Google+ Authentic Parenting: Iron Intake and Your Breastfed Baby

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Iron Intake and Your Breastfed Baby

Welcome to the Breastfeeding Support Blog Party! Bloggers around the world have gathered together to share posts which provide current or soon-to-be breastfeeding mothers with a wealth of well-researched information, personal stories, and statistics designed to help you have the most successful breastfeeding experience possible. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to learn more about this movement as well as to link to and read more informative breastfeeding support posts.


There's a lot of scare mongering from the medical establishment when it comes to breastfeeding. Statements such as 'breastmilk is low in substance x or y so you should be supplementing' are common. Yet there are reasons why things are as they are, naturally.
Let's take the case of Iron.
Iron is essential in the transportation of oxygen between tissues in the body. Iron is a macro nutrient, which means it is required by the adult human body in quantities that are over 100mg per day.

For your exclusively breastfed baby

Breastmilk is naturally low in Iron. Indeed, when we compare breastmilk to formula or cow's milk, there's a much lower occurence of iron.
However, there is a reason for this:
  • Iron in breastmilk is optimal for human babies and gets optimally absorbed. Formula needs to be fortified in iron (read artificially enhanced), which results in an extremely high iron level, because these are not optimal for the human baby and very little of this iron is actually absorbed.
  • The low level of iron in breastmilk may very well be nature's way of protecting a baby against infection, as bacteria need iron to grow.
  • Cow's milk attacks the lining of the gut and causes bleeding, which causes iron to seep out. Introducing cow's milk at a young age can therefor actually cause anemia, even though the iron level of the cow's milk may be higher (If you want to find out more about this, I suggest you read the article by Dr. Jay Gordon cited below)
A mother's iron levels, or iron intake don't change the occurence of iron in breastmilk, so supplementation on the mother's side to increase iron in the milk isn't necssary.

Source: Anton Nossik
Nature has designed things very well and all of it is for a reason, even though we may not know all of these reasons yet. Breastmilk is the natural and normal choice of food for infants, there is frankly, no comparing it to any other food. If a mother can't breastfeed, the option of donor milk should be looked into, if that's something you could be comfortable with. Trans-species feeding is always a last resort option, the optimal nutrition for HUMAN babies is HUMAN milk. Take a look at the infant feeding hierarchy to learn more about optimal foods for babies and consult paragraph 18 and 19 of the WHO document cited below.

So what about when your baby moves on to solids?

Baby's original iron stores from when he was born are sufficient to cover at least the first six months of breastfeeding and also a couple of months beyond that. If after this, your baby starts eating a healthy and varied diet, there should be no worries about his iron intake. (This is, if your baby was born term and with a healthy birthweight, check the KellyMom article about supplementation cited below if you want to find out which babies are indeed at risk for iron deficiency.)
Optimal iron intake though diet happens when your child eats a diet with a high level of vitamin C and Iron, as the body needs vitamin C to metabolize iron.

Good sources of iron: blood products, liver, green leafy vegetables, molasses, egg yolk, nuts and meats.

Read more:
Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding - WHO
Is Iron Supplementation Necessary? -
Breastfeeding and other Foods - International Breastfeeding Centre
Anemia in Children - Dr. Jay Gordon

This gathering of breastfeeding support comes in response to the Weston A. Price Foundation’s (WAPF) continued stance on breastfeeding, which we all have a great concern with. While the WAPF does support breastfeeding as the best option for feeding babies, it does so with a caveat. Breastfeeding mothers must follow the strict tenants of the WAPF diet and mothers who are not following their nutrient dense diet recommendations would be better off feeding their babies homemade formula (based on the WAPF recipe). In addition, they are outspoken against using donor milk. The bloggers sharing posts today are concerned with the confusion this may cause breastfeeding mothers. Not only does research support the myriad of health benefits of breast milk for babies regardless of the mother’s diet, it also outlines additional benefits of breastfeeding such as better bonding, deeper trust, and a long list of other emotional benefits. Let’s not forget the health benefits for moms!



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