Evaporated milk is not harmless - breast milk is best

By Elena Hannah

Dr. James Friel was recently featured in the Gazette (Study debunks evaporated milk myth, Feb. 22, 1996) asserting that, although human milk is superior to formula and evaporated milk, the only nutrition problem that he can see is that babies fed evaporated milk should be given iron supplements. The Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Pediatric Society, Department of Health and others condemn the use of evaporated milk and humanized formula for good reasons grounded on extensive and sound research.

First, deficiencies in iron, fatty acids, thiamin, selenium, copper and zinc are far from being the only possible problem. There are other deficiencies as well as excesses in cow's milk, both potentially very detrimental. Iron supplementation is not a solution, as it has poor bioavailability, has to be given in combination with other elements that upset the nutritional balance and irritates the gastrointestinal mucosa with the possible effect of observable or occult bleeding, which can -- ironically -- lead to anemia. Iron is not a problem for all Canadian infants, only for bottle-fed ones.

Fatty acids come in different forms. Dr. Friel should have looked at long chain lipids, such as docosahexanoic acid, found only in human milk. Together with taurine and cysteine and several nucleotides (also abundant in human milk), they are essential for structural development of the brain and nervous system. That is why Dr. Mary Courage's tests revealed better visual acuity in breast-fed infants. As for artificially fed infants still being within the norm, this means absolutely nothing since the norms were established with bottle-fed babies to begin with.

A breast-fed baby receives a live tissue that adjusts its composition every few minutes according to the baby's needs. It is an individually tailored food, which will vary according to the baby's age and stage of development, length of feed, and even outside temperature (more water when it's hot, more fat when it's cold). This is dramatically demonstrated with the milk mothers produce when they have a premature baby; in this case the milk will have both extra amino acids for rapid physical growth and extra "brain food," as well as extra antibodies.

Not only are bottle-fed babies at a disadvantage nutritionally; they fare far worse when it comes to immunity to disease and allergies. Studies have shown that when social class is held constant, bottle-fed babies still have higher morbidity and mortality. Higher incidence, severity and duration of upper respiratory infections and gastrointestinal tract problems are the most common. It is worth mentioning that bottle-fed babies have a much higher incidence of SIDS. Human milk contains macrophages, lymphocytes, neutrophils and other disease fighting cells, as well as large quantities of antibodies, both from mother's blood and from the breast itself, manufactured in situ.

The rejection of cow's milk for human infants is not based on preconceived notions nor myths. Feeding our babies another species' milk is a recent development in our history and the consequences are not all known at this point, but what we do know so far is negative. In my opinion, the results of Dr. Friel's study do not support the conclusion that evaporated milk is harmless when used as infant feed.

Elena Hannah is a member of the Department of Psychology; she is dedicated to increasing awareness of the advantages of breast-feeding.

Opinions contained in the Podium section are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Gazette or those of Memorial University.