A Review of the Medical Benefits and Contraindications to Breastfeeding in the United States

Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., 1997.

(Maternal and Child Health Technical Information Bulletin). Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health

In any statement about breastfeeding and breastmilk (human milk), it is important first to establish breastmilk’s distinct and irreplaceable value to the human infant. Breastmilk is more than just good nutrition. Human breastmilk is specific for the needs of the human infant just as the milk of thousands of other mammalian species is specifically designed for their offspring. The unique composition of breastmilk provides the ideal nutrients for human brain growth in the first year of life.

Cholesterol, desoxyhexanoic acid, and taurine are particularly important. Cholesterol is part of the fat globule membrane and is present in roughly equal amounts in both cow milk and breastmilk. Maternal dietary intake of cholesterol has no impact on breastmilk cholesterol content. The cholesterol in cow milk, however, has been removed in infant formulas. These elements are readily available from breastmilk, and the essential nutrients in breastmilk are readily transported into the infant’s bloodstream. The bioavailability of essential nutrients (including the microminerals) means that there is great efficiency in digestion and absorption. Comparison of the biochemical percentages of breastmilk and infant formula fails to reflect the bioavailability and utilization of constituents in breastmilk compared to modified cow milk (from which only a small fraction of some nutrients is absorbed).

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