Even before Baby Mukherjee was born, I knew I was going to breastfeed her. After all, it was the best start I could give her.
Breast milk is so “complete” that it provides a baby with all the nutrients needed for growth and development. It also helps to build a healthy immune system, keep baby’s gut healthy, and protects against asthma, eczema, and heart disease.
Furthermore, as a British study of 14,000 babies has demonstrated, babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first three months at least — and sometimes for the first 12 months — registered far higher scores for verbal IQ, performance IQ, and general IQ when they were tested at six-and-a-half years.
That is why the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months, and then continue for at least a year and, after that, for as long as mother and baby wish*.
So, why is it that an increasing number of women are now feeding their children formula? Is it really as good a substitute as it is said to be? Well, let us start with what formula is: Over time, science has tried to perfect infant formula by packing it with the same nutrient composition as breast milk.
To do that, it contains ingredients such as corn syrup solids, soy protein isolate, high oleic safflower oil, sugar (sucrose), soy oil and coconut oil. When I looked at that list, I had to ask myself, would I feed these ingredients to my daughter?
Honestly, no. And unless a mother has a chronic health condition (for instance cancer and Aids), that would also be my advice to her.
For one, formula does not contain nearly enough of vital brain-building fats (specifically an omega-3 called DHA), and the vitamins and minerals that infant formula is enriched with are not as well absorbed as in breast milk.
That is one of the reasons formula-fed babies have unpleasant smelling stool. Infants may also be allergic to the protein in formula and I have personally seen several who have been diagnosed with reflux.
One other factor that many people do not consider is the risk of diarrhoeal disease due to water contamination. On the contrary, breast milk contains excellent immune-boosting properties.
In fact, when mother is exposed to a germ, she generates antibodies to that germ and gives these antibodies to her infant via her milk.
“But so many children have turned out just fine,” is a comment I often hear. What is “just fine”? Is having a higher risk of adult heart and central nervous system diseases “just fine”?
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. This article is not meant to make anyone feel guilty for the choices they have made. It is meant to educate.
Therefore, rather than feel guilty about past decisions, empower yourself for the future.
*Since mothers who give their children pacifiers on a daily basis are more likely to wean their babies off the breast earlier, the World Health Organisation also discourages pacifier use.
In fact, one study found that mothers who gave dummies to their babies were more likely to breastfeed exclusively for a shorter time, or to report a lack of milk when the baby was at least a month old.
The writer is a clinical nutritionist and certified by the Nutritional Therapy Council in the UK. Please direct any questions about family nutrition to her on firstname.lastname@example.org