March 17, 2013 by NATASHA LONGO

Many new mothers are opting for alternative milks over breast milk as the primary nutrition for their newborn. Children up to the age of one that are fed beverages other than breast milk are at risk of becoming malnourished, the French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has warned.

In a notice posted on its website, titled ANSES emphasizes the risks linked to feeding infants alternative milk products other than breast milk, the agency urged parents not to feed these products to children under the age of one as a breast milk alternative.

“It’s important for new parents to understand how toxic some beverages such as soy milk or soy-based infant formula are for a newborn whose digestive system can neither process or obtain the necessary nutrients from these alternatives, especially if they are replacing breast milk,” said Dr. Simone Prevost while commenting on the ANSES report.

According to ANSES, infants fed these drinks are at a higher risk of becoming malnourished suffering from metabolic disorders.

The French food safety authority made the claim following a risk assessment of these alternative milk products. It commenced its investigation after concerns were raised about young children being fed products other than breast milk.

Premature babies may especially benefit from breast milk because it’s “twice as good as formula” at providing not only nutrients but antioxidant protection as well, according to a study presented at an Experimental Biology meeting.

On the back of the assessment, ANSES has recommended that children under the age of one should not be fed vegetable milk products — including soy, rice and almond milk — or milk from goats, donkeys, sheep, or horses as an alternative to breast milk.

Do Not Meet Infant Nutritional Needs

“Following reports of more severe cases in very young children who were partially or totally fed drink other than breast milk substitute, ANSES conducted an assessment of the risks associated with feeding these products to infants from birth up to one-year of age,” said the translated ANSES notice.

Scientists at Duke University Medical Center have described exactly what unique properties make a mother’s milk better than infant formula in protecting infants from infections and illnesses.

The finding, published in an issue of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science, explains how breast milk, but not infant formula, fosters colonies of microbiotic flora in a newborn’s intestinal tract that aid nutrient absorption and immune system development.

Following its assessment, the French regulatory body revealed that these products do not meet infant nutritional needs. According to ANSES, any insufficient intake of calories, protein and amino acids, fats, or minerals can affect the growth and brain development of an infant.

“Within a few weeks, such practices may indeed cause under-nourishment and metabolic disorders, which can lead to severe infectious complications and even death of the child,” said the notice.

“ANSES therefore considers that these products should not be used, either exclusively or even partially, in children under the age of one,” said the notice.

Growing numbers still incorrectly believe that infant formula is as good as breast milk, while more are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with mothers breast-feeding their infants in public, the CDC said.

“The findings underscore the need to educate the general public that breast-feeding is the best method of feeding and nurturing infants,” Dr. Rowe Li and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta wrote in an issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

“Given the seriousness of deficiency in infants, even temporary, ANSES considers that these products should not be used in children less than one year,” it added.

“Not made for children…”

The notice added that while there is nothing hazardous about these vegetable milk or non-bovine milk products, they were just “not made for children” under a certain age.

“Commonly consumed beverages such as plant milks or non-bovine milks were not made for children under the age of one,” said ANSES.

The longer a mother breast-feeds, the higher the fat and energy content of her breast milk. “The constituents of fat and human milk are very different than what we provide in formula today. One of the most important constituents of human milk is cholesterol. Formula does not,” said Dr. Ruth Lawrence, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and a member of the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breast-feeding. “There are many people who think that probably one of the problems with cholesterol today occurs because infants have not had any cholesterol in the first few months of life; perhaps the body doesn’t learn to deal with it. There are studies that show that young adults have much lower cholesterol levels if they were breast-fed than if they were bottle-fed.”

“The analysis conducted by ANSES shows that while there is nothing inherently dangerous about these products, they do not fully cover the nutritional needs of the infant.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast-feeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.

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