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Optimal Nutrition For Babies and Young Children

Aug 19, 2008
My first advanced practice education was a women's health care nurse practitioner program. Prior to this advanced practice course, I worked in a labor and delivery unit at a local hospital for eight years. At this hospital I worked with not only uncomplicated births, but also high-risk deliveries, C-sections and highly technological ivf (in vitro fertilization) surgeries.

All these medical situations had the same end result -- a brand new baby. Once a baby is on the way, the parents need to make a host of decisions. By the time of the birth, some have already been made, but others are still pending. I was most surprised to observe the decision-making process new mothers went through about what to feed their new little person. They were given so little information about feeding their babies, which puzzled me. They seemed ill prepared, confused, and often did not make the decision until the baby was 30 minutes to an hour old. Some feeding decisions were made with no nutritional health considerations whatsoever. With regard to breast feeding, I have heard mothers say many negative things, ranging from it being too messy or two much work, to the mother wanting to quickly get back into her pre-pregnancy clothes or take a scheduled trip and not have to worry about breast feeding.

Optimal Nutrition for Babies and Young Children

Whether to use breast or bottle is certainly up to the new mother. However, part of the vacuum in which the new mother makes such decisions is a medical system that often does not provide adequate guidance. Another factor influencing her decision is cultural, in that some cultures don't even consider bottle feeding as an option. That can change when a mother from a breast feeding culture gives birth in a culture that emphasizes bottle feeding.

If we look at the history of infant feeding we can see that, like other products from the processed food industry, infant formulas make a good profit. In the early 1920s the dairy industry improved its sanitation practices, and milk storage was facilitated by the invention of the home icebox. These two environmental improvements allowed the public to increase their use of milk and milk products -- including processed infant formula. As a result, breast feeding rates declined from the late 1920s through the early 1970s. Instead, cow's milk and strained solid foods, called "baby food," were given to babies at increasingly earlier ages, which led to iron-deficiency anemia. In response, "iron fortified" formulas were introduced.

By 1970 the World Health Organization and Unicef were becoming extremely concerned about the decline in breast feeding. In the United States, thanks to a small but vocal group, La Leche League International, breast feeding rates began to increase. Historically the medical field has moved at a slow-as-molasses pace, and by the time the information reaches the patient it can be several months, or even years, later. We need to act now with respect to the children. One major factor that can help with our obesity epidemic in very young children is the use of appropriate choices when deciding how to feed our babies. The more we learn about human genomics, our internal genetic instruction, and the role of nutrition and how it can affect the health of physical bodies, the sooner we will be guided in making the decisions nature intended us to make where nutrition is concerned.

This can begin when that little person is born. Which is best? Feeding a baby processed food products or feeding a baby breast milk? My answer is nature's way is best. Give your baby what nature intended -- breast milk -- if breast feeding is possible for you. How and what to feed your baby is a decision that should be based on optimal nutritional outcome -- not on what is most convenient for the mother. Furthermore, the mother's diet during pregnancy and during the breast feeding period is extremely important to a baby's health. There is no longer any question about this; it is a fact.

Breast Milk and the Apo E Gene

The human body has an innate intelligence that has been serving the human race for hundreds of thousands of years. It is odd to think that baby food companies could provide a better food than nature. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued clear guidelines stressing that breast milk is the foundation of good infant nutrition. As parents and health care providers, we need to listen to this recommendation. In my own practice, I am finding with some patients that breast milk provides a perfect diet for babies based on the mother and baby's Apo E genotype. For example, women who are positive for the Apo E 4 gene have a certain percentage of fat content in their breast milk for their babies -- between 50 to 75 percent less total fat in breast milk than an alternative Apo E genotype mother.

We also know that the correct proportions of the fatty acid dha and the omega-3 and omega-6 ratios for each Apo E genotype is critical for the baby's brain development and eye health. Breast milk is perfect in this respect, too. There is some major research with regards to conditions such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, hyperactivity disorders, learning disabilities, and even autism as they relate to fat content of an infant's diet and mother's genetics.

