Breast Milk Still the Best

World Breastfeeding week came and went (August 1-7) and the message “breast milk is best for baby; it is tailor-made for the baby” was sounded.

Certainly, this is not the first time we are hearing this message; but what is the difference between cow milk formula and human (breast) milk and why won’t formula or cow milk fill the gap?

Patricia Namaganda did not think that formula for her three-weeks-old daughter was a bad idea; she knew that breast milk was best but since she wasn’t lactating enough, she figured that supplementing her daughter’s feeds with SMA would do. It did not.

“She refused to take the formula and we ended up throwing out all the SMA,” Namaganda says.

When the baby was about a month and a half old, Namaganda tried to feed her lactose-free Nan.

“She took some of that, but only after forcing her and then we had to pour that too”.

It is then that Namaganda decided to exclusively breastfeed until her daughter was six months old, and then she tried her Cerelac and other foods.

“Cerelac is pre-mixed,” Namaganda says. “Part of its components is milk. My daughter refused to take that too.”

She says with that rejection, she gave up buying expensive baby foods and concentrated on giving her daughter soya and other foods.

“She loves the soya. But of course we cannot add cow milk to it. We tried adding Jesa and Daima but she wouldn’t take the porridge”.

On the occasions Namaganda’s daughter was fed on the milk, she developed an itchy rash around her cheeks. The doctor she visited did not diagnose lactose intolerance or allergy in her daughter but advised that milk be given to the girl cautiously.

“He told me to give her milk in small quantities on few occasions and perhaps, she would outgrow her condition”.

Given that Namaganda’s daughter was unaffected by breast milk – in fact she enjoyed it so much that her mother had problems feeding her to her fill – but she seems to be intolerant to formula (made from cow milk)and cow milk, one can deduce that the two types of milk, breast and cow are different.

Yes, breast and cow milk are nutritionally different. Here is how:

Breast milk has more fat (including omega-3 fatty acids needed for brain development). Nutritionist Muniirah Mbabazi provides an abstract that shows that breast milk contains 3-5 per cent fat. The fat in breast milk is more easily digested than that in cow milk, according to the www.newparentguide.com; that is why you may notice differences in stool of breastfed and bottle-fed babies.

Breast milk has more carbohydrates (an important source of energy) than cow milk. Breast milk has 6.9-7.2 percent lactose

Cow milk has more protein than breast milk. According to newparentguide.com, cow milk has “at least double the amount in breast milk and is also a different and less digestible type”. Breast milk has 0.8-0.9 per cent protein.

Cow milk has more of some vitamins than breast milk but those found in breast milk are said to be sufficient.

“All of the vitamins, except K, are found in human milk in nutritionally significant concentrations,” reads part of the abstract provided by Mbabazi.

Cow milk has more of some minerals than breast milk. Minerals, said to constitute 0.2 per cent of breast milk, include sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, copper, zinc and other trace elements.

Cow milk does not correspond to a baby’s antibody needs. Breast milk meets a baby’s antibody need through production of these antibodies by the mother and transmitted through breast milk to the baby, specific to a virus or bacteria that have attacked the baby, the website says.

Cow milk does not correspond to a baby’s water needs. A mother will produce the amounts of water needed to satisfy her baby’s thirst; this water is transmitted to the baby via breast milk.

Because of all these differences, breast milk is billed the best for a baby.

However, where one cannot breast feed, the website, webmd.com points out that one should take heart as “infant formulas have gotten better and better at matching the ingredients and their proportions to breast milk”.

Cause of lactose intolerance:

Namaganda’s daughter could be suffering from allergy or lactose-intolerance. Mbabazi explains lactose-intolerance to cow milk thus:

At birth, breast milk contains more colostrums than other milk and by the end of the week, the milk has less colostrum; after a month the milk is considered mature and it has no colostrum. Colostrum in milk imparts immunological properties thereby strengthening the immune system as the child continues to grow and develop in the first days after birth.

Cow milk on the other hand is mature milk by the time we consume it. It therefore has very few immunological components. When this milk is fed on a newborn, their immune system will counteract against the milk.

Milk allergies are quite rare. They are a result of allergic reactions to protein components like casein in milk and people who exhibit such must avoid all milk products. Lactose-intolerant persons should not avoid all milk products and are required to eat dairy products in varying amounts, because lactose intolerance is a matter of degree.

There is information, on the web, saying that children below one year should not be given cow milk but Mbabazi says that for children aged six months and above, cow milk is alright to drink.

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