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Milk & Gruel May Be Cruel

The developing digestive system of a young infant is specifically designed to digest mother's milk during the first 12 months. If breastfeeding is not possible, the next best choice is iron-fortified infant formula. Solid food should not be introduced until four to six months of age, at minimum.

Unfortunately, parenting advice shared by well-meaning family,  friends and sometimes even doctors, is not necessarily healthy advice for tiny tummies. The most common diversions from recommended feeding practices for infants include giving:

  • Cow's milk before age one.
  • Goat's milk as an alternative to formula.
  • Infant cereal to very young babies.
  • Any one, or more of these situations are quite common in households across the U.S. and beyond. However, parents should ponder more current medical findings and recommendations before deciding to practice them. Here's why.

    Cow's Milk

    A number of studies, indicate that the early introduction of cow's milk may contribute to the development of IDDM (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus). Among these, was a report regarding "Infant feeding practices and their possible relationship to the etiology of diabetes mellitus," by the American Academy of Pediatrics Work Group on Cow's Milk Protein and Diabetes Mellitus (Pediatrics 1994;94:752-4), which states that, "avoidance of cow's milk protein for the first several months of life may reduce the later development of IDDM or delay its onset in susceptible individuals." Susceptible individuals are those in families with a strong history of IDDM, and particularly when a sibling has diabetes. The report concludes that, "Breastfeeding and avoidance of commercially available cow's milk and products containing intact cow's milk protein during the first year of life are strongly encouraged."

    Iron is necessary for brain function, formation & function of red blood cellsIn another policy statement (Pediatrics Volume 89, Number 6 June Part 1, 1992, p 1105-1109) by the AAP, extensive studies reflect that babies given WCM (whole cow's milk) take in lower levels of iron, linoleic acid, and vitamin E, and excessive levels of sodium, potassium, and protein. Infants who were fed breastmilk or iron-fortified formula during the first year, generally maintained healthy iron levels. 

    Additionally, the studies indicate that the high levels of calcium and phosphorus, and low levels of Vitamin C in whole cow's milk actually decreases absorption of iron from infant cereals and other dietary sources.

    The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Guidelines for Prevention, Detection and Treatment of Iron Deficiency takes the stand against cow's milk a bit farther, by recommending children aged one to five years don't consume more than 24 oz. of cow's milk (or soy and goat milk) each day.

    Another consideration focuses on infants who are at high risk for food allergies. According to nutrition professionals from the Manitoba Milk Producers site, the prevalence of cow's milk allergy is highest in infancy. A predominate factor leading to food allergy is the early introduction of food allergens, therefore, feeding an infant cow's milk before three to four months places the child at greater risk for intolerance.

    Undoubtedly, general consensus shoots down the "Got Milk?" motto and instead shouts, "Not milk!" when it comes to feeding babies during their first year.

    ~~~ More ~~~
    What About Goat's Milk?
    Milk & Gruel Part II

    Cereal In A Bottle?
    Milk & Gruel Part III

    Feeding Baby Nature and Nurture
    Kid Source

    Pediatric Encyclopedia: Cow's Milk
    Dr. Koop

    Graphics by Lynn M. Johnson, 1999

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