Many of the patients coming into my clinic ask questions about feeding their babies well right from the start. And although I’m not a woman, I’m often taken aback by the nature of their questions – because what seems to me to be a fairly straightforward process turns out to actually be quite complicated. In this article, I’ll try to create some order in the chaos of the ongoing debate about infant and child nutrition.
Human Breast Milk
Let’s start with feeding newborns and infants. In the hierarchy of feeding options, I will take the stand that breast is best. God designed babies to feed from the breast. Because a baby is born without teeth and can’t chew, it only makes sense to put the baby on the breast – that’s the whole philosophy. A mother’s breast milk is nature’s perfect and complete food. Breast milk contains all the essential ingredients to nurture a baby’s still developing brain and intestinal tract. Essential ingredients such as lauric acid, lipid fats, omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA and arachidonic acid are abundant in breast milk, and difficult to duplicate in other food forms. Breast milk also contains beneficial bacterial strains that colonize the baby’s gut, aiding in the prevention of infection and inflammation.(1)
Human breast milk also contains two different kinds of proteins – whey and casein, and this combination is designed to be easily digestible. Whey Protein also protects the infant against infection until it can build a strong immune system.(2) Some of the specific proteins found in breast milk aid the baby in inhibiting unhealthy bacteria and promoting healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract.(3)
Babies being breast fed should drink human milk as long as possible, optimally for a year to eighteen months, which is when baby’s teeth are coming in. A baby has a full set of teeth between the ages of 2 and 3. Some mothers continue to nurse their children past the age when the child is consuming the same food as the parents. The longer a baby is breastfed, the more established its immune system will become. However, once a baby has acquired a full set of teeth and is capable of chewing food, it’s natural for that child should to also begin to eat whole foods.
Not all breast milk is the same – the composition depends significantly on maternal diet and lifestyle.
When nursing, it is important for mom to think about what she is eating that is being transferred to her baby. This means drinking lots of liquids that are free of toxins and eating healthy foods that are also free of toxins and additives.(4) Tiny babies have a much more difficult time dealing with and eliminating toxins naturally than mom. Mothers need to consume calcium from green leafy vegetables, sardines, or healthy dairy options like raw and unpasteurized yogurt and kefir. Mothers who do drink milk should consider drinking A2 casein milk or goat’s milk rather than A1 cow’s milk. Studies show an increased chance of baby developing a skin allergy when mum is drinking A1 cow’s milk.(5) Mothers are wise to supplement with whole food supplements to ensure enough quality nutrients are getting in their bodies during breastfeeding years; they can be taxing!
Lacto-fermented foods will help mum provide the immune support baby needs. And mom’s consumption of omega 3 fatty acids is essential for the building of immune systems in the baby through breast milk transfers.
The second best food for babies is someone else’s breast milk. Often a mother who wants to breast feed cannot for a number of reasons – their own health doesn’t support it, or they are not able to produce enough milk, or they are taking drugs that could be passed on to the baby through their milk, or even that they have adopted an infant and want to give their baby the best start possible. Donated breast milk is more and more readily available for a mother who can’t nurse but wants her baby to have the benefit of human milk.
If the baby is premature, or very ill, a milk bank will provide mother’s milk that is pasteurized and able to be consumed safely at no cost to the family.(6) Research has shown that babies who are very ill have a greater survival rate on breast milk than on infant formula, due to the risk of bowel infections and the antibacterial benefits of breast milk.(7) Purchasing breast milk can otherwise be costly – one source quoted a cost of $4.50 per ounce.(8) Anecdotally, I have found donor milk available at $1.50 per ounce on mother-to-mother social networking sites. There are websites and Facebook sites that link donor mothers to mothers looking for available milk, but these are unmonitored and unregulated and there is no assurance that the milk acquired in this way is safe for your baby to consume. If you are considering this method of acquiring milk, I would advise you to carefully investigate the source and the manner in which it is collected and stored. A mother using another mother’s milk ought to also be aware that her baby will be acquiring the wet-nurse’s immune factors, along with whatever nutrients and/or toxins that donor transmits through her milk.
When we start talking about consuming animal products, the most important thing to consider is the health and source of the animal. It’s a misdirection to discuss cow’s milk generically – we should NEVER be talking about commercially available cow’s milk – at the very least, we must talk about organic cow’s milk as the milk commonly available in the grocery store is an unacceptable option, full of indigestible proteins and sterilized pus!
