Scaring mothers into see themselves as risks to their babies is nothing new. It starts from the moment you are pregnant, with everyone from your Great Aunt Tilda to the gentleman sitting across the restaurant from you preaching about how everything you ingest, breathe, or do has the potential to end in disastrous consequences. Once your baby is born it continues . . .
Are you really taking the baby out when it is this hot/cold?
And in THAT?!?!
Where exactly is your baby sleeping?
You know that can lead to SIDS (regardless of your sleep arrangements)!
And of course it heads our way when we consider infant feeding practices.
In the current environment where we are regularly told “Breast is Best!” (without the support and information to put that into practice), many new mothers are surprised to encounter a new theme: maybe *your* breast milk isn’t so great. Maybe you don’t eat the right foods, or you eat the wrong foods, or our environmental pollutants have entirely spoiled your body and everything that comes from it. Welcome to the “your milk isn’t good enough” booby trap.
Some representatives of the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting a specific type of whole foods diet, appear to believe that unless you follow their specific practices, your breastmilk is inadequate and your baby will be much better off if you feed them a mother’s milk substitute recipe espoused by the Foundation.1 There are so many fallacies and risks involved with this idea it is difficult to know where to start.
Breastmilk is unequalled nutrition for babies.
- Supplementation interrupts the breastfeeding relationship. WAPF does acknowledge that breastmilk contains some unique and unreproducible nutrients and will often suggest mothers do some breastfeeding along with their breastmilk substitute. However, they warn that “[l]ack of adequate milk supply is relatively common, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases.”2 However, it has been well documented that supplementation leads to premature weaning.3 Breastmilk production is a supply and demand process; the less baby demands (because s/he is getting a substitute), the less supply mother will have.
Let us then assume that mom has stopped breastfeeding both sooner than she had originally hoped and sooner than her and her baby’s biology expected . . . what risks are they incurring? I’ll even ignore the long list of known risks to infants who do not receive breastmilk in order to avoid the argument about how “this substitute is different.” Keep reading for a few of those risks.
- Mothers who do not breastfeed are at higher risk of multiple types of cancer of the reproductive system, Type II Diabetes, and heart disease, among other concerns.4 Additionally, mothers who are not breastfeeding report feeling less well rested and less healthy overall compared to breastfeeding mothers.5
- Regardless of the “healthiness” of the breastmilk substitute, there is one thing it can never do: replicate the immune properties that mom passes on to her child through her milk.6 Not only are these an integral part to the infant’s developing immune system, the immunities are environment specific, created to fight those bugs to which mom and baby have been exposed.7
- The WAPF substitute is expensive to make with difficult to find ingredients.8 When this is the infant’s sole source of nourishment, these ingredients must be purchased and available every.single.day. for a minimum of the infant’s first year. If there is a snow storm? Your car gets a flat tire? Your airplane is stuck on the tarmac for 4 hours? I’m sorry but your breastmilk wasn’t good enough so it isn’t there anymore . . . hope you have the 10-14 separate ingredients needed to make the recommended substitute.
Additionally, it is estimated the 30-60+% of infants getting a standard infant formula are being fed incorrectly because their caregivers are either over or under diluting the powder.9 This is with two ingredients and included, simple measuring utensils. As new mothers, very few of us are in the position to undergo a complicated measuring and mixing procedure day in and day out. Most of the time I was happy if my shoes were on the right feet.
- It doesn’t matter which version of the homemade substitute is used, the fat/protein/carbohydrate ratios are different than those found in human milk. Human milk is designed for slow body growth and fast brain growth. We are the only mammal species with these specific needs; most mammals need fast body growth and little brain growth.10
Even with all of the additives, the substitute cannot duplicate mother’s own milk, for the simple fact that there is no “human milk” formula. Our milk changes by the day and by the hour.11 Are these recipes to replace the transitional milk of a three day old baby? The high fat milk of an infant in a growth spurt? The low volume milk of a 6pm snacker? NO.
- Mother’s milk changes in taste as well, acclimating her baby to a variety of flavors and smells. A breastmilk substitute cannot replicate this. Baby gets the same meal, every day, all day, until the gradual introduction of solids.12
- Finally, yes, we all know our diets could likely be better. For some of us it is simply about survival, getting food on the table as quickly and cheaply as possible. For others, we may put a little more energy into the process, but there are those things we just don’t like or we just can’t give up even if we know we should. Depending on our diet and lifestyle, it is quite possible that we could use a bit more Vitamin A, D, B12, or essential fatty acids. It is immensely easier and more cost effective to supplement a mother’s (our own) diet with whatever we might be lacking than to completely toss the breastmilk out with the Ding Dongs.13 There are multiple studies looking at using supplements in the breastfeeding mother, and it can make a difference in the composition of her milk.14
This does not mean that her milk was inadequate before, just that we can target specific micronutrients that might be of interest for those trying to optimize nutrition or in situations where a mother may be at risk of food insecurity. If a mother’s diet is particularly lacking in nutrients or calories she may feel more run down, but biology is amazing and our bodies will take the nutrients it needs in order to make milk.15
Claiming access to the latest and greatest breastmilk substitute is an old song and dance. The “Nestle Nurses” roaming the hospital mid 20th Century could have given the Weston A. Price Foundation a run for its money, discussing the inadequacies of mother’s milk and the scientifically proven advantages of their formula (karo syrup and sweetened condensed milk). The words may change, but the refrain remains the same.
