The Uniqueness of Breastmilk

Posted by  | Thursday, February 4, 2010  at 3:18 PM  
Breastmilk is incredibly unique! In fact, all mammalian milk is species specific, i.e. the mother animal makes milk that is perfectly suited to her baby's requirements for growth and development. For example, a baby elephant seal feeds once every four days, but needs to quickly gain fat for protection against the cold, so its mother's milk has a very high fat content. A baby calf has to gain muscle strength quickly and also be left to sleep quietly and safely while the mother wanders away from it to feed. So the cow produces milk high in protein, particularly casein containing casomorphins, which induce sleep.

The human baby is born in a relatively immature state with kidneys and liver not yet able to process high protein feeds, and a brain that will triple in weight in the next two years to achieve 80% of its final size. And so the human mother's milk is low in protein, but highest of all milks in lactose necessary for appropriate brain development.

Societies in developed countries are caught between knowledge and belief. While they know the rhetoric “Breast is Best,” they believe there is little difference between artificial infant formula and breastmilk..

The milk which is fed to infants who don't receive breastmilk may be derived from a number of sources – cow's milk, goat's milk, soy beans or even almonds and rice. Components are added and removed and the milks are treated to be assimilated by an infant. It is a very complex process to change the milk of one species (or plant!) to make it suitable for another.

These modified and added components stimulate a different type and rate of growth and development compared to normal optimal growth of children fed breastmilk.

The following is a quote from Ebrahim, a senior lecturer at London's famous Institute of Child Health:

"Artificial feeding carries risks. Infants who are fed artificially are biologically different from those who are breastfed. Their blood carries a different pattern of amino acids, some of which may be at levels high enough to cause anxiety. The composition of their body fat is different. They are fed a variety of carbohydrates to which no other mammalian species is exposed in neonatal life. They have higher plasma osmolality, urea and electrolyte levels. Their guts are colonised by a potentially invasive type of micro-flora, at the same time as they are exposed to large amounts of foreign protein resulting in an immunologic response. In addition they are deprived of the various immune factors present in human milk. All these factors need to be taken into account every time a decision is made not to breastfeed an infant, for inherent in that decision are known and unknown risks to the infant."

During our discussion of breastmilk this week, it is in no way my intention to make someone feel hurt because of the term “artificial.” And I do realize there are times when the mom truly is unable to breastfeed and donor milk is not available so artificial milk is necessary. However, I am saddened at how quickly pediatricians encourage moms to supplement, or tell them formula is just fine too so there’s no need to really persevere, and the beginning of the end of the nursing relationship is put into place. I have many dear friends who were not able to nurse as long as they had hoped and others should not make them feel guilty or pass judgment. We should support them, help them grieve, and then to persevere.

Yet, breastmilk is the norm. It is the way God designed babies to be fed. Anything other than breastmilk for a baby is, therefore, artificial (defined by Merriam Webster as “humanly contrived often on a natural model”). I know nursing can be exhausting, difficult, and just plain hard – especially in the beginning, especially without support, especially with a preemie, an emergency c-section, a pediatrician who is not sold on breastmilk, when you are surrounded with others who are not encouraging, multiples, sleep deprivation, pumping, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, a crying baby, and so much more! Ultimately, it takes determination and perseverance to overcome the odds. . . but for those who do I applaud you and, more importantly, you have given your baby a gift that truly will last a lifetime.


Courtney said...

Krista I appreciate your honesty and openness while sharing about this. I have had 2(so far)great nursing experiences. I didn't get to nurse my first Zeke as long as I would have liked, but it was a decision made by my husband and myself. We got pregnant with our second child when my first was 5 months. I continued to nurse him until he was 9 months. Then I had to make a hard decision. I wasn't gaining weight, my supply was decreasing, and I was E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D, Zeke was still eating every 3 hours round the clock. I cried in Babies R Us while researching formula, I cried at Target when I bought the formule, I cried when Spence fed Zeke his first bottle, we both cried when he then threw up for the next 2 hours. I rethought the decision, and nursed another two weeks. I grew more exhausted and began to pray about switching again. We tried a different type of formula, he transitioned easily and we never looked back. It was a hard decision, but it really was what was best for the three of us (Zeke, me, and Ben). So far I have had a wonderful experience with Ben (4 months) and plan to nurse until at least 1 year.
Oh, and I did want to add that my OB and pediatricians were all so supportive of my continuing to nurse, it was so great to have them encouraging me through the decision.