Cow’s milk has traditionally been the transition from breast milk to solid foods and after weaning. Many online comparisons of cow’s milk to breast milk refer to A1 casein cow’s milk. A1 cow’s milk has protein chains that break down into shorter amino acids that replicate insulin and cause discomfort and sensitivity in the digestive process. Many people who profess lactose intolerance are, in fact, simply reacting to the casein in A1 cow’s milk. I don’t recommend using cow’s milk from A1 cows. A2 cow’s milk contains a different protein chain that doesn’t break down, and therefore doesn’t cause the same kind of reaction. A2 cow’s milk is safe for baby, although if you’re using commercial milk, be sure to choose whole organic milk and culture it with kefir to restore the enzymes essential for digestion. The biggest issue with cow’s milk as opposed to breast milk is the lack of lauric acid, a natural saturated fatty acid essential for good health.
Sayer Ji, founder of GreenMedInfo.com, recommends goat’s milk as a good resource if mum wishes to give her baby milk. Goat’s milk has a shorter fatty acid chain than cow’s milk, making it more easily digested and reducing the potential of developing an intolerance or allergy. Goat’s milk also contains trace amounts of A1 casein.(9) As with any other milk product, feeding baby with goat’s milk will require some additional nutrients such as folic acid and Vitamin B12 to make the nutrients in goat’s milk sufficient for the baby’s developing brain.(10)
Coconut or Hemp Milk
Some mothers are using coconut milk and hemp milk in weaning babies from breast milk as their babies get older and are eating full whole foods. Coconut milk is high in lauric acid. In fact, it is highest and best source of lauric acid available in food, other than breast milk. Coconut water has the same pH value as human blood, and it is close to breast milk in fat and nutrient content.(11) Because there are many other nutrients missing in coconut milk, most notably the amount of protein, it would not be a good idea to substitute coconut milk for breast milk during the time when babies are exclusively drinking milk for nutrition. However, it makes a great replacement for cow’s milk when weaning baby from breast or bottle.
Commercially available infant formula is the least desirable option for feeding infants, yet it is the most common option next to breastfeeding. Commercial infant formulas have insufficient essential fatty acids such as DHA and EPA. Commercial formulas are often made from A1 cow’s milk, making them more difficult for infants to digest. These formulas can also contain pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and processed ingredients, which can promote colic and reflux. Many of these formulas list corn syrup or it’s derivative as their first ingredient. If you must choose a formula, look for an organic option, one that does not contain added sugars, and one that is free of chemical additives.(12)
It is very difficult to duplicate the composition of breast milk – not only is it a challenge to match the proportion of known nutrients, but there are many unidentified substances in breast milk that make it uniquely suited for feeding babies.
However, we can make a substitute that is superior to commercially available formulas. A list of healthy ingredients of home-made formula can be found on Mercola.com and includes Krill oil, organic egg yolk, organic cream, sesame and walnut oils and coconut oil and organic cream among other things.(13)
On my colleague Dr. Ashly Ochsner’s blog, he outlines his home-made infant formula, for which he demonstrates the preparation below:
No Soy Products
Many mothers using formula believe that their babies are not tolerating cow’s milk and choose a soy-based product. This is absolutely the worst choice for feeding baby – Soy is typically loaded with toxic elements such as manganese and aluminum and phytoestrogens. Soy-based products are to especially be avoided for boy babies – the presence of the phytoestrogens during this time of development can feminize boys. Any of the choices mentioned above would be superior to choosing a soy-based formula.
Babies fed with formula should have supplemental probiotics, shown to reduce food allergies, eczema, viruses, fevers, diarrhea and constipation. Some commercially available formulas promote their addition of probiotics, but the amount of probiotic included is minimal and should be supplemented. Powder probiotics are readily available and should be added to the milk mixture.
Finally, all babies should also be given additional vitamin D especially since they should be protected from the sun as infants. (We all should be taking much more than the recommended 400 IU per day!) According to Dr. Mercola, mothers should supplement their babies’ intake with up to 1000 IU of Vitamin D every day to boost bone growth and immunity.(14) There are whole-food, organic supplement companies that produce high quality children’s vitamins, and some will produce children’s vitamins in liquid form. The most expensive supplement you (or your baby) will ever consume is the one that is not absorbed – so be sure that your supplemental nutrients are in abundance and bio-available.
Nothing can compare to the joy of a new baby and the intimacy of nurturing and providing food and comfort. And our babies deserve the very best start possible. Maximized nutrition is key to growing up beautiful, healthy children.