|What Breastmilk Has That
breastmilk will always be better than formula.
Formula feeding is the longest lasting uncontrolled experiment
informed consent in the history of medicine."
— Frank Oski, MD
retired editor, Journal of Pediatrics
Protection against infection
Children who are formula fed are at significant
risk for infection. We have just come to accept that infants get RSV,
rotavirus and ear infections. They are not supposed to be diseases
of infants, but in the USA, the largest consumer of formulas world
wide, we hospitalize many, many, many infants each winter with those
diseases. The great majority of those infants are formula fed.
In fact, the number one risk factor for kids
getting ear infections is bottle feeding: not day care, not smoke
exposure, but formulas. Think about the loss of work, the exposure to
antibiotics, the midnight purchases of medicine for fever and
rehydration solutions, and visits to me that could be avoided if more
families chose to breastfeed their infants.
You see, infection fighting cells of the body are
present in abundance in breastmilk and are not found at all
in formula. So children who are formula fed are not just at risk
for ear infections but diarrhea (from rotavirus, E .Coli, cholera,
Giardia), and respiratory infections (like RSV, influenza, H. flu,
pneumococcus). Plus, formula fed kids get more meningitis (From H.flu,
pneumococcus, herpes, and group B strep).
Protection against inflammation
The factors in breastmilk protect premature
infants from a potentially fatal gut complication called necrotizing
enterocolitis (NEC). Children born at 30 weeks of gestation have a
6-10 fold increase in their risk for NEC if they are formula fed.
Protection against Cancer
A study done inn 2002 showed that for every 12
months a mom breastfeeds, her risk of breast cancer decreases 4.3% as
compared to women who never nursed. Another showed a 54% reduction for
women who breastfed for greater than 24 months.
A study in 1999 looked at the risk of leukemia for
kids who had never been breastfed versus those who were. Children who
were breastfed had a 21% reduction in risk of childhood leukemia. Said
another way, children who are never breastfed are at greater risk for
leukemia than their breastfed counterparts.
Protection against lifetime illnesses
Breastfed kids have less obesity as they enter
kindergarten. They are 26 times less likely to develop insulin
dependent diabetes. Formula fed kids are at higher risk of developing
A consistent recipe
Breastmilk has had the same recipe for many, many,
many years. It hasn't needed a fan fare of advertising for every
new ingredient change, because the ingredients haven't needed to change.
The celebrating that formula companies do about the improvements in
their product are really what happens when a deficit is fixed.
Formula companies realized that their product needed to be fortified
with vitamin D when kids started having seizures from low calcium
levels. They tried to help combat adult high blood pressure
problems with a type of formula low in sodium until kids started having
seizures from low sodium levels. When there wasn't enough iron in their
product, they found out after many kids became anemic, and that
iron-deficiency anemia, as we have learned, has had developmental
consequences. Plus, formulas in powder form have the potential to be
contaminated with bacteria. The ready-to-feed and concentrate are
sterilized, but powders aren't. The great majority of formula
recalls have been because powdered forms were contaminated with
potentially harmful bacteria.
Other ingredients, found in breastmilk, are still
missing...in the future, we may see other additions to formula like
infection- fighting oligosaccharides, insulin, and prebiotics.
That means that they are not in the recipe now.
So what if all the ingredients in breastmilk
got in formula some day..
So let's say they get all the ingredients in
breastmilk (all the white blood cells, antibodies, anti-inflammatory
cells, and biologically active compounds that are so important to our
children's' health in formula... would breastmilk still be better? Yes.
Of course. The milk a mom makes for her baby is perfect for her child.
Nobody else can ever make a more perfect food. The antibodies in a mom's
milk are specific to the viruses and bacteria that mom and baby came
into during that day. The composition of the milk varies from the
beginning of the day to the end of the day, the beginning of the feeding
to its end, changes to meet a growing baby's needs and is flavored with
foods that mom ate, making every mouthful of food different, and perfect
for that baby. No formula company can ever make a more perfect
food for your baby than you can as that baby's mother.
If you are reading this and thinking that I
won't respect your decision, should you make it, to bottle feed, you're
wrong. I have a reputation as a "breastfeeding supporter" like it's
something aberrant. All pediatricians are breastfeeding
supporters, given all the great benefits to our patients from breastmilk.
So I ought to be supporting it, and loudly.
However, I will
support whatever feeding method you choose for your baby, as long as
it's an informed decision. And I don't want all the information to
be from formula companies because they aren't giving you the whole
story. If you still choose to formula feed after reading this stuff,
then you have made an informed decision, and I will support that.
And those of you who are medically unable to
breastfeed, I want you to know that it isn't just breastmilk that makes
a child special. If you have tried to nurse, and were unable to or
you have a medical problem that makes nursing impossible, then take
heart in the fact that formulas now have the nutrition children need,
and that you tried. Your children are better for that effort.
And they can still have the important skin to skin contact, no matter
how you are feeding! Keep up that effort!
back to the soap box at
updated aug 30, 2007