Breast Milk v.s. Infant Formula  

2013-02

Author: Myron Yau, Nutritionist at HKBioTek

In developing countries, where the living standard is relatively low and people there cannot afford the infant-formula milk powder import from elsewhere, breastfeeding popularity has been much higher than that in developed countries. However, under a series of heavy promotions in the past few decades, breastfeeding is now spreading wider and wider worldwide, especially in America and some European countries. Yet, breastfeeding prevalence in Hong Kong still lags behind other parts of the world. Recently, the Hong Kong Government pushes this idea further with television broadcasting advertisement. At the time of milk powder shortage, breastfeeding seems to be a more natural, healthier and cost-effective solution.

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and that breastfeeding continues for at least 12 months strongly. It is indeed mutually beneficial to mothers and infants.

 

To infants, breast milk is the best and perfect source of nutrition. The benefits of breast milk to babies are numerous. Human breast milk consists of more than three hundreds types of nutrients; whereas the infant formulae in the market are composed of only around seventy types of nutrients, even though they have been improved a lot for decades imitating human breast milk. Besides, the maternal immunity is infused into breast milk as immunoglobulin A and other substances which then protect the new born babies from infectious diseases. A number of researches also documented that breastfed babies were less likely to suffer from chronic diseases in their later lives, for examples, obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and asthma.

 

One rarely aware point of infant-formulae is that it contains much more proteins than breast milk. It does not necessarily mean breast milk has insufficient protein content. Oppositely, it is infant-formulae derived from cow milk which may contain too many proteins and breast milk protein is just enough for human infant growth. These match the different growth rates of human and cow babies, among which the latter one is much faster and requires much more proteins for growth as well as development. The redundant proteins in infant-formulae are likely to be converted to fat probably causing obesity. According to some medical doctors’ clinical experience, excessive proteins may possibly stir up food allergy symptoms like eczema in infants and children.

 

To mother, lactation consumes extra calories and enhances postpartum weight loss. In general, extra five-hundred calories consumed a day if a lady breastfeeds her baby. Moreover, whenever baby suckles the nipple of mother during breast feeding, a hormone called oxytocin is released for milk ejection. At the same time, oxytocin stimulates the uterus of mother to contract and helps ceasing bleeding more quickly after delivery favoring recovery.

Hindering breastfeeding in Hong Kong, the short postpartum holiday seems to play a role as well as the lack of social support and facilities in the community. Hopefully, the government can work on these areas to increase its prevalence in Hong Kong.