The truth about formula milk

Breastfeeding may be best for baby but it can also be painfully difficult to get the hang of at first: small wonder that without the right support from professionals, peer group and sometimes their partners, about 40 per cent of women give up, putting their offspring on the bottle by the age of six weeks.

Are formula milks good enough for our children? They certainly got a bad press this weekend, when the Department of Health ordered the withdrawal from sale of Milupa's Milumil for Hungrier Bottle Fed Babies, a brand which is fed to about 25,000 British infants, after it was linked by a government study with a rare form of salmonella. The study found that of 12 children who suffered salmonella anatum between last October and earlier this month, at least 10 had used Milumil, against just three or four in the control group.

A previous scare occurred in May last year when nine brands of infant feed tested by the Ministry of Agriculture were found to contain phthalates, chemicals which in animal tests have been found to reduce fertility. Many health professionals are now calling for better quality control of formula milks, although admittedly incidents such as the one involving salmonella are rare. As for the phthalates, studies have shown that breast milk also contains substances that mimic natural hormones. Whether these chemicals present a risk at the levels found in either breast milk or formula is still under discussion.

The main problem with formula milk is that it is based on cows' milk - great for calves but, with too little sugar, too much protein and sodium, and the wrong kind of fat, not the ideal food for babies. However, unlike the old National Dried Milk - which contained so many excess minerals that babies found it difficult to excrete the surplus, and which was withdrawn in 1977 - today's powdered milk is modified to resemble breast milk as closely as possible: protein, sodium and calcium are reduced, butter fat is replaced by vegetable fats, and lactose and essential vitamins and minerals are added.

But despite these changes, formula milk remains qualitatively different from breast milk, lacking many of the substances which make it so beneficial. Unlike the latter it does not have antibodies which protect against infection, particularly gastroenteritis and respiratory illness. Nor does it contain enzymes such as lipase which help the digestion of fat, resulting in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins; or lactoferrin, a substance which binds iron so that the bacteria cannot get at it, and which also confers protection against infection.

There are other important, and less well-known, differences between breast and bottle. Formula, for example, cannot adjust itself during a feed, so that the baby first gets foremilk, which satisfies thirst, and then the richer hindmilk which satisfies appetite. It cannot imitate the breast milk of an individual mother, designed for her baby alone, and which varies in composition: containing more water and less fat in hot weather, for example.

Perhaps most important, most formula milks still do not contain the long- chain polyunsaturated fats, or LCPs, which are found in breast milk and which have been linked in various studies to optimum neurological development. Although LCPs are added to formula for premature babies, so far only two manufacturers, Milupa and Farleys, have launched a brand for full-term babies with added LCPs, derived from either egg or fish oils.

Despite the advantages of breast milk, some women will still choose to bottle-feed. Those who do so should first try a whey-based brand rather than the casein-based ones for hungrier babies, because the former resemble breast milk more closely. Soy-based formula, thought by some doctors to protect against allergy, has been found to contain phytoestrogens, another group of hormones linked to infertility in animals. Although soy formula is not thought to pose a risk to infants, it should only be used on medical grounds or after consultation with a doctorn

Cherrill Hicks

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition