According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), only 13% of mothers in the United States meet their recommendations for infant nutrition. (1)(2)
CDC, WHO, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend:
In the midst of labor, anything can happen.
The nourishment that a baby receives at birth can provide long-term health benefits or increase the risk of certain disorders, like obesity or type I diabetes. Breast milk is designed to promote development and nourish a baby's inner ecosystem.
Even if you never planned to have an epidural or a C-section delivery, these plans get thrown out the window once the health of either mother or baby is in jeopardy. As it turns out, these procedures, while potentially life-saving, affect the ability of breast milk to letdown, or flow.
In fact, studies have found that the stress of nurses coming and going during labor is enough to slow milk supply. (3) Studies have also found that the same can be said of an epidural during labor. (4)
Cortisol given during preterm labor can also make it difficult to initiate and sustain milk production. (5)
Sometimes the case is that a mother has more than enough milk but still struggles to feed her baby. This could be due to:
In either case, nursing can be a traumatic experience for both parties. Just because mama and baby were designed to nourish each other during those first several months of a newborn’s life, it doesn’t mean it’s easy!
The complexity of breast milk goes far beyond its nutritional value.
It turns out that what a woman eats and her health prior to conception affect both fetal development and breast milk. (6)(7)
Besides nourishing a newborn with macronutrients (sugars, fat, and protein) and micronutrients (things like vitamins and minerals), breast milk:
A newborn experiences massive shifts of growth and adaption during the first several months of life. And the surface of a baby’s gastrointestinal tract responds to the proteins and nutrients that are found in either breast milk or formula.
1. Breast milk is equipped with tools that educate and buffer the immune response system in the body.
Colostrum, which is secreted by a woman for the first several days after birth, comes in very small quantities. So small, that you may worry about whether or not it is enough to feed your newborn baby.
While the yellow milk of colostrum may not look like much, it offers plenty! Colostrum contains high amounts of:
At birth, the gut of a newborn is sterile. As days and weeks pass, the gastrointestinal tract of a newborn picks up signals. These signals prompt the immune system and the inner ecology to form. (12)(13) Depending on what nourishment a newborn receives, this can benefit a baby, or it can increase risk factors for certain health disorders like obesity or type I diabetes. (14)
Many of the signals that positively shape the inner ecology of a newborn are found in breast milk. For example, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) specifically nourish strains of Bifidobacteria. (15) Because oligosaccharides nourish a robust inner ecology, they have also been associated with resistance to allergies and infection.
As it turns out, the protein fragments found in breast milk (called alpha-lactalbumin and lactoferrin) also selectively nourish beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. (16)
2. Breast milk feeds the brain.
Breast milk contains high concentrations of nutrients that support brain development. (17) These are things like:
Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), are found in breast milk at much higher concentrations than in cow’s milk. A diet high in fish oils can influence just how much of these beneficial fatty acids are found in your breast milk.
Studies note that while infant formulas will supplement these fatty acids, it has been difficult to gather information about the long-term effects. (18)
There are many reasons why a new mother chooses not to breastfeed her child. Sometimes, it’s not even a matter of choice. It’s a matter of ability.
If you need to return to work after your baby is born, or if you have adopted a newborn, relying on some kind of formula seems essential.
In these situations, you can still optimize your child’s nutrition and development.
When you walk into a grocery store, there is not one packaged food that you could not make better if you made it at home. The same principle applies to formula. Whatever you would buy in a store, you can make a healthier version in your own kitchen.
The Weston A. Price Foundation has published wonderful formulas that can be prepared at home. These formulas more closely duplicate a mother's breast milk. One formula in particular uses liver and bone broth, and it is free of dairy.
Based on statistics from the CDC and WHO, a mere 13% of mothers in the US meet the recommendations for infant nutrition. Mothers are advised to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby's life and supplement with solid foods and breast milk for one year or longer.
Still, new mothers can tell you that in labor, you must expect the unexpected. A mother may have an unplanned epidural or C-section delivery, which could affect her milk letdown after birth. A mother may also struggle to feed her baby due to a lip-tie, tongue-tie, or acid reflux.
Breastfeeding an infant can provide much more than nutritional benefits to protect against infection, reduce inflammation, promote brain and immune system development, and support gut health to shape a baby’s inner ecosystem. Compared to formula, breast milk is fully equipped to educate and buffer the immune response system in the body, while nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
If breastfeeding isn't an option, you can still support your child's nutrition and development by making formula that mimics natural breast milk at home.