There’s a lot of “reasons to breastfeed your baby” articles out there, but most of them miss the single most important point…
If you care at all about your baby’s physical and mental wellbeing, this one argument should be enough to convince you (if you need convincing). If you’re already convinced, it’ll be a great resource to share with people who need convincing. No need for anymore “101 reasons” articles.
First, a quick primer on one of the most important aspects of human health (and for children: physical and mental development):
The gut biome is everything.
Science and our understanding of the gut biome is relatively new. Of course, way back in the day Hippocrates ran around saying things like, “all disease begins in the gut” but I don’t think anyone took him seriously until now.
Let me put the importance of gut flora in perspective for you: there’s 100 trillion microbes in the human gut with over 1000 different species represented. In terms of complexity of function, the gut is second only to the human brain.
So what’s the big deal? Well, there’s a few big deals. The gut biome — the collective interaction of all of these microbes — has three main responsibilities that have implications in the function of the entire body. The two most important for our discussion today are metabolic function and protection.
It turns out that it’s very easy to alter your gut flora through diet and lifestyle factors. In adults, a weak gut biome is a leading factor in disease, excessive weight gain, and poor mental health. It’s unlikely that anyone has ever told you that, but it’s an important connection to make for both you and your babies.
A huge reason you need to breastfeed.
Breast milk greatly influences healthy gut bacteria and formula contains ingredients that harm beneficial bacteria and promote pathogenic bacteria.
If you don’t understand the implications of that statement, then you’re likely to dismiss it at first glance. After all, who cares about some stupid bacteria?
Well, let’s discuss, because there’s a lot of compelling sub-points.
An altered gut biome has immune implications.
80% of the immune system is housed in the gut. Negatively altering the gut flora depresses immune function, leaving baby more susceptible to preventable illness both now and in the future.
But that’s just the beginning — the tip of the gut flora iceberg, if you will.
An altered gut biome has autoimmune implications.
The gut behaves like a screen door, letting vital nutrients through and stopping everything else. When the gut biome malfunctions, typically due to food and lifestyle factors, the screen door can allow unapproved items to pass through that cause all sorts of problems.
Preventable malfunctions of the gut lead to autoimmune conditions, asthma, chronic sinusitis, eczema, urticaria, migraine, irritable bowel, fungal disorders, fibromyalgia, inflammatory joint disorders, and food sensitivities that can last for years — and in some cases, for life.
An altered gut biome alters gene expression and creates a less favorable outcome for future beneficial gut flora.
When you negatively alter baby’s gut flora by taking him off breastmilk and putting him on formula (removing healthy bacteria and replacing with ingredients that damage gut function), you can actually alter his ability to have a healthy gut going forward.
Most people think that genetics are set in stone — they’re not. Genes are like light switches that can be turned on and off. Food and lifestyle factors, especially at keys points in life, influence how genes are expressed.
The human body, even in the womb, is constantly scanning its surroundings and working to make adjustments that increase survivability. If a pregnant mother is constantly stressed, the baby feels the world is a stressful place and gene expression is altered to prepare for that. If a pregnant mother fails to eat enough calories, baby may sense that food is scarce and gene expression is altered to store more body fat.
The same is true for adapting to the food that’s available. Baby’s gut is attempting to make sense of the food she’s receiving and all contributing factors matter: diet of the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding and diet of the baby after birth.
The introduction of formula sends baby’s gut on a tangential adaptation route that should never have occurred. This is a scenario that has widespread implications in gene expression.
An altered gut biome alters brain function.
Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California has studied the connection between gut flora and brain function and has concluded that “gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.”
He specifically thinks gut flora is a contributing factor to brain function and wiring during childhood.
Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person’s gut. That suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired. ~ Dr. Mayer
How is this so? It’s not completely known as of yet, but scientists know that gut flora greatly affects anxiety, mood, cognition, and pain as well as learning and memory (at least in mice).
One theory is that the vagus nerve, the main communication line between the brain and gut, is the mechanism for all of this. In mice, when the vagus nerve is cut, the brain stops responding to gut flora changes.
Mark Lyte of Texas Tech University has also offered a theory that certain gut bacteria can produce their own neurotransmitters.
And the connection between gut flora and Autism is being thoroughly explored as well.
The point is that we currently have no idea how widespread the implications in altering infant gut flora may be.
In my unprofessional estimation, formula feeding babies should not be seen as safe, much less acceptable.
But, what about just supplementing with formula?
Some people claim to breastfeed, but they’re engaging in a supplementation pattern born out of convenience (in most cases). This presents implications mom may not realize.
Relatively small amounts of formula supplementation of breastfed infants (one supplement per 24 hours) will result in shifts from a breastfed to a formula-fed gut flora pattern.
This is not surprising when you look at the ingredients of infant formula. Similac Advance is the formula I chose to highlight here:
Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Whey Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Galactooligosaccharides. Less than 2% of the Following: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, Choline Bitartrate, Choline Chloride, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Salt, Taurine, m-Inositol, Zinc Sulfate, Mixed Tocopherols, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, L-Carnitine, Vitamin A Palmitate, Cupric Sulfate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Hydroxide, and Nucleotides (Adenosine 5’-Monophosphate, Cytidine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine 5’-Monophosphate).
Rather than getting completely natural ingredients and probiotics from mom, baby’s gut is having to respond to the introduction of soy, processed seed oils (which are the leading cause of disease in adult humans), whey, and synthetic ingredients designed to mimic breast milk. And Similac is one of the better brands — many contain GMO corn syrup and other fake sugars.
Those are the same ingredients that are destroying adult gut flora and aiding the obesity and preventable disease epidemic. So why are we feeding these things to infants and babies?
What do you think?
There’s a lot of emotion in these discussions because people tend to defend the position they’ve taken in the past. If you’ve formula fed a baby, you’re not under attack. This is simply an attempt to influence future behavior.
So what are your thoughts? Is this a compelling reason? If not, what’s your take on it?
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.