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Dr. Andrew Rynne
Dr. Andrew Rynne

Family Physician

Exp 50 years

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Article Home Children's Health Should babies be fed natural or formula milk?

Should babies be fed natural or formula milk?

Many new mothers have difficulty choosing the best brands for baby formula and foods. There are many brands available in market and all seem to be coming from reputed pharmaceutical companies. Recommendations from the pediatricians could make it more confusing. Grandmothers would often come to the rescue of the baby by suggesting that mother’s milk is the best. They will suggest that cow’s milk is the second-best option as baby “Krishna” was also raised on it. They will insist to feed the baby with the home-made butter as well. Question is whom to trust. Should we trust the new trend of feeding babies formulas? Or listen to the age-old experiences of grandmothers?

Here we are enumerating the effects and side effects of some of the medicinal ingredients of baby formulas and foods.

1.       DHA-ARA: Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and Arachidonic acid (ARA) have been recently promoted for good development of brain and vision. These are currently derived from fish oil, eggs or algae. The problem is that the chemical structure of DHA-ARA derived from these sources is different from that found in humans. That is why they may have side effects in babies like irritability, inability to sleep, colic, chronic indigestion, milia and rarely bleeding from intestine. Therefore, these should definitely be avoided in normal babies.

2.       Iron: Baby formulas and foods are almost always supplemented with iron on the assumption that all babies are born with iron deficiency. Another assumption is that babies fed with breast milk or cow’s milk are prone to develop it later. However they fail to explain the reason behind normal iron levels in most adults. The reason could be a healthy diet taken during childhood. The side effects caused by iron are metallic taste in mouth, headache, vomiting, diarhea, dark or black stools, constipation, colic, etc.

3.       Taurine: It is added to formula because it is naturally found in breast milk. It may have good effect on blood pressure and heart. Side effects may happen due to negative nitrogen balance created by its consumption and can affect kidneys.

4.       Linoleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are essential amino acids that need to be consumed as human body cannot synthesize them. They may have good effect on suppressing cancer hopefully. These may produce side effects including gastro-intestinal issues, weakness and headache.

5.       Albumin, whey protein and other proteins maybe present in higher quantities in formulas especially soy-based formulas. These proteins can compete with absorption of calcium from intestine of baby and may result in weakening of the bones. These can also affect kidneys and other organs.

6.       Probiotics and prebiotics: are added to replenish normal flora of the intestine. Best source of normal flora is from breast milk. Babies also develop normal flora when passing through birth canal at birth. It is not thought to be harmful but is it really needed!

7.       Calcium and vitamin D: Most babies are not deficient in calcium and vitamin D. Both breast milk and cow’s milk are good sources of both these ingredients. When given externally, these may accumulate in body and cause toxicities. Therefore these should not be given unless it is proven by blood test that the baby is deficient in both and needs supplementation.

8.       Herb extracts: are medicines in themselves. Many types of extracts can find their way in baby formulas, with assumption that they are needed for immunity etc. However, best source of immunity is breast milk. Breast milk has lots of antibodies that help baby recover from infections. Breastfeeding should be promoted for all mothers. Natural herbs are better than extracts for babies and children, as extracts could have medicinal components in higher concentration.

Blood tests including serum iron level are usually done after one year of age. There are options to supplement the child after he learns to understand its importance and side effects. Many times, artificial foods and supplements are not really needed for our babies when they are growing just fine with natural foods. If a baby is failing to grow or showing some particular symptoms, then it is time to consult the pediatrician.



Originally written by Dr Vaishalee Punj