by Amy Spangler
September 06, 2010
At a time when health care organizations are struggling to increase breastfeeding rates—particularly rates of exclusivity—it seems unconscionable for researchers to suggest that breastfed babies be given cow’s milk-based formula during the first 14 days after birth simply as a means for reducing the risk of intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk protein (CMP). And yet, that’s exactly what researchers at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Zerifin, Israel are suggesting based on the results of a recent study funded by the Israel Dairy Board.
More than 13,000 babies born over a two-year period (2004-2006) at a hospital in Zerifin, Israel participated in the study. Mothers choosing to breastfeed were encouraged to continue; those choosing to formula-feed or to combine breastfeeding and formula-feeding were instructed to use a cow’s milk-based formula. Mothers were asked to contact the clinic 14 to 30 days after introducing formula—or sooner if their babies developed any symptoms of intolerance or allergy such as colic, diarrhea, wheezing, or skin rash. If the mothers did not contact the clinic within three months, they were contacted by a member of the research team. Contacts continued at two month intervals until babies were no longer exclusively breastfeeding. Babies (144) not exposed to CMP during the first year were excluded from the study. A skin prick test was used to confirm a diagnosis of cow’s milk allergy (CMA).
Calculating the cost of cow’s milk
Early introduction of cow’s milk-based formula may result in greater tolerance for CMP and less CMA, but at what cost? Lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding, shorter duration of breastfeeding, and a higher incidence of ear infections, upper respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal infections seem like a high price to pay to drink another mammal’s milk.
Given that the incidence of CMA is small, the results of this study beg the question—if giving babies CMP early and often is the only way to reduce the risk for intolerance and CMA, why not just avoid CMP altogether? Perhaps humans were never meant to drink cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, or any other mammal’s milk.
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