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Hopefully, we have just had our final encounter with the health visitor!!!

We are at the one year mark (already) and a check up was in order according to the NHS guidelines.  So far we have managed six months of exclusive breast feeding, we have continued and plan to continue breast feeding for a good while longer and we have hit the 50th percentile consistently at every weigh in…

I feel proud of our achievements, as any parent would…

So why did I leave that check up feeling so agitated?

There was not one word of praise for reaching our breastfeeding milestone, in fact  the health visitor tried several times to push a pint of cows milk a day at us, then she tried to shove multi-vitamin at us and finally told me that he needs to eat more than the three meals and two snacks a day that he already feasts upon.

The reason?

“Well if he was drinking formula milk he would be getting all of the vitamins and minerals he needs.”

Aarrhggh…What kind of support is that?  There was nothing about the little guy to suggest he was in ‘need’ of anything!  She clearly wasn’t listening to anything I had told her about his healthy appetite and seemed concerned that I was just forcing breast milk for my own agenda.

I had a rant to a fellow boob-a-holic mum, she had received similar advice, that breast milk is nutritionally redundant at one year, ooh my blood is boiling!

So where is this information coming from?

The WHO recommends breast feeding for at least two years. It is widely recognised that breast milk past 12 months still passes immunity and nutrition to the child, it provides comfort and security to the child and for the bonus point, extended feeding increases protection against breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis in mothers.  Why would I even consider stopping now?

The WHO summarise that breast milk is the natural first food for babies:

  • It provides 100% of the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life.
  • It provides up to 50% or more of a child’s nutritional needs between 6-12 months.
  • It provides up to 33% of a child’s energy and nutritional needs during the second year of life.

As for the nutritional composition of breast milk past 12 months, there is little documented research, but it does exist.  Nothing spectacular happens at 12 months that reduces breast milk to water.  I was curious about the nutritional content when I expressed some milk recently…The milk in the bottle just seemed different to me, it seemed richer, creamier and thicker, it didn’t separate into the two layers that I was familiar with earlier on in his life…I found a little bit of info that went some way to explain why…

Research shows that the fat and energy content of milk over the one year mark to be significantly higher than in milk at the 2-6 month mark.  Good news in the full fat cows milk war that was being waged on me!

Anyway, as this woman was so intent on selling me shares in her dairy farm, I thought I would take a look at this wonder milk of the cows to see how it compares to breast milk in its composition and content.

Milk Crate With Cow

Fat

Starting with the fat content of milk, medical professionals seem keen to get a whole lot of whole milk into growing children…by that I mean full fat, regular milk, cheese, yoghurt etc.  The reason being that babies and children grow so rapidly, they need to meet their calorie intake in the form of fat, 1g of fat has more than double the amount of calories of 1g of protein or carbohydrate.  It is also an essential part of the formation and development of the brain

Breast milk has up to 5% fat.

Whole cows milk on average has 3.25% fat.

Good but not quite as fatty as my specialist supply!

Carbohydrate

The main carb in breast milk is lactose.  At around 7% the carbohydrate content provides around 40% of the total amount of calories from breast milk.

Cows milk comes in at just over 4% lactose.

Good but not as good as my personal milk stash.

Protein

This is an interesting one.  Cows milk seems to pull ahead in the competition on this one with just over 3% protein content compared to the 1% of breast milk.

How these percentages are made up is the interesting bit…

Breast milk is split 60% whey, 40% casein.

Cows milk is split 20% whey, 80% casein.

It is the unique balance of proteins in human milk which is easy to digest, whey in particular being most suited to little people.  Importantly it is less taxing on the kidneys and stomach.

Once again breast milk seems best balanced and is more than adequate for a growing child based on protein composition.  Another point to mothers milk!

Vitamins

Vitamin content seems to be directly related to mothers intake, so babies can become deficient in a few areas.  In particular:

  1. Vitamin B12
  2. Thiamin
  3. Folate
  4. Vitamin D

It is important to keep taking a vitamin supplement to keep these levels up, however vitamin D is usually always deficient in mothers milk.  Cows milk is usually always fortified with vitamin D.

