All milk is species-specific—it’s perfectly suited to the requirements for growth and development needed by the young of a certain animal. For example, baby calves need to gain muscle quickly and be left to sleep quietly while their mothers feed themselves. This is why cow’s milk is high in casein for growth and contains casomorphins to promote sleep.
Human babies, on the other hand, are born with livers and kidneys that aren’t yet able to process high amounts of proteins and with brains that are expected to grow to 80 percent of their adult size in the first three years of life. This is why human milk is high in lactose for brain development but low in protein in order to be more digestible.
Human milk is a rich source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for brain development. These are present only in minute quantities in cow’s milk. Even though manufactured fatty acids are added to infant formula in an attempt to meet human requirements, studies have shown that their amount in the brains of breastfed babies increases with age, while there is no change with age in infants who are fed formula. One formula company extracts these poor imitation fatty acids by using hexane solvent, acid, and bleach.
Other benefits to the infant of breastfeeding include a decrease in ear and gut infections and a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and childhood leukemia. It benefits the mother by facilitating a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, a decrease in the risk of ovarian and breast cancers, and protection from osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, infant formula companies have be known to promote and market their products aggressively and deceptively. In the Philippines, where only 16 percent of 4- to 5-month-old children are exclusively breastfed, formula companies such as Nestlé have been accused of breaking the law by bribing doctors and midwives with free trips, dinners, and tickets to shows. Representatives from the company are also reported to be present in hospitals, distributing pamphlets recommending specific formula brands and coupons for its products. Powerful lobby groups have been working to undo government legislation to control formula marketing and promotion, and outrageous marketing slogans are used on formula containers, claiming that the products are “clinically proven to give the [intelligence quotient] + [emotional quotient] advantage.”
Human breastmilk is the only food with everything that a human baby needs for optimal development. Cow’s milk is perfect for baby cows, not baby humans. And when breastfeeding is not an option, the next best choice is human donor milk—after all, wouldn’t we all prefer milk from a willing source?
Written by Monica Joyce, registered nurse/midwife