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Transcript of “The lack of iron in breast milk is really not a problem”
One of the things you hear experts “worrying” about, is the iron concentration of breast milk.
In a nutshell, it’s LOW. And with time it becomes LOWER.
The rubber hits the road somewhere between 4-6 months, when some babies, RUN OUT.
The problem with low iron levels
Running out, means the little one has iron deficiency. A problem, but not a crisis.
The CRISIS happens, when baby just doesn’t have enough iron, to make enough haemoglobin. This leads to shortages of red blood cells and iron deficiency anaemia. Since red bloods cells transport oxygen all over the body.
The shortage of red blood cells, means body parts are not getting enough oxygen.
Oxygen is absolutely essential, it is needed to burn fuel i.e. get energy. Cells not getting enough energy, are in BIG TROUBLE. Cells particularly vulnerable are brain cells.
Iron shortages can interfere with brain development.
This is serious !
So…………….. worrying about iron, is important.
But, as with many things in nature, it is complicated.
Iron is a goldilocks nutrient
Remember the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Dad’s porridge was TOO HOT. Mom’s porridge was TOO COLD. But baby bear’s porridge, was JUST RIGHT.
Iron levels need to be JUST RIGHT.
And, Mother Nature left to her own devices……. get’s it JUST RIGHT.
She gifts baby with an iron endowment at birth. A newborn baby has lots of iron, around 94 mg/kg, if you don’t count the fat. On paper, this should be enough to keep baby going, until baby starts to eat complementary foods.
Which……………….. in the distant past, would NOT have been bowls of baby porridge, but iron-rich meat. Seriously, we’re designed to be meat eaters.
But, why didn’t she just keep sending iron to baby, via breast milk ?
The benefits of low iron
She could of……
On paper, Mom’s have enough to share. But they don’t.
Why not ?
Because, TOO MUCH iron, can be just as problematic for junior as, TOO LITTLE. The problem with TOO MUCH iron, is it available to feed, baby and company.
Baby and company…
The company we’re worried about, are the bacteria living in the gut.
The good guys, actually don’t need iron. The not so good guys, do. The more iron that is around, the more “bad” guys, take up residence.
And, as baby becomes mobile and starts eating complementary foods, the odds of encountering real nasties……………. increases. Since an influx of these “nasties” can precipitate a bout of diarrhoea, which can lead to significant fluid loss, causing dehydration etc.
Remember, a tummy upset, often ends up, being life threatening for a baby.
Keeping the number of “nasties” to a minimum, is SMART THINKING.
Unfortunately, we don’t always think SMARTLY.
Not so smart thinking
We steal baby’s iron endowment and then feed the bad guys, by adding lots and lots of iron, to formula and encouraging breast feeding Moms to give baby, iron supplements.
How do we steal baby’s iron endowment ?
It is standard practice. As baby pops out, the cord is CUT. It’s clean and efficient, plus it ensures, the medical team can help baby, if there are problems. But, it leaves a significant amount of baby’s blood, stuck in the placenta. Since these blood cells are the iron endowment, baby starts out, with less iron than Mother Nature intended……
It’s not a problem, for a formula fed baby, but it can become a problem, for a breast fed baby.
The formula fed baby is protected from iron deficiency, but, the formula fed baby is not untouched……………
The problem with too much iron
Formula fed babies are a lot more likely to suffer from infections.
Now, to be fair, extra iron is not 100 % to blame.
Babies being fed formula, also miss out on other key components of breast milk, that help with immunity, they’re not getting
- good bacteria
- oligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria
- antibodies and other protective proteins
- microRNAs, which direct the development of the immune cells
That said, the extra iron is not helping, and might be hurting. Especially, when you take a look at the numbers….
A look at the numbers
Iron in human breast milk, starts out at around 0.6 mg/L, but systematically declines, to around 0.2-0.3 mg/L, by the time junior reaches the 6 month mark. Contrast this with iron levels in formula. Iron levels vary from 4 – 12 mg/L, levels tend to be lower in Europe, than in America.
That’s up to 40 times more.
Now to be fair, we’re not comparing apples with apples. Because of the way, a Mom packages the iron, the iron in breast milk is a whole lot easier for baby to use, than the iron in formula.
But, the take home message……….
Babies are getting a whole lot more iron, than Mother Nature intended.
The extra iron is stored
Chemically speaking, iron is rather reactive…………
So, any extra iron, coming into the system, needs to be removed from the circulation, to avoid oxidative stress.
The body stores excess iron in a variety of places.
This extra iron, can become problematic……………
Mother Nature is one SMART COOKIE
It probably is better to do things, Mother Nature’s way.
- Opt for delayed cord clamping – so your baby gets a BIGGER iron endowment.
- Breast feed if you can. If you can’t, when shopping for formula, look at the levels of iron. Opt for brands with lower iron levels, this is one of those times, MORE is not better.
- Be very cautious of giving baby, an iron supplement
The sex hormones are involved in tweaking brain development, turning a baby’s brain into a little girl brain. The phytoestrogens in soy, disturb this process.
A baby being fed soy-based formula is being exposed to 13 000 – 22 000 times more “estrogen” than normal, at a time when the brain and body is still developing.
Babies fed iron enriched formula, in the absence of iron deficiency, end up performing worse on standardized tests of cognitive performance at the age of 10.