Friday, August 15, 2008

How Breastfeeding Enhances Mother-Child Bonding

Scientists have long known that the mother's brain is flooded with oxytocin when breastfeeding. But until recently, they had been puzzled as to how enough oxytocin was produced to alter the mother's moods. Now they know.

A study published on July 18, 2008 at the Public Library of Science Computational Biology found that breastfeeding mobilizes more than the usual brain cells that secrete oxytocin. Breastfeeding puts dendrites to work as well to secrete oxytocin.

Oxytocin, which is also secreted during labor and sexual intercourse, is also known as the "love hormone". It increases feelings of trust, relaxation and love. It has a sedative effect. No wonder many women report feeling drowsy while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding also fosters closeness between mother and child in other ways. It enables Mommy and baby to have more physical and skin-to-skin contact. Mothers and babies gaze into each other's eyes for extended periods of time while breastfeeding. Mothers also tend to interact in other ways with their babies when breastfeeding.

In contrast, bottle-fed babies can easily be passed on to other people to be fed -- making it easier for Mom to be separated from baby - and worse be fed without any human contact at all, through a bottle prop.

While breastfeeding has been shown in several studies to help immensely with mother-child bonding, it is not a necessary condition for bonding to occur. However, those who bottle feed can and should take the following lessons from breastfeeding to foster a stronger bond with their children:
  • be attentive to your child's cues and respond to them promptly
  • seek ways to be physically close and affectionate to your child in appropriate ways
  • make plenty of eye contact with your child
  • spend time with your child
  • relax and trust in your ability to be a good mother to your child

PLOS Computation Biology, July 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding

Now that my nursling is almost 2 years old, I raise many eyebrows whenever I raise my blouse to breastfeed. Family and friends have begun to say, "Oh, you're still breastfeeding him?" implying that I should stop already.

This just shows that lay people do not know the benefits of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, also known as "extended breastfeeding".

My own reasons for continuing to breastfeed are quite unscientific. I like being able to comfort Anton easily when he's hurt, cranky or ill. I also think it's great that I can put him to sleep without having to carry him; in fact, I can lie down and doze off myself.

On the other hand, scientific research reveals many benefits of breastfeeding a toddler, such as:

  • Protection From Diseases
Breastmilk continues to provide antibodies against the diseases that the mother has been or is exposed to. As a result, toddlers who are still breastfeeding get sick less often and for shorter periods than their non-nursing peers.

(Goldman AS et al. Immunologic components in human milk during weaning. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman AS, Goldblum RM, Garza C. Immunologic components in human milk during the second year of lactation. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Gulick EE. The effects of breastfeeding on toddler health. Pediatr Nurs. 1986 Jan-Feb;12(1):51-4)

  • Increased Protection Against Allergies
Children who were breastfed longer had lower incidence of respiratory allergy than children who were breastfed for a shorter duration or not at all.

(Saarinen UM, Kajosarri M. Breastfeeding as a Prophylactic Against Atopic Disease: Prospective follow-up Study until 17 years old, Lancet 346:1065-1069, 1995.)

  • Higher Intelligence
Studies have shown that children and adults who were breastfed perform better than those who were not breastfed. However, even among those who were breastfed, those who were breastfed for longer durations outperformed those who were breastfed for a shorter period.

(Mortenson EL, MIchaelsen KF, Sanders SA, Reeinisch JM. The association between duration of breastfeeding and adult intelligence. Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2365-2371; and Daniels M C, Adair L S. Breast-feeding influences cognitive development of Filipino children. J Nutr. 135: 2589-2595, 2005)

  • Nature
Anthropologist Katherine Detttwyler notes that the normal duration of breastfeeding among primates ranges from 2.5 to 7 years.

(Dettwyler, Katherine PhD. A time to wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts. 14,1: 3-4. 1994)

Clearly, when it comes to breastfeeding, longer is better! So why do
health caregivers and breastfeeding advocates have a difficult time getting mothers to adhere to the minimum recommendation of breastfeeding for one year?

