MILK: AN ALMOST COMPLETE FOOD FOR BABIES

When someone mentions the word “milk,” what comes to your mind right away?  Milk in cans, those being packed in plastics or cartons, or simply placed in bottles?

Milk is considered to be a complete food.  Nutritionists claim milk contains several important nutrients: a glass of milk gives you calcium, protein, iodine, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins B2, B12 and D, and zinc.

Unfortunately, we Filipinos don’t drink milk just like we do with coffee or soft drinks.  “Milk isn’t traditionally part of the Filipino diet,” said Corazon Cerdena, who conducted the 1997 Formative Research on Milk and Milk Products for Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI).

Perhaps one of the main reasons why we don’t drink milk when we are already teenagers and adults – most of us believe milk is only for children! – is because we really don’t have a dairy industry.

It was revealed during the National Dairy Congress in Camiguin in 2018 that the Philippines import about US$800 million of dairy products each year, with local producers only supplying one percent of demand.

Dairy products are the third-most imported agricultural product in the country – after wheat and soybean.  About 85% of what we import is in powder form.  The powder is then processed into liquid form before it is shipped for local consumption.

The Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report from the United States Department of Agriculture said that 39% of the dairy products we import come from New Zealand.  The United States trailed with 24% and Australia with 6%. 

The first food children ever tasted is milk from their mothers.  Experts usually ask mothers to breastfeed their babies first before using other types of milk.  The reason: mother’s milk has colostrum, which contains antibodies that provide protection to the newborn baby as well as the nutrients and growth factors.

“A woman’s body is a sacred temple,” wrote Suzy Kassem, author of Rise Up and Salute the Sun.  “A work of art, and a life-giving vessel. And once she becomes a mother, her body serves as a medicine cabinet for her infant.  From her milk she can nourish and health her own child from a variety of ailments.”

There’s one good reason why mothers should breastfeed their babies: breast milk can fight diseases, including measles, which has recently staged a comeback after mothers failed to have their babies vaccinated.

“A mother’s milk has what you call antibodies against measles that would give the infant against many diseases.  It’s called passive immunity,” Dr. Robin Navarro, a cellular and biochemical medicine specialist, was quoted as saying by Manila Bulletin.

Dr. Ameleen B. Bangayan, who was one of the organizers of the First International Breastfeeding Conference in Davao City some years back, agreed.  She said mother’s milk “is the optimum source of nutrition” for babies.  Which is why she urged mothers to breastfeed their babies up to six months.

Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, former director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), described breast milk in these words: “The sole truly universal food for the entire human species.”

The WHO, along with two other United Nations agencies – the International Labor Organization (ILO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – said that the breastfeeding rate among mothers in the Philippines has significantly increased.

The three UN agencies cited recent figures released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showing breast-feeding rates to have increased from 36% in 2008 to 47% in 2011.  In addition, the initiation of breast-feeding within one hour of delivery also rose to 52% in 2011 from 32% in 2008.

Some years back, the national breast-feeding rate was only 16%.  Experts believe the low rate was due to advertisements made by the formula milk industry.  It reportedly spent billions of pesos to promote its products through ads in televisions, radios, and newspapers.

“Advertising is the main way that big corporations convince mothers who can breastfeed that the bottle is best,” writes Father Shay Cullen, of Preda Center, in his column.  “It became so effective that breast-feeding dropped and mortality rates for children one to two years old vastly increased.”

A global study showed the Philippines – with 82,000 annual deaths – as one of the countries accounting for 90% of deaths among those under five years old.  The study also disclosed that only 16% of 4- to 5-month-old babies were breastfed exclusively while 30% were formula fed.

Most formula milk ads contain “false medical claims,” to quote the words of Dr. Nicholas Alipui, then UNICEF country representative.  Emphasizing “the vast difference” between breast milk and baby formula, he explained that milk from mothers had superior quality and contained nutrients and antibodies that would help raise children with strong immune systems.

Breast milk is a living substance that is impossible to duplicate or replicate in industry…. No technology is capable of replicating or duplicating mother’s milk. That’s a fact. Any claim to the contrary is a lie,” Dr. Alipui pointed out.

By breastfeeding her baby, a mother can save money.  Filipino mothers spend 21.5 billion pesos a year on infant formula. That’s about 2000 pesos a month per child, according to UNICEF.

As the best source of nutrition for babies, breast milk has been proven many times over that breast milk has components that help protect the child against infection and disease.  

Dr. Nakajima said breast milk, until recently, has served as “a vital link for nutrition and survival across the entire span of human existence, nurturing the newborn, the infant, and the young child during the most vulnerable years, all the while providing a powerful source of protection from infectious disease.”

Breast milk, the United Nations health agency explains, is more than a simple collection of nutrients.  For thousands of years, in all continents, babies have been breastfed for a simple reason: mother’s milk is natural.  

“Mother’s milk is a living substance of great biological complexity that not only provides unique protection against disease, but also stimulates the baby’s own immune system,” the WHO points out.

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, after which “infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out the importance of breastfeeding.  It said: “Extensive research using improved epidemiologic methods and modern laboratory techniques documents diverse and compelling advantages for infants, mothers, families, and society from breastfeeding and use of human milk for infant feeding. These advantages include health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychologic, social, economic, and environmental benefits.”

Breast milk is easily digested by babies, so they don’t have to face the problem of constipation.  Breastfed babies rarely have ear or respiratory system infections, allergies, stomach problems like diarrhea and vomiting.

Children who were breastfed exclusively for at least three months had better intelligence scores later in life than those who received formula, according to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Children who are artificially fed or breastfed for only 6 months or less, are at an increased risk of developing cancer before age 15, according to Dr. M.K. Davis in an article which appeared in Lancet.  The risk of artificially fed children was 1-8 times that of long-term breastfed children, and the risk for short term feeders was 1-9 times that of long-term breast feeders. – ###

(Photos courtesy of UNICEF)