Breast milk is fascinating: It varies in nutrient content from mother to mother, in various stages of pregnancy, at different times of the day, and even during the same feeding! There are several different stages of breast milk production. Early colostrum is first produced around the 20th week of pregnancy (which is why mothers of pre-term infants can provide breast milk for their infants). Colostrum is the yellowish, thicker first milk that a mother makes which is higher in protein and lower in fat and carbohydrates. Despite being produced in very small amounts, it provides everything that a newborn infant needs, including an amazing amount of immunoglobulins that help to provide the infant with its first dose of immunity from its mother. Colostrum changes to transitional milk somewhere around the 4th day postpartum. Transitional milk is higher in lactose (carbohydrate) and fat and lower in protein and immune factors. Breast milk contains a unique protein composition—the dominant protein is easily digestible whey—that explains the need for exclusively breastfed babies to eat so frequently. Transitional milk ultimately becomes mature human milk regulated by supply and demand, meaning that the more the infant demands (or the mother pumps), the more milk the body produces. The nutritional content of mature human milk varies across mothers, timing, and feedings. All in all, breast milk is truly a natural wonder.
We’ve come a long way from 1865, when the first version of a modern infant formula was developed. It was made from cow's milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate; deemed “the perfect infant food,” the formula was first produced as a liquid but ultimately ended up in a powdered form for better preservation. John B. Myerling developed an unsweetened condensed milk (“evaporated milk”) in 1865 that became a popular choice for infant feeding and was highly recommended by pediatricians from the 1930s to the 1940s. Scientific approaches to all aspects of parenting in the first half of the 20th century influenced the continued development of infant formula as more parents used it and more was learned about the vitamins and minerals necessary for infant health.
The creation of the WHO (World Health Organization) Code, also known as the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, in 1981 represented the next biggest step for infant feeding and formula. Following unscrupulous marketing tactics and tragic deaths in developing countries, The World Health Organization and UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) created a set of fourteen regulations, including restriction of formula sample giveaways, direct marketing to mothers, promotion to health professionals, and ensuring warning labels are placed on all formulas to protect vulnerable families. The negative associations with formula heightened the tension between advocates of exclusive breastfeeding and parents who chose to pursue other options. Keeping in mind the specific needs of parents and the variety of parents for whom breastfeeding is not an option, we believe that responsibly-made formula is still a viable choice for feeding today.
With so many infant formulas on the market today, making the best decision for you and your child can seem overwhelming. Though formula can’t provide the antibodies, living cells, enzymes, and hormones of breast milk, there are some basic components that an infant formula should (and should not) contain to provide the ultimate nutritional experience. The purity of every ingredient counts when it comes to introducing nutrition into your child’s vulnerable, developing system, which is why organic ingredients matter. The milk in organic formula comes from cows raised on non-GMO feed, free of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormone injections. The other ingredients in organic formula, like fat blends and carbohydrates, also can’t contain GMOs or other harmful chemicals. There are definitely circumstances where organic is not an option; the health of your child is most important and may require a medical formula instead. Speaking with your baby’s pediatrician honestly and consistently will help guide you to the appropriate feeding solutions. Remember, it’s OK if your feeding plans change: Take a deep breath, find the support and information you need and have confidence in your decisions as you do what’s best for you and your baby.