In contrast, milk companies have convinced the public that children need to be drinking formula even after they've started school. Even though the science fully backs extended breastfeeding, it is the milk companies that are touting outrageous unsubstantiated benefits for their follow-on formulas and growing-up milks.

What can we learn from milk companies so that more children will enjoy the benefits of extended breastfeeding?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Parents Sue Bottle Companies Over BPA

Photo by Hey Paul

Parents Begin Taking Action Over BPA in Feeding Bottles

When news that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) could harm children broke out, we knew it was only a matter of time before parents would take action. Four Ohio parents have sued five baby bottle companies for using BPA even though the companies were aware of its possible danger to children.

In late 2007, a US panel of experts concluded that BPA could pose some risks to developing fetuses and children. The risks include birth defects and developmental problems. The chemical is used in making feeding bottles and sippy cups.

Unfortunately, this issue is little known in developing countries like the Philippines, where a growing number of children are bottle-fed. Formula-feeders as well as those who give expressed breastmilk in bottles should be concerned about their children's exposure to BPA. (Since BPA is also used in DVDs, food cans and other products, all of us are exposed)

The Filipino mothers who are knowledgeable about the issue are upper-middle income women who get information from the Internet and foreign sources. They have told me that the issue of BPA has not figured in Philippine media at all.

Because of their concern, some mothers are switching to glass bottles, which are more expensive. One mother said her family doctor has advised that, when the child is 1 year or older, the feeding bottles no longer have to be sterilized (thanks to formula companies marketing milk for older children, many families in the Philippines continue giving formula to their children well into their school-age years). Not sterilizing is supposed to lessen the exposure to BPA since the chemical apparently leeches at high temperatures.

This is like exchanging one danger for another. Microorganisms multiply rapidly in baby bottles and artificial nipples, even when these have been sterilized.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines (and possibly other countries as well), even health professionals are ill-informed to give the best advice to parents of infants. And the lack of correct information and inadequate support for breastfeeding are causing well-intentioned parents to unwittingly expose their children to danger.

Related article:

BPA: Yet Another Concern for Formula Feeders
Baby Bottle Makers Sued Over Bisphenol A Use

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Letter to the Editor of Inquirer

I sent this letter to the Inquirer on June 1, 2008 after seeing a photo of a bottle-feeding child on the paper's online gallery. For copyright reasons, I am hesitant to post the picture and caption here.

Dear Editor,

I was shocked and dismayed by the photo you chose to accompany a piece on "Walk the World" campaign (Walk the World, photo by AFP/Jay Directo).

After all, the Inquirer supported the stricter implementation of the National Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and is a Hall of Fame Awardee for Child-Friendly Newspaper given by the Philippine Press Institute and Asian Institute of Journalism. And yet you didn't see the irony in showing a bottle feeding child beside an article about world hunger.

How anybody could consider infant formula as adequate nutrition for children is mind-boggling. Infant formula has nutrients with dubious bio-availability, is devoid of antibodies, increases children's risks for diseases until adulthood, and prevents children from attaining their full cognitive potential -- all the while burning big holes in the pockets of the masses.

Indeed, children receiving infant formula are experiencing a form of hunger. They will never be the healthiest, strongest and smartest persons that they could possibly be.

Yours truly,
Alexis Rodrigo
(former UNICEF staff)
Windsor, Ontario

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New labeling guidelines give milk companies an "escape clause"

The Philippines Department of Health has issued new guidelines for the labeling of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes. This, following the approval by the Supreme Court of the revised implementing rules and regulations of EO 51, or the Milk Code.

It would be refreshing to look at cans of powdered infant formula and no longer see health and nutrition claims, which the guidelines now prohibit.