Jessica Mattingly, M.Ed., IBCLC has been a hospital based lactation consultant for the last 3.5 years following a decade of community work with La Leche League. She has had the privilege of working with numerous families through the childbearing year, not only in breastfeeding support but as a childbirth educator and doula. She is the mother of five breastfed children. Jessica is also the proud owner of a well worn copy of Nourishing Traditions. She regularly, though not always, soaks her grains and nuts, as well as stocks her fridge with homemade fermented kimchi, salsa, and pickles.
- See, e.g.,
- Successful Breastfeeding . . . And Successful Alternatives – Weston A Price Foundation – “Our interpretation is the following: the diet of modern American women is so appalling, and their preparation for successful breastfeeding so lacking, that their breast milk provides no better nourishment for their infants than factory-made formula.”
- Is Breast Really Always Best – The Healthy Home Economist – “Breastfeeding is critical for baby’s health, but only if the
mother is eating a nutrient-dense diet. Learn how to eat for your baby’s optimal health, and what to do if you can’t breastfeed.”
- Video: Homemade Baby Formula – “There are donor programs available for human breastmilk, but because the diet of the donor mother is unknown (and most likely nutritionally insufficient), and the fact that the breastmilk is pasteurized thereby destroying much of the nutritional benefit, this option is not recommended.”
- A Breastfeeding Saga – “When I hear the statement that ‘the vast majority of women can breastfeed successfully,’ I wonder. . . But I suspect that there are many women like myself who simply do not have adequate milk. . . Breastfeeding is the best way to accomplish this goal, if the mother has a healthy diet and if her milk supply is adequate. To pretend that all women can breastfeed without difficulty, and that all breast-milk is completely nourishing, does women and their children a great disservice.”
- Baby Breastfed By Vegan Mother Dies – “It also sends a clear message that what a breastfeeding Mother eats definitely DOES affect the quality of her breastmilk. Many breastfeeding advocates insist that breastmilk will include all a baby needs despite what the Mother eats, but clearly this is not the case.”
- Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers – It is important to follow our diet for pregnant mothers in its entirety, not just selected parts of it.”
- Fallon, S. Nourishing traditions: the cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats at 606 (1999). ↩
- See Care, P. (2000). Promoting and supporting breast-feeding. Am Fam Physician, 61(7), 2093-2100; Martines, J. C., Rea, M., & De Zoysa, I. (1992). Breast feeding in the first six months. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 304(6834), 1068; Hörnell, A., Hofvander, Y., & Kylberg, E. (2001). Solids and formula: association with pattern and duration of breastfeeding. Pediatrics, 107(3), e38-e38. ↩
- See Stuebe, A. (2009). The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology, 2(4), 222; Tørris, C., Thune, I., Emaus, A., Finstad, S. E., Bye, A., Furberg, A. S., & Hjartåker, A. (2012). Duration of Lactation, Maternal Metabolic Profile, and Body Composition in the Norwegian EBBA I-Study. Breastfeeding Medicine; and Sugawara, Y., Kakizaki, M., Nagai, M., Tomata, Y., Hoshi, R., Watanabe, I., & Tsuji, I. (2013). Lactation pattern and the risk for hormone-related female cancer in Japan: the Ohsaki Cohort Study. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 22(2), 187-192. ↩
- Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue ↩
- Chirico, G., Marzollo, R., Cortinovis, S., Fonte, C., & Gasparoni, A. (2008). Antiinfective properties of human milk. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1801S-1806S. ↩
- Brandtzaeg, P. (2003). Mucosal immunity: integration between mother and the breast-fed infant. Vaccine, 21(24), 3382-3388. ↩
- Homemade Baby Formula ↩
- Egemen, A., Kusin, N., Aksit, S., Emek, M., & Kurugol, Z. (2002). A generally neglected threat in infant nutrition: incorrect preparation of infant formulae. Turkish Journal of Pediatrics, 44(4), 298-303; Renfrew, M. J., Ansell, P., & Macleod, K. L. (2003). Formula feed preparation: helping reduce the risks; a systematic review. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 88(10), 855-858. ↩
- Robson, S. (2004). Breast milk, diet, and large human brains. Current anthropology, 45(3), 419-425; Newton, E. R. (2004). Breastmilk: the gold standard. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 47(3), 632-642. ↩
- Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-e395; Hartmann, P. E. (2007). The lactating breast: An overview from down under. Breastfeeding Medicine, 2(1), 3-9. ↩
- Savage, J. S., Fisher, J. O., & Birch, L. L. (2007). Parental influence on eating behavior: conception to adolescence. The Journal of law, medicine & ethics, 35(1), 22-34. ↩
- Kent, J. C. (2007). How breastfeeding works. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 52(6), 564-570. ↩
- Basu, S., Sengupta, B., & Paladhi, P. R. (2003). Single megadose vitamin A supplementation of Indian mothers and morbidity in breastfed young infants. Postgraduate medical journal, 79(933), 397-402; Bergmann, R. L., Haschke-becher, E., Klassen-wigger, P., Bergmann, K. E., Richter, R., Dudenhausen, J. W., Haschke, F. (2008). Supplementation with 200 mg/Day docosahexaenoic acid from mid-pregnancy through lactation improves the docosahexaenoic acid status of mothers with a habitually low fish intake and of their infants. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 52(2), 157-66. ↩
- Bener, A., Galadari, S., Gillett, M., Osman, N., Al-Taneiji, H., Al-Kuwaiti, M. H. H., & Al-Sabosy, M. M. A. (2001). Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan does not change the composition of breast milk. Nutrition research, 21(6), 859-864; Robson, S. (2004). Breast milk, diet, and large human brains. Current anthropology, 45(3), 419-425. ↩
- See, e.g.,