What is the role of formula milk, given that the World Health Organisation’s advice is that mothers breastfeed for at least six months?
There are many documented benefits to breastfeeding, but fewer than two in ten mothers in Britain manage to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. Situations such as long labours and delivery by C-section may make it impossible for a mother to breastfeed her baby, or the amount of milk she can provide may not be solely adequate for her growing baby’s needs. Some babies, such as those with tongue-tie, may struggle to latch-on and take their mum’s milk. A whole host of circumstances means we have to have closely matched alternatives to breast milk available, to assist those babies and mothers that need a nutritional feed.
What should a parent be looking for in an infant formula?
Ideally, a formula should contain ingredients that help it come as close to breast milk’s nutritional composition as it can. After all, mother nature made breast milk the gold standard that all formula milks should aspire to mirror. Parents should be looking for the next best alternative.
So how close is formula milk to being the next best alternative?
This really depends on your choice. There are now new options available, so if you are moving your baby on to infant formula, you need to do a little bit of homework. After years of formula milks being much of a muchness, parents may now find significant differences, if they read the labels.
What are these new differences?
While most infant formulas produced over the last few decades, purely for cost reasons, have used skimmed milk in their recipe, and then topped this up with vegetable oil, including palm oil, to provide babies with the energy that should come from the cream of the milk, new British brand, Kendamil, uses a full-cream recipe, to offer energy the natural way. This is just how formulas used to be in our grandparents’ time. Experts now believe that formulas like this, which contain full-cream nutrients, may better mirror breast milk, because the fat content of full-cream cow’s milk is closer to that of human milk.
What are full-cream nutrients?
To put it very simply, you could call them ‘fatty acids’ and there are around 400 of them in dairy milk fat. These are our diet’s main source of energy. Fatty acids do great work within our digestive systems, helping us to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K into our bloodstream. They then look after the health of our cells and tissue, as well as keeping our gut healthy, giving us good digestion, protecting against heart disease, and helping to absorb calcium and other minerals.
Are there any other benefits of full-cream milk for little ones?
Yes, there are. Full-cream cow’s milk contains a good range of B vitamins, including B2 (Riboflavin) and B12. It also contains minerals – iodine, potassium and phosphorus – and choline, which greatly assists with a newborn’s development.
Is there anything else we should look for on the ingredients label?
Definitely. Whilst we are all used to reading the ingredients list on everything from yoghurt pots to butter-substitute tubs, we sometimes fail to focus on what’s inside our baby’s infant formula tin. Many parents just don’t realise that the majority of infant formulas contain palm oil – something that causes environmentalists to get hot under the collar, because of the way in which the harvesting of palm oil destroys rainforests and the natural habitats of some species. Similarly, parents may not wish to be feeding their child fish oils, particularly when there are alternative sources of Omega 3 and 6, such as pure marine, natural algae, as used in Kendamil.
What is the latest thinking about formula milk?
In recent years, scientists including Dr Emma Derbyshire, Bernadette Delplanque and Charlotte Baudry, Claire Bourlieu and Karima Bouzerzour and J Bruce German and Cora J Dillard, have focused on a distinct structural difference between palmitic acid from palm oil and palmitic acid occurring naturally in human and full-cream cow’s milk. They have suggested that making use of the ‘wrong’ palmitic acid could cause some health issues for babies.
Palmitic acid from human and full-cream cow’s milk helps a little one’s digestion and the intake of nutrients, but palmitic acid from palm oil has a different structure to that in human and cow’s milk and this is thought to lead to what is described as ‘soaping’ in a baby’s intestines. The baby is said to be unable to absorb palmitic acid in this form and the acid reacts with the calcium in the infant milk, causing the unwelcome soaping reaction that is likely to leave your little one rather grizzly. As calcium, derived from milk, is not absorbed properly, a baby’s bone development could be hampered. Scientists also associate the use of palm oil in formulas with harder stools and reduced energy in the infants they have studied.
Therefore, the thinking is that using a cow’s milk fat formula, rather than a formula exclusively using vegetable oils, improves the digestive effect.
Food traceability is important to the consumer. Does provenance and traceability exist in the world of formula milk?
Again, traditionally the answer is ‘no’. Most big-brand infant formula brands have long been manufactured in unknown factories across Europe, even though many parents believe them to be British. The only British-manufactured brand is ‘Kendamil’, made in Kendal – the gateway to the Lake District. It is the only supermarket brand that highlights its provenance, as it is made in a factory in Kendal, which has been making infant formula since 1962 and which has been a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for infant formula. Kendamil’s dairy fat nutrients come from milk provided by 220 farms across the English Lake District – many within what is now a World Heritage site – and this gives it esteemed ‘Red Tractor’ accreditation. Unfortunately, there is no legislation in place in Britain that asks the big European manufacturers to state where their formula is made and formula manufacturers are not legally bound to declare where their formula is manufactured. If you believe ‘British is Best’, the only British-made choice is Kendamil.
Kendamil, based in the Lake District, has produced premium quality infant formula, follow-on baby milk and cereals for over 50 years.
See also: Your Baby’s First Six Months