpleasant smelling bowel movements.) However, it also means that if you choose to breastfeed, you can expect to be on call for feedings every few hours. (A bottle-fed baby, by contrast, may be able to sleep longer between feedings.)
An important consideration for breastfeeding mothers is the length of time your baby spends nursing on each breast. A baby receives thinner breast milk known as foremilk (with a lower fat content) at the beginning of a feeding, and thicker milk (with a higher fat content) after he has been nursing for several minutes. This thicker milk is called hindmilk. Allowing the baby to completely empty the breast ensures that he gets an adequate amount of hindmilk. Hindmilk has a sleep-inducing effect, resulting in the relaxed look your baby may have at the end of a meal.
Breast Milk Help's Baby's Gut Flora Thrive
Human milk oligosaccharides, or HMO, produce short-chain fatty acids that feed a beneficial microbial population in the infant gut. Not only that, the bacterial composition adjusts as the baby grows older and its needs change. HMO is virtually absent from infant formula.
A healthy microbiome has both short- and long-term effects on an infant’s health. In the short term, beneficial bacteria protect the infant from infection by harmful bacteria. In the long term, beneficial bacteria strengthen the immune system so that it can fend off chronic health problems like food allergies and asthma.
Different HMOs produce different patterns of short-chain fatty acids, and the composition of bacteria in the gut changes over time. HMO are critically important in understanding how breastfeeding protects babies.
Although several companies are now attempting to synthesize HMO, infant formula will never match the custom and tailored needs breast milk can adapt to.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.