Krista said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story! I can only imagine how tired you must have been and I'm really glad Zeke was able to transition well and all three of you are doing so well :).

Thank you for all the comments this week. It has been a breath of fresh air to see so many moms want to nurse and really think through their decision if they are not able to. Unfortunately, I see way too many women who so flippantly decide to use formula without thinking through, knowing, or caring about the ramifications. So, thank you POH readers for this burst of encouragement.

台中 said...


Eric and Sheryl Nelken said...

I believe that most of the information you posted this week is accurate and I certainly would never claim that giving your baby formula or 'artificial baby milk' is better or equal to breastfeeding...but I am a mama of two young girls who is very thankful for the availability of formula and the manufacturers attempts to provide the nourishment to my babies that I was unable to provide on my own.
With my first daughter I developed severe pre-eclampsia that did not resolve itself after delivery...I had to take very strong diuretics in the hospital and for several weeks after I went home. One side effect of the medicine was that while it was ridding my body of all the excess fluid, it was also drying up my breast milk. I pumped as much as possible to maintain some supply for my daughter, but after a month or so of pumping, my largest DAILY total of milk would equal 1-2oz. I gave those 1-2oz to her but obviously that was nowhere near enough to meet her demand at that point and we transitioned to 100% formula.

With my second daughter, I only had mild pre-eclampsia but still suffered from severely low supply. I met with two lactation consultants and spent a lot of money on all the herbs, prescription medicines, medical grade pumps and ate all the suggested foods to try to increase my supply with no success. After roughly 3 months we all eventually agreed that breastfeeding was just not going to work.
Both times, I prayed for breastfeeding to work out and it just did not. Honestly, for a while, especially with my first baby, I was angry with God for giving me a 'defective' body that could not provide food for my child...if breastfeeding was His design and it was the perfect food to feed my baby, why did He let all these problems occur?

Eventually I was able to see that in all things has been been tainted by sin...not by my personal sin necessarily, but as a byproduct of living in a fallen world. Every aspect of conceiving and raising children has been affected. I view formula as a grace that has been given to help nourish my children even when my own fallen body was insufficient. If formula was not available, my children would most likely have not survived and for that I am thankful.

Your own struggles may not be breast-feeding, but I know from reading other posts that many of the POH authors and readers have experienced problems becoming pregnant or other aspects of childbearing and expressed justified frustration at some of the insensitive and/or ignorant comments/attitudes of others. My husband and I have been married 3 years and have a 2 year old and a 5 month old, so obviously we have not had any problems getting pregnant the 'natural' way. My deliveries and recoveries have also been relatively easy, everything didn't go the way I planned but overall I am satisfied with was just breastfeeding that seemed to be such a challenge.

Eric and Sheryl Nelken said...

Just as couples suffering from infertility may not want to share their struggles with just anyone who asks, many times the 'artifical-feeding mothers' you see also have deeply personal reasons for not breast-feeding and it is not your place to assume that they took the 'easy and uninformed' way out any more than for me to question the reasons you and your spouse are 'late' having kids. I would say probably 75% of the moms at my church breastfeed and I have had many of them ask me why I am bottle feeding. My usual short response is that "we tried and it just did work out the way I hoped." There are only a few that I would want to share the entire story with and so I am sure some of them think I just didn't try hard enough--even though nothing could be farther from the truth.

I certainly did not intend my comment to end up this long!! I guess I should sum it up by trying to gently remind breastfeeding advocates to be sensitive when talking to ladies who are struggling with breastfeeding and moms who have chosen to formula feed. Being unable to breastfeed is NOT a sin and neither is choosing not to breastfeed. I have gotten the impression from some that breastfeeding has almost become an idol in their quest to become the 'perfect mother'. As a previous commenter posted healthy God-fearing children come from a variety of beginnings.

I also have a suggestion for the next time that breastfeeding is covered as a topic--perhaps you could include some 'failure' stories of women who tried to breastfeed and it did not work--based on many of the comments this week--there are many moms who could relate.

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