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Barbara Burke

Health Options

By Alan Titchenal & Joannie Dobbs

Wednesday, August 4, 1999



Breastmilk best
for child, mom

THERE is a deep rooted basis in human evolution for the female breast to attract prospective mates. However, breasts play an even more important evolutionary role -- the feeding and nutrition of future generations.

This year our state legislators recognized this by passing a bill that promotes worksite adjustments in support of mothers breastfeeding their infants. And, with this being World Breast-Feeding Week, breasts and breastmilk are timely health topics.

It is widely accepted that mother's milk provides the best nutrition for infants. Breastmilk contains all the nutrients an infant needs for both growth and proper development. Breastmilk also contains many protective properties, such as antibodies, immune cells, and special growth factors. Until a baby is 6 months old, he or she is gradually developing a functional immune system, making breast milk especially important at this stage of life.

Research shows children who are breastfed have lower rates of ear infections, allergies and asthma, bacterial and viral infections, gastrointestinal tract problems, meningitis, and mortality. In addition, the incidence of diseases such as juvenile diabetes, Crohn's disease, and some chronic liver diseases is lower in people who were breastfed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of breastmilk for the first 12 months of a child's life. It recommends infant feeding with breastmilk and suggests mothers express milk to feed an infant later when breastfeeding is not possible.

BREAST FEEDING an infant is also good for the mother. Women who have breastfed have a lower incidence of breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers later in life.

Nutritionally, breastmilk is a complete food, with the exception of inadequate iron. Healthy infants are born with a good store of iron in their livers. However, after four to six months, babies can start to run low on iron and require food sources or supplements.

Human milk also contains some important fatty acids (arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, also know as DHA). These are not found in many infant formulas. Since these substances are extremely important for normal growth as well as brain and eye development, there is much discussion about including them in infant formulas. Many other countries have added these fatty acids to their infant formulas, but not the United States. For some reason, we lag behind.

Both the health of the mother and her diet affect the composition of her breastmilk. Inadequate calorie intake can decrease the amount of milk produced. Inadequate dietary protein can decrease milk protein.

Even inadequate consumption of some vitamins and minerals can decrease their levels in the milk. Poor nutrition for the mother translates to poor nutrition for the infant too.

What about alcohol? When a nursing mother has an alcoholic drink, the alcohol shows up in her milk within a half hour. Since an infant's liver is not mature enough to handle alcohol, it is best to limit alcohol to an occasional single drink and wait at least 3 hours before nursing the baby.

World Breast-Feeding Week is sponsored by the World Allegiance for Breast Feeding Action and La Leche League International. More information is available at its website, http://www.lalecheleague.org.


Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionalist in the
Department of Food Service and Human Nutrition,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses indicated
by an asterisks in this section.





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