Friday, June 15, 2012

Radically Natural POV: Yes, Breast Always IS Best

I am a huge fan of the work of Weston Price and the WAPF; I fully support traditional diets and applaud the work the foundation does to education people about health and true nutrition...I'm a WAPF member.  But I acknowledge that the WAPF is not perfect.  Gasp!  Shocking?  Of course one is perfect, not even me.

Recently, as I was reading through some post comments on one of my favorite blogs, I was reminded of some less-than-desirable breastfeeding advice shared by the WAPF.  Instead of being privately frustrated, I wanted to take a few moments to briefly address what I consider to be errors in WAPF's perspective.  But I also acknowledge that I could be misconstruing the foundation's advice, so forgive me if you feel I have improperly interpreted the information.

First, I want to say that I agree with the basic presupposition that WAPF shares in its breastfeeding information:  that it is crucial to properly nourish the mother in order to nourish the baby.  I also understand that in atypical cases, a woman is physiologically or anatomically unable to produce adequate breastmilk (I have a friend who struggles with natural milk production), but we need to understand that such a condition is rare.  If you are such a woman, feel free to skip the rest of this post, as I have no desire to cause contention or disconcertion to you.  I am addressing the "norm" here.

OK.  Now to address the problems I see when reading the breastfeeding info presented in WAPF writings.  One particular article seems to advocate early weaning, formula feeding, early introduction to solids, seems to downplay the superiority of breastmilk, and spreads seeds of doubt about the incomparable benefits of breastfeeding.  Whether those opinions are completely intentioned, they can be inferred from the writing.  We should never degrade breastfeeding just because some women have difficulty with it, and we should not gloss over the superb and essential benefits of breastfeeding because many women in the world (including the Unites States) are malnourished.

I'm sure we can all agree that feeding mama nutrient dense foods is the key to making good breastmilk.  And I know that WAPF is not in favor of commercial formula, but rather provides recipes for a more nourishing Real Food formula.  However, formula, even made from liver and grass-fed raw milk, can never equal breastmilk.  Not only is breast best, it is the perfectly designed food for humans.

Just as cow's milk is the perfect food for baby cows and zebra milk is the perfect food for baby zebras, mother's breastmilk is the perfect food for baby humans.  A baby's nutritional needs can be met by breastmilk alone for the first year of life.  Early weaning and/or early introduction to solids can create a host of problems for baby's immature digestive system, primarily gastro-intestinal upsets and subsequent allergies/sensitivities.  It is important to better promote long-term, nutritious nursing and to educate women about how to nourish their bodies.  A few weeks (even a few months) of nursing is hardly adequate to build a strong, healthy baby with vibrant immunity and robust digestion.  The worldwide "natural age" for weaning is somewhere around 3 years, yet our culture seems aghast when mamas (like myself) nurse for two years or longer (my current toddler is 30 months and has no interest in weaning).

While colostrum truly is liquid gold, extremely high in active antibodies and full of super nutrients, immunity strengthening antibodies (like IgA molecules) are passed on for well beyond the first months of breastfeeding.  [Antibodies seem to be most potent in the first six months, but they do not become nonexistent with time, they just diminish.]  These antibodies are unique to humans and unique to you for your baby.  Your breastmilk will carry some amount of antibodies as long as your body makes breastmilk...antibodies to illnesses you suffer.  I have often noted how my nursing baby/toddler is least afflicted when our family comes down with a cold/flu.

Baby's flora population depends much on breastfeeding; passing good flora to your baby is a boon to her health.  In addition to the probiotic bacteria found in breastmilk, the oligosaccharides in mama's milk feeds the beneficial bacteria in baby's gut, helping to establish good gut flora population.  The skin contact during nursing also passes your flora to baby (from nipple to mouth...flora lives on your skin, too, not just in your gut and mouth).  Be careful, however, of imbalanced pathogenic flora...consider doing GAPS to alleviate this condition before pregnancy.  

Baby's brain development relies heavily upon intake of omega fatty acids, and mother's milk contains the EPA and DHA perfectly suited to baby's needs.  The fatty acids unique to human breastmilk have an important impact on brain chemistry and on retinal and cortical development and function.

Extended breastfeeding provides more than physical health benefits to baby; the emotional bond of breastfeeding nourishes the heart and soul of both baby and mama.  Extended breastfed children tend to be more independent and confident.  Yes, at times all that nursing can be wearying, even inconvenient and painful, but it also provides joy, humor, and moments of relaxation.  In the end, this precious experience is such a short phase in our entire lives.  I wouldn't miss it for the world.

My desire would be to see WAPF partner with extended breastfeeding advocates and lactation groups to educate women on how to be nourished.  Don't give normally functioning women the comfort of thinking a formula short-cut is the same as (or better than) breastfeeding their babies.  The focus needs to be on feeding mom!  If the well-intentioned people at WAPF can teach women to make baby formula with coconut oil, liver, grass-fed raw milk, CLO, etc., they can certainly encourage women to eat those foods themselves, thus allowing mamas to provide nutrient-dense breastmilk for their babies.  Mom, if you have those foods around, put them in your body, not a baby bottle.

For more information and facts about the benefits of breastfeeding:

How Breastmilk Protects Newborns

Human Milk Is Optimal Food for Brain Development

Breastfeeding Effects on IQ

Breastfeeding and Later Cognitive and Academic Outcomes

Duration of Breastfeeding and Developmental Milestones... (scholarly abstract)

Benefits of Breastfeeding

101 Reasons to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding Past Infancy Fact Sheet

Role of Breastfeeding and Baby's Gut Health