Breast milk is the ideal way to nourish infants, of course. Nothing better has ever been discovered; however, it can't always happen. The mother may be sick and unable to nurse; the baby may be adopted; or circumstances may get in the way of breastfeeding. The alternative is bottle-feeding a “formula,” a substitute for mother's milk. The most important nutrient in breast milk is fat. However, two other vital nutrients, cholesterol and DHA (see “Healthy Pregnancy” for nutrients vital for a healthy pregnancy) should be supplemented in any formula chosen to replace the natural source. Absence of cholesterol and DHA in the infant's nutrition may lead to heart and central nervous system diseases later on. Also, breast milk automatically adjusts to the infant's needs. For example, the needs are higher if the infant is premature. Lactose is also an important carbohydrate that is present in breast milk and studies have shown that the level of lactose correlates with brain size. The infant gets antibodies from its mother's milk that can't be duplicated in formula. Digestive enzymes help promote intestinal health and hormones provide a regulating element for overall biochemical balance and the well-being of the baby. The mother's milk is flavored by the foods she ingests, so the baby is automatically acclimated to the foods the family eats once he begins to take solid food and sit at the table with the family at mealtime. To the extent that it is possible, the substituting formula must duplicate as many of those advantages as possible.
The Soy Alternative
Since the 1960s, soy formulas have had wide use as a substitute, especially with infants allergic to milk. However, a number of research projects have indicated recently that soy can have very adverse effects including allergy as severe as the one to cow's milk. In North America, approximately 25% of bottle-fed babies are on infant formulas derived from processed soybeans. Their pediatricians usually recommend this alternative to breast milk or standard cow's-milk-based formula. It is advertised as providing complete protein and as being less allergenic than cow's milk. Some even go so far as to claim that it's better than breast milk. While soybeans are high in protein compared to other legumes, some of those proteins are “antinutrients” and block the action of enzymes required for digestion of proteins. It has been demonstrated in several research efforts that these have the potential for blocking growth and interfering with the well-being of the pancreas. Although efforts have been made to correct the problem, it appears that it can't be protected without destroying the beneficial potential of soy. Another problem: extracting the powder from which the soy infant formula is made requires extremely high heat and a soaking solution that carries its own health risks. These matters are only a sampling of those raised by the research projects, suggesting that soy-based formula is not a good choice for your baby if breast milk is not an alternative. Preparing homemade formula is a good choice. It takes time and effort, but it's probably the best alternative for your raw-foods child.
The Rice Milk Alternative
Some parents are taking this route. Compared to cow's milk, it has more carbohydrates but less calcium or protein, so you may need to supplement here. It also has no cholesterol or lactose. Look at other infant formula RDAs and make certain your infant is getting all the nutritional elements he needs to stay healthy. For example, you will probably need to add, in addition to calcium and protein, vitamins B12, B3, and iron. Very few people are allergic to rice milk, so this may be a wise alternative. You can soak 1 cup of dry white rice in 4 cups of water at room temperature for 4 hours or in the refrigerator overnight. Put both rice and water in the blender on high for about a minute (depending on the blender) and add the supplements. It can be refrigerated and kept for at least 48 hours. The milk can also be made from rice flour.
The Almond Milk Alternative
Almonds have been a part of human diets for a very long time. They contain protein, calcium, and magnesium, along with other minerals important to human nutrition. They contain a lot of fat, so that must be taken into account. Several research efforts in recent years have demonstrated that adding almonds to the diet of an adult can reduce total cholesterol levels and triglycerides. They may even reduce the risk of heart disease. Almonds are also a good source of antioxidants. But is it good for infants? Research affirms that it is, in fact, a good alternative to breast milk. Almond milk has nearly four times the nutrition of cow's milk except for vitamin B6. In other words, one cup of soaked and peeled almonds plus four cups of water will be equivalent to cow's milk nutritionally (with the exception of vitamin B6). It will last in the refrigerator about the same period of time that cow's milk will. You can add two tablespoons of milk from a young coconut to supplement the vitamin B6. Otherwise, you may need to add a supplement of the B6 vitamin.
The miracle of mother's milk will assure your infant the very best chance to grow up strong and healthy in all ways, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally, so by all means breast feed if it is at all possible. On the other hand, if you’re unable to do that, instead of feeling remorseful and guilty, ease your concerns by putting your best efforts into a substitute that will meet the baby's nutritional needs. It can certainly be achieved.
By TTS Health Consultant Gabrielle Gingras