Is mother's milk best?
The very best first food for human infants is human milk. Breast milk supplies the needed nutrients in appropriate amounts and balance. This is because the milk produced be every mammal is designed to meet the needs of that particular mammal.
Human milk contains less protein and minerals than cow's milk because human babies grow more slowly. Further, the mix of amino acids in human milk is different from cow's milk. The fat content in human milk is similar in amount to cow's milk, but it contains different kinds of fatty acids and lipid components. These differences are thought to be important for the developing human baby.
Breast milk also contains substances that make it more easily digested plus others that make many critical nutrients more available from it than do other milks and substitutes. For example, iron occurs in small amounts in breast milk, but it is many times more available than the iron in cow's milk formulas or soy formulas. The result of this difference is that manufacturers of formulas add additional iron in order to achieve the same amount of iron absorbed by the breast-fed baby.
What protective factors does breast milk contain?
May factors that help to protect the baby from illness are found in human milk. Others help the baby's immune system and gastrointestinal tract to develop. In addition, the breast-fed baby has a reduced risk of allergies. Human milk also contains enzymes, hormones, and hormone-like substances. All of those are thought to benefit the breast-fed infant.
Breast milk supplies the right nutrients in the right amounts in a sanitary state at just the right temperature. In addition, the nursing mother has an ideal opportunity to establish a close relationship with her new baby. Human milk is the best food for healthy, full-term infants whenever possible. Premature infants also benefit from their own mother's milk, but they may need additional nutritional support.
Breast-feeding also benefits the nursing mother. It helps control maternal blood loss and helps her to regain her pre-pregnancy weight. Recent evidence suggests it reduces the risk of breast cancer. Breast-feeding can be very convenient, but in the beginning the breast-feeding mother may thin that's all she does. Mothers need special support at this time because the mother's ability to produce milk and deliver it to the baby can be affected by what goes on around her.
Special hormones cause milk to be produced and then delivered to the baby. Prolactin is the hormone that controls milk production. Oxytocin causes the milk to be released to the baby; this is commonly called "let down." Both these processes are stimulated by the baby's sucking. This is tne reason why it is very important for the new baby to nurse often. The let down response is very sensitive. Stress, not enough rest, or even the suggestion that the baby is not getting enough milk can limit the let down response and affect the success of breast-feeding. Mothers need extra support and assurance.
Breast-fed babies may become hungry more frequently than formula fed babies because breast milk is so easily digested. In actuality, frequent, on demand feeing is one of the best things a mother can do to assure successful breast-feeding. After a relatively short time the baby will establish a schedule and the demand will lessen.
Breast-feeding mothers need a greater supply of energy and nutrients than before they were pregnant. These extra needs can be supplied by a well-planned vegetarian diet. Certain nutrients are of particular interest.
Is Vitamin B12 important for the mother?
Deficiencies of vitamin B12 have been reported in infants who were completely breast-fed by total vegetarian mothers (vegans). Evidence suggests vitamin B12 is not transferred throughout he breast milk from the mother's vitamin B12 body stores. In most cases the infants recovered after being given the vitamin, but recent reports suggest that recovery was not complete in all cases. Some children and adolescents have shown permanent damage. These reports underscore the importance of assuring an adequate dietary supply of this important vitamin to pregnant and lactating women and to infants and growing children. Because the usual source for vitamin B12 is from animal products, or eggs must be sure to find another reliable source. This may be from soymilk fortified with vitamin B12 or a vitamin supplement (cyanocobalamin).
Are there other important nutrients for the mother?
Breast-feeding mothers also need to be sure to consume good sources of calcium to help prevent loss from their bones. In order for their bodies to make the best use of the calcium, they need to be sure to get plenty of sunshine or if that is not possible, consume foods fortified with vitamin D. They should also be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to supply other vitamins and minerals and to consume adequate amounts of fluid.
Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs may be transferred to human milk and thus consumed by the nursing baby. Breast-feeding mothers who must take medications should consult with their physicians to find the solution to their particular situation.
Suppose a mother cannot breast-feed, what then?
The baby who is not breast-fed should be fed a commercial infant formula. These may be made from cow's milk or soy. Other specialized formulas are available to meet certain needs. Manufacturers process cow's milk and soybeans to make a formula that is appropriate for babies. Protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and other substances are adjusted in various ways. This process in never-ending and as more and more is learned about the properties in human milk, infant formulas are modified.
Some formulas are ready to use; others need to be diluted. If a formula is used, the manufacturer's directions must be followed carefully in its preparation. Diluting a formula too much or too little can both cause very serious consequences. Care must be taken to be sure the water used is pure and the utensils are clean. Homemade "formulas" or nut drinks are not appropriate.
When should whole cow's milk be introduced?
Whole cow's milk may be introduced after the first birthday. It is inappropriate prior to that time. Low-fat and non-fat milk do not supply enough fat and calories and should not be given to children less than two years of age.
Little children have relatively high energy needs but small stomachs. Low fat milk and/or bulky diets limits the amount of energy that the child can consume before he or she is satisfied by the amount of food eaten. Failure to grow has been documented in children fed diets low in fat. We need to remember that the nutrient and energy needs of little ones are different from adults and recommendations for adults are not appropriate for young children.
When can I introduce solid foods?
By four to six months of age babies can hold their heads up when sitting and turn away if they do not want more food. They are interested when others are eating and open their mouths when food is presented to them. By this time the baby's digestive processes are ready to assimilate food other than milk. All this indicates their readiness for solid food.
Foods should be introduced one at a time. Often cereals such as rice, barley, or oatmeal are suggested. Fruits, vegetables, and other foods follow. Well-cooked, mashed legumes may be introduced around eight months. Over time baby should be introduced to many different kinds of foods. Commercial or homemade baby foods can be used.
Solid foods should not be fed from a bottle with enlarged nipple holes. Using a spoon helps baby develop eating skills. Salt, sugar, or other sweeteners should not be added to baby's food. Honey and corn syrup can cause botulism in infants and should not be used before one year of age. This food poisoning can be fatal.
Water, juice or formula can be offered from a cup about the time solid food is introduced. Before this, the breast-fed baby generally does not need additional water or juice. Baby should not go to sleep with a bottle of juice, formula, or any other sweetened fluid. This can cause serious tooth decay.
Care should be taken to prevent choking. Small hard foods, such as raisins, nuts, popcorn, chunks of apple or hot dogs can block baby's air passage. Such foods should not be given until a young child can chew adequately. Young children should sit down to eat or drink and should not be left alone while eating.
Supplying nourishment for children and watching them develop and grow is a delightful and satisfying experience. Care givers have opportunity to be role models and to influence eating habits and lay the groundwork for lifelong healthful practices.
What does the Nutrition Council recommend?
After many, many centuries, breast-feeding remains the most important natural resource for feeding human infants. It is nutritionally sound and ecologically and environmentally friendly. Breast-feeding benefits both the mother and her baby. It can be a very happy experience, as well as one that provides the needed nutrients and important protective factors that help to reduce illness and death. The General Conference Nutrition Council believes this method of infant feeding was provided by the Creator for the sustenance of our offspring and supports breast-feeding whenever it is possible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many others recommend that babies be breast-fed exclusively for the first four to six months of life. After this, other foods should be introduced to supply the baby's growing nutrient needs. It is also recommended that breast-feeding continue for the remainder of the first year or even longer. If it is discontinued, during the first 12 months, and iron-fortified infant formula is recommended.