Why cow milk may be harmful for babies under one year

Wednesday December 6 2017

Most Kenyan mothers are quick to embrace highly sought-after milk

Most Kenyan mothers are quick to embrace highly sought-after milk "boosters" such as imported biscuits and teas, chia seeds and bras. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Pressure to breastfeed exclusively for six months has spawned new entrepreneurs targeting Kenyan mothers struggling to produce milk.

They sell anything from Amazon-imported biscuits and teas, chia seeds to bras. Mary Mathenge, a lactation expert at Aga Khan University Hospital, says parents spend lots of cash on fancy, unnecessary items that pose risks to infants.

Ms Mathenge, who has worked with mothers for 25 years, prescribes exclusive breastfeeding for every newborn but acknowledges that not everyone can produce enough milk. However, to avoid maternal stress and depression, she says, one can supplement with baby formula but not with cow, goat or camel milk.

‘‘The casein protein in goat or camel milk is not easily digested in infants below one year. It forms a curd and causes protein allergies,’’ she says. Raw camel and goat milk have become ‘a thing’ among new mothers, thanks to social media pressure where others credit it for its richness in nutrients and for treating eczema.

However, before you give up on breastfeeding, she says you need to understand how milk is formed and how the baby should suckle. A baby may be wrongly latching the nipple instead of the areola where milk is temporary stored.

Chia seeds packed in containers.

Chia seeds packed in containers. The seeds yield 25 to 30 percent extractable oil that includes alpha-linolenic acid. PHOTO | GRACE GITAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

‘‘After two to three days after child birth, a woman should wear a bra and even sleep with it. Sagging breasts stretch the areola, making it hard for a baby to suckle. Wearing a bra also prevents clogged milk ducts in the armpits,’’ she says, adding that if the breast is engorged, freeze a cabbage and wear the leaf like a bra to reduce swelling.


Most doctors say breast milk is the best, but lacks enough Vitamin D and iron. Many children who are breastfed exclusively for six months by overdressed mothers who mostly stay indoors are at a higher risk of getting rickets which can be fatal, especially if it spreads to the rib cage.

‘‘Vitamin D should be given to infants who take breast milk only from week six up to six months. We give iron supplements to premature babies only because the term-babies extract a lot of iron from their mothers during the last months,’’ says Ms Mathenge.

But why do Kenyan mothers embrace the highly sought-after milk "boosters"? Most parents point to the Internet where they seek answers for medical problems.

Take a question on a Facebook breastfeeding group for instance: ‘‘My baby keeps crying and the midwife advised that I supplement with formula milk. Anything I can do so that the milk comes sooner?’’

The answer: ‘‘That’s a wicked midwife. Real ones show you how a baby latches on properly and to suckle until the milk flows.’’


Some of the anti-formula milk extremists may contribute to infant starvation but who does not want to be the working mother who juggles a strenuous job and breastfeeding?

Ms Mathenge says one can tell a starving baby by looking at the diaper after every three hours of feeding on demand. ‘‘After five days of life, a baby should urinate six to eight times in 24 hours. If the frequency is below four times, see a doctor,’’ she says.

When asked whether fenugreek, hibiscus, moringa or chia seeds she says: ‘‘The seeds actually increase milk production, but in some women, it is a placebo-effect. Because a mother is expecting the seeds to work, her relaxed brain prompts the prolactin hormone which makes milk.’’