Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5764 - November 26, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Mother's Milk:
The Best Formula for Baby's Nutrition

by Yonina Hall

With all the talk about infant formula and quality control in baby-food production, why isn't anyone talking about the miraculous system that Hashem created to nourish babies for their first year of life and beyond?

That's what Jessica Billowitz wants to know. Mrs. Billowitz, I.B.C.L.C., a certified lactation consultant in Ramat Beit Shemesh, not only educates women about the basic mechanics of nursing, but tries to dispel the myths circulation among both first-time and veteran mothers.

"One of my goals is to restore the self confidence of women, to show them that they can succeed in nursing," says Mrs. Billowitz. "This is the best thing for both them and their babies. Many times, when a woman starts with the attitude, `Hashem created this process and I want to succeed because it's the most healthy thing I can do,' she's successful, no matter what. She can hire someone to clean her floor or wash her laundry, but only she can nurse her baby."

Understanding the Process

Understanding the process is the first step to success. "It's not mysterious; it doesn't have to do with whether you have or don't have milk," explains the lactation consultant who worked with new mothers at Beit Hachlama Mother and Baby Convalescent Home for four and a half years. "It's just a matter of supply and demand and the laws of science and nature."

Scientific research has found that nursing is even more complex than anyone ever realized. The system basically operates on a supply-and-demand basis: the more the baby needs, the more is produced. Mother's milk is always delivered at the right temperature, and actually changes in nutritional composition as the baby matures. Although some vitamins and minerals are found in lower concentrations compared to fortified infant formula, they are better absorbed. Nursing babies, for example, rarely become anemic. While mother's milk contains lower concentrations of iron than does iron-fortified formula, the iron in mother's milk is better absorbed.

Beyond that, mother's milk contains at least one hundred ingredients which are not found in cow's milk and which can never be duplicated in the laboratory. These include immunological factors, cell-building mechanisms, anti- bacterial components, anti-infection factors and ingredients that improve visual and cognitive development. In general, nursing babies have less colic, upset stomach, constipation and diarrhea and fewer ear infections than do formula-fed babies.

Nursing benefits the mother, as well. Studies show that nursing mothers are at lower risk for developing certain female cancers, R'l. A study that measured IQ in children found that those who drank mother's milk scored higher on the intelligence test than those who were raised on formula. "You'll also find more bottle-fed babies who are overweight," adds Mrs. Billowitz. "That's because you can't force feed a nursing baby. He paces himself -- he takes in less quantity but can go farther with those calories."

Overcoming Difficulties

If nursing is so beneficial for both mother and baby, why don't all women succeed at it?

"Ninety-five percent of mothers have the potential to successfully nurse their babies," the consultant notes. "In three percent of cases, primary lactation failure halts the process. Occasionally, a mother may develop a medical problem, such as hypothyroidism, that may restrict the milk supply. In rare cases, a baby may be born with a soft cleft palate that precludes nursing. However, preemies or other infants who have a hard time establishing lactation due to a weaker suck or difficulty latching on, can nurse successfully with the help of a lactation consultant."

A far more common scenario is the mother who gets discouraged by technical problems that are easy to remedy. She might be misinterpreting her baby's cues. Or she may experience pain or soreness that she thinks is normal, but really isn't. Some women give up because the nursing seems to take too much time. There is also confusion about weight gain, ranging from mothers who think, "So long as I'm nursing, if my baby's not gaining weight, it doesn't matter," to mothers who think, "If he's not gaining weight like the chubbiest bottle-fed baby, I must be giving him skim milk."

Whatever the reason, a lactation consultant can evaluate the nursing process and offer helpful guidelines to make it work, even for mothers who failed with their first six or seven children.

In Eretz Yisroel, the three month maternity leave can set an unrealistic deadline for nursing. "A mother recently asked me, `How do I get my baby onto a bottle, because I want to get him off nursing by three months?'" relates one pediatrician in disbelief. New mothers who must return to work can successfully nurse at home and prepare bottles of mother's milk for their baby to drink while they're away.

One should be wary of alternative-medicine supplements or herbs that promise to boost milk production. The drug called Motilium is actually a prescription drug that is given after everything else has failed. "It's sometimes used if a mother has a severe preemie and hasn't even begun to nurse her baby, and then her milk supply drops after three months of pumping," Mrs. Billowitz says. "It is not for the average mother who thinks she doesn't have enough milk."

A confusing array of information and advice bombards nursing mothers from all sides. They may hear one thing from their doctor, another from hospital nurses, another from Tipat Chalav clinic nurses and another from friends who "had the same problem."

"A mother should choose one expert to listen to, rather than taking advice from fifteen different people and being confused," Mrs. Billowitz advises. "Sometimes I find I do mothers the biggest service because they can call me all year long to discuss nursing and related issues such as growth spurts, weaning and starting solids."

Not everyone who gives nursing advice is qualified to do so. To qualify for certification from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, a candidate must first complete a minimum of 2,500 contact hours under supervision, which takes years to accrue. There are currently 44 I.B.C.L.C. -- certified lactation consultants in Eretz Yisrael, including a number of Shomer Shabbos professionals. La Leche League and the Israel Childbirth Education Center (a branch of the National Childbirth Trust of Great Britain) also demands rigorous training before certifying lactation consultants.

Introducing Solids

Only a decade ago, doctors advised nursing mothers to start their babies on solids at two months of age. Today, major health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization acknowledge that mother's milk is the best thing for a baby for at least twelve months.

These organizations now recommend introducing solids sometime in the middle of the first year. Mother's milk will still be the main food and solids will be supplementary between the ages of six and twelve months. After the first birthday, solid food will become primary and mother's milk supplementary until the child is weaned. Here, too, a certified lactation consultant can evaluate individual needs and desires to make nursing the most enjoyable and rewarding experience for both mother and baby.

Jessica Billowitz can be reached at 02-999-9979


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