All these diseases could potentially be greatly reduced by feeding babies breast milk rather than processed formula milk. Advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics (the AAP) recommends that infants be fed exclusively breast milk (no water, formula, or other liquids) for approximately the first six months after birth and continue to be breast fed for at least the next six months while solid foods are introduced. Infants weaned before 12 months should not receive cow's milk but an iron-fortified infant formula. Science reveals the extreme benefits of breast feeding both to mother and infant to at least one year, and ideally as long as mother and baby desire. While 71 percent of American mothers presently at least attempt to breast feed their children, only 46 percent of these babies are being breast fed exclusively at three months. That number drops to 13 percent by six months. Once solid foods are introduced in the second half of the first year, the numbers drop further. By a year, only 16 percent of infants receive any breast milk at all, and even fewer get the two or more years of breast feeding recommended by the World Health Organization.

Breast milk contains all the ingredients that a baby needs to thrive. Formulas based on cow's milk provide only 60 of the 200 nutrients found in breast milk. Formula makers simply cannot duplicate breast milk. Why? Because each human body is as individual as our fingerprints, yet mother's body knows exactly what nutrients to produce for her baby's optimal health. Breast milk includes antibodies and other immune-system enhancing ingredients as well as growth factors, hormones, and other substances that help the baby grow and develop at an appropriate rate. Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for babies who live in northern latitudes because people today spend so much time indoors they often don't get enough sunlight to help their bodies produce adequate Vitamin D.

With no long-term data on what any formulas will do to an infant's health, we do not really know the outcomes of adding artificial vitamin and fat supplements to man-made infant formula. Does this type of supplementation cause inflammation? We just don't know. It is only logical to stay with what nature intended, and choose breast milk over formula.

Not only is breast milk the perfect food, but it is ready to drink at any time, day or night. When it comes to the baby's Apo E genotype, it is likely that any formula we pick will contain serious mismatches and not promote the health of the baby as well as breast milk would have done.

In addition to perfect nutrition, there are a host of other benefits, both physical and psychological, for both mother and baby to consider, including more eye contact, connection via touch and the scent of the mother's body, plus the benefit to the central nervous system from the movement of the mother carrying her child around as she nurses. In addition, mouth and tooth development does not unfold as designed when an infant does not suckle on a normal human breast. A big benefit for mothers later on is that breast cancer rates drop precipitously after several years of using breasts for their intended purpose.

Formulas can't even begin to match the natural balance of breast milk and all the other factors that go along with the process of breast feeding. Research shows that babies' serum cholesterol is elevated as a result of being fed formula and other processed foods. From this we can conclude they are experiencing early inflammatory conditions, along with behavioral and immune dysfunction.

Here are some common illness trends I have noticed in my primary care practice with babies fed on formula:
* allergies
* behavioral disorders -- concentration, attention, anger, sleep disorders
* ear infections
* obesity
* anxiety
* abnormal cholesterol levels
* tooth decay
* blood pressure abnormalities
* stomach or intestinal conditions and infections
* digestive problems such as diarrhea or constipation
* skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis

I encourage parents to ask lots of questions! Read about baby nutrition from a reputable source that is not promoting a particular product. Talk with a medical provider who has been trained in pediatric medicine and nutrition. If breast feeding is truly not possible (a rarity), you can make better choices and feel good about the choice you are making for the life of your baby. I have cared for hundreds and hundreds of moms and new babies.

Most parents want what is best for their baby, no matter whether it is their first or their seventh. With a more evidence-based nutritional education, we will see an entirely new level of health appearing with our children and much less chronic disease in adults. Pediatric medicine has taken care of most infectious illnesses that once plagued children, and we can now begin preventing early chronic illnesses with just a few small changes in the nutrition of our babies and children.
About the Author
Pamela McDonald is a leading Integrative Medicine Nurse Practitioner, who specializes in the prevention of heart and Alzheimer's disease, and chronic illness. To learn more about her groundbreaking book, and program - visit APO E Gene Diet. To subscribe to her free APO E Gene Diet Health Notes - send a blank email to Info@ApoeGenediet.com.
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