However, it is mind-boggling that the Health Department allowed an alternative message regarding the existence of disease-causing microorganisms in powdered formula. Thus, milk companies must put either this message:

"This product may contain pathogenic microorganisms and must be prepared and used appropriately."

or this message:

"There is likelihood that pathogenic microorganisms will be in this product when it is prepared and used inappropriately."

Which message do you think the milk companies will use?

The first version warns about the possible presence of pathogenic microorganisms regardless of how the product is prepared. The second version attributes the presence of pathogenic microorganisms to wrong preparation and use of the product. Therefore, if pathogenic microorganisms should be found in infant formula, then it is the customer's fault for not following directions.

Disease-causing germs have been found in powdered infant formula because it is impossible to completely sterilize powdered formula. So it can have pathogenic microorganisms even before the can is even opened by the consumer. This is a crucial message that all potential and existing buyers of powdered formula should be aware of.

DOH should remove the alternate message and require milk companies to clearly state that their products are not sterile and could contain bacteria and other microorganisms - substances that could lead to babies' sickness or even death.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster

The breastfeeding world is abuzz with news of a police officer in China who is wet-nursing eight babies, five of them orphaned by the recent earthquake.

Read the story here or here.

Once again, breastfeeding has been proven to save the lives of infants in the aftermath of a disaster.

It bothers me that both news accounts say that the babies were left in an institution that did not have powdered milk, as if that were the more ideal situation. In fact, the use of powdered milk -- in ordinary life but even moreso in a disaster situation -- could be deadly to infants. Imagine the risks involved in feeding powdered milk to babies when clean water is scarce, hygiene is poor and diseases abound! It would be next to impossible to sterilize feeding bottles, artificial nipples and water.

This is why UNICEF and WHO have released a statement stating, "there should be no donations of breast milk substitutes (BMS), such as infant formula, other milk products, bottle-fed complementary foods represented for use in children up to 2 years of age, complementary foods, juices, teas represented for use in infants under six months; and bottles and teats."

The most ideal situation is for infants to be breastfed either by their own mothers or other mothers, such as what Jiang Xiaojuan is doing in China. Unfortunately, the practice of wet-nursing has all but disappeared in many cultures, including rural Philippines. Most people find it weirder for a child to suckle from another woman than from a plastic bottle!

Breastfeeding women who have been traumatized by disaster should receive counseling so that they can resume breastfeeding. But I wonder, how many health and social workers are trained to provide such counseling?

Even if the breastfeeding mother is malnourished and dehydrated, she can still breastfeed. In that case, the mother needs to receive adequate food; it is not necessary to give artificial milk to her baby to make up for the mother's inadequate nutrition.

If artificial feeding is necessary, UNICEF and WHO say that liquid ready-to-use infant formula is the most appropriate, and should be given with a cup and spoon, not bottles and nipples.

Download the official UNICEF and WHO statement here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another study shows breastfeeding and IQ link

Image by flikr

A study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry once again shows the link between breastfeeding and higher IQ.

Hailed as the largest ever randomized trial conducted on lactation, the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) Study found that exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding were associated with higher IQ and teachers' ratings in children 6.5 years old. The study was conducted among 17,046 healthy breast-feeding infants in 31 Belarussian maternity hospitals and their affiliated polyclinics.

The experimental group was subjected to a breastfeeding promotion programme modeled on the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative of WHO and UNICEF, while the control group was subjected to usual hospital/clinic practices. Those in the experimental group were nearly seven times more likely than the control group to still be exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months (43.3% for the experimental group vs. 6.4% for the control group), and were more likety to be breastfeeding at any age up to 12 months.

When followed up 6.5 years later, the experimental group had higher "means on all of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence measures for verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. Teachers' academic ratings were significantly higher in the experimental group for both reading and writing.

The authors concluded that, "These results ... provide strong evidence that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves children's cognitive development."

Click here to read the abstract of the study.

For more on the superiority of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding:

Long-term effects of breastfeeding
A neonatologist tells why to breastfeed
Breastfeed/be breastfed to prevent cancer