Evidence is mounting that the challenges of breastfeeding at work can have negative consequences for mother and baby. But new moms don’t have to choose between their career and their commitment to breastfeeding, thanks to new initiatives to support nursing in the workplace.
Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as DHA are essential nutrients required for normal health, growth and development. Increasing evidence shows that feeding infants breast milk with a higher DHA content improves their vision and neuro-development.
So, does educating mothers about the DHA levels in their milk have any impact on those levels? Numerous studies have found a link between maternal intake of DHA (through diet and supplements) and increased DHA levels in breast milk. A study in South Dakota examined 84 women who were educated about their DHA levels and looked at the resulting impact on the DHA levels in their milk.
Breastfeeding has long been known to positively impact the health and immune systems of babies, but now new research is uncovering the power of breastfeeding in helping to prevent long term illnesses including asthma, allergies, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes and obesity.
The New York Times reports that many studies have strongly suggested that the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the human body influence our current and future health and may account for the rising incidence of several serious medical conditions.
Low levels of B vitamins in breastfeeding mothers can translate into low levels in their babies, and may slow growth in the early stages of life.
That's the conclusion of a paper analyzing the scientific research on the topic by Lindsey H. Allen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A lack of data places some limits on these conclusions, as much of the evidence is from the world's poorest areas where malnutrition is prevalent. But the overall picture points to an urgent need to improve the information available on breast milk quality.
Poor maternal status of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and choline, causes the concentrations of these nutrients to be low in breast milk and the infant to become deficient.
Mothers with a low intake of animal source foods are at higher risk of nutrient deficiency, especially for riboflavin and vitamin B-12. Inadequate intake of thiamin and vitamins B-6 and B-12 could contribute to reducing babies' growth in the first year of life.
Taking supplements during lactation rapidly increases the concentrations of thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 in milk, but increases in vitamin B-12 levels are small even when high doses are given to the mother for 2 months.
The first month of a baby's life is thought to be a special period of vulnerability to vitamin B12 deficiency as it can be linked to poor neurodevelopment and slow growth.
Nutrient deficiency is usually not an issue for mothers consuming a healthy diet, but since animal products are the main dietary source of Vitamin B-12, vegetarians should be careful about deficient vitamin B-12 levels.
“Uncertainty over the nutrient composition of breast milk is what led me to develop a test for exactly what is in it,“ said Lactation Lab founder Stephanie Canale, M.D.
"While breast milk of mothers consuming a healthy diet is typically nutritious, special diets and other factors can result in less than optimal nutrition for the baby. Lactation Lab’s test kits and followup recommendations are designed to help ensure that a mother’s breast milk is the best it can be.”
Mothers who are concerned about the nutrient composition of their breast milk can use Lactation Lab's test kit to find out whether they need to adjust or supplement their diet.
The live active cultures found in yogurt and probiotics have been shown to promote healthy gut bacteria in adults, with positive effects on digestion and bowel regularity.
A new study suggests that consumption of probiotics by mothers may also be beneficial for their breastfeeding babies.
In a study of 57 moms, those that took a daily probiotic supplement had higher levels of iron, calcium and other nutrients in their breast milk than those that did not. Their babies also gained slightly more weight. The experimental group was supplemented with two synbiotic capsules containing different probiotic strains 30 minutes after dinner for 30 days.
UCLA physician Stephanie Canale recommends breastfeeding mothers take a probiotic, such as PRO-Women from Hyberbiotics.
For mothers who want to see how their diet affects their breastfeeding babies, Dr. Canale has developed a simple breast milk test that measures levels of iron and calcium and other nutrients.
“I developed these tests as I was concerned about my own breastfed baby gaining weight fast enough. Now we are delighted to offer these tests to any breastfeeding mother, from the comfort of their own home.”
A recent study by Healthy Baby Bright Futures finds that infant baby cereal contains six times as much arsenic as other cereals.
While arsenic is strictly regulated in drinking water, it is legal in any amount in infant rice cereal. It is a potent human carcinogen and a neurotoxin shown to permanently reduce children’s IQ.
Arsenic is also found in higher concentrations in brown rice and rice milk, leaving us to wonder whether there is any risk to breastfeeding babies if the mother consumes large amounts of brown rice or rice milk.
“Infants are especially vulnerable because their bodies are so small, and on a per-pound basis, they’re getting much higher exposure than anyone else in the population,” HBBF research director Jane Houlihan told the New York Times. “They’re also vulnerable because it is a neurotoxic compound, and their brain is developing.”
The study’s sponsors, an alliance of scientists, nonprofit groups and private donors that aims to reduce children’s exposures to chemicals that may harm developing brains, recommends choosing these cereals instead of rice cereal: oatmeal, mixed grain, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and wheat.
“As a precaution, I recommend breastfeeding mothers limit consumption of rice products,”- Stephanie Canale, MD, founder of Lactation Lab and a practicing family physician at UCLA.
Consumer Reports says rice eaters seeking to minimize their exposure to arsenic should choose either white basmati or sushi rice from California, India or Pakistan, or brown basmati from the same origins. Further tips for reducing consumption of arsenic through rice can be found here.
As an added layer of security, Lactation Lab’s Premium Test Kit detects and measures levels of arsenic and other toxins in a mother’s breast milk, all from the comfort of her own home.
“Our tests revealed elevated levels of arsenic in one breastfeeding mother’s milk, which we believe originated from regular rice consumption at dinnertime,” said Dr. Canale. “With this information, she was able to adjust her diet to limit the risk of arsenic in her milk.”