Mama's Milk Starts Us Right
“But cow’s milk was never analyzed as an adequate substitute,” says Dr. James McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. “Why would we think it beneficial to feed a human baby with milk from another organism?”
Health experts worldwide recommend that human babies be fed human milk. As Dr. Miriam Labbok, director of the Center for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care at University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health points out, “Our brain is bigger than a cow’s, our stomach lining is different, and our immune systems fight different bugs.”
That’s why a small group of women formed the La Leche League in 1956 to turn around the trend. Today, thanks to education efforts by dozens of organizations, our country is close to its national goal of ensuring that 75 percent of new mothers initiate breastfeeding in the hospital.
Yet too many mothers soon stop or cut back on nursing, so that by baby’s third month only 15 percent are still feeding baby exclusively on breastmilk. This despite strong recommendation by the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics that infants be breastfed “without supplemental foods or liquids for the first six months.”
According to a 2005 National Immunization Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at six months only about 40 percent of America’s new mothers are still partially breastfeeding. And it falls to 20 percent at one year.
Why is this? “In one generation, women lost the mentoring of their grandmothers, for whom breastfeeding was natural and normal,” says Karin Caldwell, Ph.D, executive director of Healthy Children, an international breastfeeding research and education institution. She finds that maternity ward staff hasn’t much personal experience to share either. As a society, we’ve lost the knack for doing it right while complaining of problems with “latching on” and sore nipples.
Both problems are easily solved, often in one meeting with a certified lactation counselor like Amanda Stuart of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She sees the benefits of breastfeeding first-hand, how “Babies raised exclusively on mama’s milk grow normally, differently, from babies also fed artificial milk.” Stuart’s observations are supported by the new child growth standards used by the World Health Organization and based on the “Multicentre Growth Reference Study” (see www.who.int/childgrowth/standards/en).
The reasons to breastfeed are many. To start, mother’s milk consists of hundreds of components elegantly designed to grow us up healthy. No other formulation comes close. Watered down cow’s milk has far fewer human-specific vitamins and minerals added to its sugars and emulsifiers, and none of the human-specific cells and immune factors found only in mother’s milk. Once a mother knows the facts, there should be no contest.
Many of us are surprised to learn that mother’s milk naturally changes from day to day and even from feeding to feeding to adjust to baby’s growing needs. Milk changes even between the beginning and end of a feeding as it transforms from a nutritious thirst quencher into a creamy, satisfying meal. Mama’s milk also frequently changes in quantity depending on how fast her baby is growing. That’s why this living food works so well, providing the perfect exclusive meal for baby’s first six months, critical life support for a year, and immune support plus a wonderful menu complement for up to two years and beyond.
“Mama’s milk not only creates a healthy supply-and-demand relationship to food for our young,” says Stuart, “it also creates a naturally close relationship between mom and the little one.”
McKenna, who’s spent 20 years studying this relationship, explains that all humans are born immature. It’s why we’re left “in the nest” for so long to develop and why breastmilk is so essential.
McKenna’s research shows that mothers who breastfeed also tend to sleep more with their babies at their side. Babies feed more often when sleeping with mom, and mom gets more sleep. Everyone benefits.
Stuart explains that baby’s natural first food begins with colostrum, a sort of breastmilk with training wheels that coats the inside of the child’s digestive system with concentrated nutrients and immune factors. “It’s laying the groundwork for normal future functioning,” she says. “Soon the training wheels are off and mom starts making mature milk.”
When babies don’t get colostrum and mature milk through their digestive systems, the result is “a bit like an engine running without oil,” says Stuart. “Things don’t move right and it turns into a stinky mess.” She explains that mama’s-milk diapers smell a bit like chamomile. Infant formula or breastmilk-substitute diapers smell a lot...not like chamomile.
According to research published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies fed artificial milk also live at heightened risk of everything from ear infections and obesity to diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. Bottle use is associated with dental problems, and the American Dental Association now urges parents to avoid reconstituting formula with fluoridated water to avoid incurring permanent damage to teeth. Such heightened risks can last a lifetime. An oft-cited study through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that breastfed infants in the United States also experience lower rates of death, especially from infectious disease.
When a nursing mom and/or her baby are exposed to harmful germs, her milk’s immune content readily changes to protect and defend baby from the exposure. Nursing also helps her body return to normal after giving birth, supplies helpful hormones, and may lower her risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Labbok points to a study published in The Lancet in which countries with the lowest rates of breastfeeding show the highest rates of breast cancer. Not to mention that it’s the basis for a highly effective form of birth control (see www.waba.org.my/specialpages/lam/lam.htm).
Mother’s milk even solves the picky eater syndrome. Studies reported in Pediatrics show that babies more readily accept various solid foods, like garlic, carrots and spices, when they’ve already tasted these flavors in mama’s milk.
For all these reasons and more, mama’s milk is baby’s best first introduction to a loving world of natural food, flavors and health. By following a healthy pregnancy with natural progression into regular breastfeeding, a mother provides hope for her child’s normal health and growth from infancy through adulthood.
Why wouldn’t every mother breastfeed as long as possible, queries McKenna. “Only the social and economic pressures of our lifestyles get in the way.”