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Dr Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant


More on prebiotics in human milk

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 5:40 PM
What is so sad is that advertising of artificial infant milk, in which claims are made about additives, encourage parents to switch to these products and stop or reduce breastfeeding.  What that means is that the babies then receive greatly REDUCED prebiotics and less of other protective factors. Let's just look at one major component of human milk, oligosaccharides, which serve as one of the prebiotics in breastmilk. They are there in a variety of different sorts, and they are there in a large amount.
1) The lowest count I've seen of the variety of oligosaccharides in human milk is 130. So that means at least 130.  When oligosaccharides are added artificially to toddler milks and artificial baby milks for younger  babies ("formula"), only a very few of these can be added. Think of these additives as more of a condiment than as the main course, i.e. a small amount.
2) Oligosaccharides are the third most common ingredient in human milk. In artificial infant milks ("formula") and toddler milks there are only traces, and when some brands use them as additives in their products, they are nowhere near as high a proportion or as wide-ranging in type as they are in human milk. Switching from breastmilk to factory-made milks actually reduces the amount and variety of oligosaccarides the baby eats. (The advertisements don't admit this.)
Sadly, I see people leaving supermarkets and in Post Offices with a large number of cans of an Australian-made artificial baby "formula" that they are sending - in bulk - to family and friends in China. They really care about the babies and want to avoid the tragedy of the contaminated artificial "formula" of a few years ago -  and slick marketing constantly tells them that these products are " better". It is so sad to see these products sent at great cost and the babies getting a food that doesn't have the important and protective ingredients that come naturally (and for free) in breastmilk.
I have put some references in an earlier post and you might like to check them out. Here's another one:
_ Table 2 in, Perrin MT et al. Journal of Human Lactation 2013; 29(3): 341-349. This useful table is on p. 342.

Categories: More on prebiotics in human milk

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Reply Glutathione Detox Booster
3:56 PM on August 30, 2018 
As much as possible breastfeeding should be only the source of food for babies for the first 6 months and even until 2 years.
Reply Virginia
7:27 AM on September 14, 2018 
Thank you for quoting the current, 21st century guidelines for infants, which are based on evidence from a number of studies. These guidelines have been reviewed since they were originally released, and the advice still stands.
In the past, people followed custom and gave babies "dibs and dabs" of food very early, creating a risk of choking. It is amazing what concoctions well-meaning people put in tiny baby's mouths for no good reason, other than to share or perhaps as their way of showing love, or simply because it was cheap. (However, rich families thought expensive treats were suitable.) It is interesting to read what was being given to babies, and at what ages, in a famous Essay by Dr William Cadogan in 1748. This was reprinted many times. Among other practices, Cadoogan described the very rich creamy (fatty) food given to little babies by richer families, and its bad effects on the digestion.
My own historical research has found that in colonial Australia in the years around 1870, babies who were boarded out, as their very poor mothers had to work, were fed some very unsuitable foods from an early age. Coroners' inquests into infant deaths reported medical evidence of the unfortunate babies' stomach contents at post mortem. That often proved that what they were fed was often different from what the woman caring for the baby claimed she was using. For instance, stomachs "stuffed with" bread and "farinaceous" (cereal-based) foods, especially cornflour. Boiled bread-and-milk, sweetened with sugar, was often used in England and Australia, and not just for the children of the poor.
In London in the 1880s/1890s, babies of mothers who worked in the family's shop often fed their babies on cornflour or arrowroot, and no matter how large the quantities, they were always hungry as these substances were low in calories. This was described in a series of lectures on paediatrics by Dr W. Cheadle at the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.
Guidelines today are based on better knowledge. And we know that complementary foods (solids) aren't needed as early as people used to think. Now, breastfeeding is the priority, and for babies not being breastfed - for whatever reason - there are standards for what goes into artificial infant formula.
The reason why public health officials and governments were promoting breastfeeding in the early 1900s was not because "everyone" was doing it, but because many mothers weren't.