For this reason, and the fact that sunshine needed for the body to make vitamin D, I will probably introduce some vitamin drops to the little guy to keep his vit D levels up.

Minerals

Human Milk Cow’s Milk Formula
Calcium (mg/100 ml) 27 124 46
Phosphorus (mg/100 ml) 15 93 32
Sodium (mEq/100 ml) .7 2.1 .8
Zinc (mg/100 ml) .27-.07 .4 .5
Iron (mg/100 ml) 0.04 .0.05 0.11 (1.28)

I found this table of mineral content courtesy of nutritioncare.org as well as the following piece of info:

Interestingly as with all vitamins and minerals in breast milk, they are highly bioavailable (better absorption &/or conservation). So even at lower concentrations than in cows milk, human milk generally meets the mineral requirements for normal infants. (Levels added to formulas are higher to compensate for the less favourable absorption.)

The relatively low protein, sodium, potassium, and chloride levels in human milk also place the kidneys under less of a load than cows milk or formula, which is beneficial to the underdeveloped organs while they mature.

Concentrations of minerals in human milk generally decline over time, probably due to slower growth rate of the child, of course this reduces the demand on mothers body so she can start to replenish her own reserves.

Conclusion

It seems that extended breast feeding has many benefits and advantages, for both mother and baby.  I am ready to answer anyone who questions my choice to continue feeding the little guy, I may even go back to the health visitor and baffle her with some of the science!!!

I will definitely be looking for a vitamin D supplement for him to take, but I certainly will not be too worried about the amount of cows milk he is getting as my milk is as good as, if not better for him than any homogenised, pasteurised, fortified cows milk.  A good varied diet for mother and baby and my milk on demand should be just fine!

So have you had any negative experiences about extended breast feeding.  Have you ever started to doubt the quality of your supply?  Please let me know and leave your comments below.

  1. mummyflyingsolo says:

    What a great resource you have here! Awesome research. I had a similar issue not because we were still breastfeeding but because I switched to a non dairy milk (we use oat milk normally) due to dairy issues. People were very funny about it. The only thing I am curious about in your notes is boost to the immune system post 6mths. As far as I was aware breast milk is of little to no benefit in this area after the 6 month mark. Do you know any more with certainty?

    • wildandwisdom says:

      Thank you for your kind comment! You make an interesting point that I considered myself at the six month mark. In fact babies are born with a supply of their own antibodies via the placenta, boosted by that first exposure to colostrum…Mothers milk is constantly passing immune factors over to baby during those first six months, but especially past the six month mark, babies own reserves start to dwindle, so the milk is even more important.
      As you probably know, breast milk is constantly changing and custom designed…so when baby picks up a new germ, mum starts making the antibodies to pass over via her milk…Breast milk is important from an immunity point of view right up until baby has totally developed their own immune system which may not happen until around 3 years of age (some people say up to 14 years).

      • mummyflyingsolo says:

        Wow that is really interesting! Thank you for giving me the deets. I only went to 6 months with my bub (combination of factors but one of those probably being that I didn’t enjoy it that much either AND was of the understanding that post 6 months the immunity stuff wasn’t there so that had been my goal). I think for future babies I would like to try going longer. Good luck! And don’t let anyone bully you. You give your kid whatever you feel works for you.

  2. Valerie says:

    I think it’s terrible that the rumor about breastmilk being of little to no nutritional value at one year is still going around. :(
    I appreciate this post. It’s nice to know what the truth is! Samuel is 22 months, a somewhat picky eater, but a great breastfeeder. He is growing wonderfully so I am not concerned about what he could be getting if he were on cow’s milk full-time. I do give him yogurt, cheese, and a cup or so of organic vanilla cow’s milk (as a treat) each day.
    Thankfully, his pediatrician has never suggested anything other than breastmilk because she knows I am a b/f’ing advocate, and have never done formula. 😉 I believe I’d have to switch doctors if there was milk/formula being pushed at us!

    • wildandwisdom says:

      There is so much false info out there it is really confusing. Even as an educated, breast feeding advocate, I still find myself confused sometimes. I do feel more confident in the nutritional value of my milk now at least. Great job feeding little Samuel for 22 months, hope I get that much time feeding mine!!

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