Early introduction to bovine milk could put your baby at risk; mother’s milk best for newborns, say experts

New Delhi: Breastfeeding is one of the most essential phases when it comes to nurturing your baby. Your baby’s healthy growth and development is of utmost concern at that time and proper administration of mother’s milk ensures that.

Mother’s milk is extremely important for a baby since it is supposed to be the only source of nutrition for the first six months of their life, as per the World Health Organisation guidelines.

Breastfeeding extends beyond basic nutrition, also reducing the mother’s stress-levels as well as risk of postpartum depression and administration of breast milk for a duration of 6 months is mandatory.

However, some mothers introduce their newborns to cow or buffalo milk in the early stages, a practice which could lead to numerous health complications, according to experts. The experts further established that there is no substitute to breastfeeding as mother’s milk is the best source of nutrition for a baby.

In several households, especially in urban areas, mother’s are unable to breastfeed their child due to various reasons including lack of motivation, ignorance, work pressure and work places being not equipped with facilities, they said.

In India, a positive trend has been observed in breastfeeding practices over the last decade. According to the National Family Health Survey-IV, 55 percent of the infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

According to Dr Bernd Stahl, R&D Director of Human Milk Research at Nutricia Research in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the mother’s milk is an orchestra of benefits having all nutrients that are required by the infant to achieve optimal growth, brain and cognitive development.

It also helps fight infections and illnesses like diarrhoea, allergies and asthma, among others.

“Breastfeeding also has a positive impact on mothers. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers and metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. It also helps in postpartum weight loss,” Dr Stahl said.

According to Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, director of neonatology at Fortis La Femme, which also runs the not-for- profit Breastmilk Foundation here, cow or buffalo milk for newborns should be avoided.

“People generally think that cow or buffalo milk can be a substitute for mother’s milk, which is not true. Bovine milk has a high protein content called Casein which is a much more heavier molecule for the baby to digest, causing an extra pressure on kidneys.

“Also, once pasteurised, cow milk loses all the micro- nutrients like iron, zinc and iodine,” he said, adding that it should be introduced only after first year.

AIIMS head of paediatrics Dr V K Paul said some families wrongly believe that mother’s milk alone is not enough to provide required nutrition to the newborn and choose to supplement it with bovine milk.

“Mother’s milk is such a fortified diet that it is enough to provide required nutrition for a baby. The infant intestine is not properly equipped to digest non-human milk, and this may result in diarrhoea, allergies, intestinal bleeding, malnutrition and obesity among babies,” Paul said.

Cow’s milk allergy is the most common food allergy in young children, Dr Nandan Joshi, head of nutrition science and medical affairs at Danone India said.

The food allergy usually establishes in the first six months of life and a majority of the affected-children have one or more symptoms involving one or more organ systems, mainly the gastrointestinal tract and/or skin.

He said cow’s milk allergy is generally outgrown during early childhood. Children at risk of not resolving the problem are those who have multiple food allergies, or concomitant asthma and allergic rhinitis.

“Avoidance of cow’s milk protein in any form is the only available treatment,” Joshi said.

Meanwhile, as the government is making all efforts to encourage breastfeeding among mothers, infant formula’s available in market claim to be an alternative to breast milk.

Although cow’s milk is the basis of almost all infant formula, to reduce the negative effect on the infant’s digestive system it undergoes processing to be made into an infant formula, Dr Bernd said.

“This includes steps to make protein more easily digestible and alter the whey-to-casein protein balance to one closer to human milk, the addition of several essential ingredients like vitamins, minerals, nucleotides and the partial or total replacement of dairy fat with fats of vegetable or marine origin,” Dr Bernd said.

According to WHO recommendations, infants should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months, followed by introduction of complementary feeding at six months along with continued breast feeding up to two years or longer.

The India Newborn Action Plan, developed by the Ministry of Health, is targeting a 75 percent rate of initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth by 2017 and 90 percent by 2025.

Nearly one lakh children die every year in India due to diseases that could have been prevented through breastfeeding, according to a UN report which said mortality and other losses attributed to inadequate breastfeeding could cost the country’s economy USD 14 billion.

(With PTI inputs)