Book review of Milk Matters Infant Feeding and Immune Disorder by Maureen Minchin, 2015
If you thought formula was almost as good as breast milk these days, think again. Milk Matters Infant Feeding and Immune Disorder (2015) explains why there is a huge difference between the two and always will be. The history, secrets and ingredients of the formula industry are revealed across some 800 pages divided into three ‘books’. Author Maureen Minchin hypothesises that not having breast milk can change how we grow and can alter how our genes are expressed. After three or four generations of artificial feeding—unprecedented rises in allergy, autoimmune disorder and infertility are being traced back to formula. And, with over 2,000 references, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.
Infant formula is a non-sterile, variable soup (or dehydrated soup powder) of different heavily processed industrially concocted foodstuffs drawn from a variety of animal, plant, fungal, algal and other sources.
Book one: The milk hypothesis, immune disorder and allergy epidemics
Book one introduces Minchin’s milk hypothesis that feeding babies artificial substitutes from birth instead of breast milk has been the largest uncontrolled living experiment in human history damaging both individuals and whole populations. When breast milk is missing in the diet the balance of friendly bacteria living in the gut (the microbiome) is drastically changed. This changes the baby’s immune system and neurochemistry, increasing the risk of genetic disease. Some of these changes may not be seen until later life, and some get passed on to the next generation.
artificial feeding was and is harmful, and its effects are intergenerational. All artificially fed babies are not the babies they would have been if breastfed.
Minchin reveals that increased cases of allergy—which include inflammation, hypersensitivity and immune dysfunction—are exploding worldwide. One in eight children in the United States now has asthma, one in ten has a learning disability, and one in 68 is on the autistic spectrum. Minchin believes artificial feeding for several generations to be the cause.
We would never dream of growing a human in a cow’s uterus, so why would we feed a human infant cows’ milk?
Impact on baby
Formula fed babies are missing vital hormones, living cells and immune factors from breast milk and must contend with artificial ingredients in the alternative. This can affect their hormones, blood profiles, physical development, obesity and even shape their brains in abnormal ways. Minchin reveals that a formula fed baby has bigger kidneys, a much smaller thymus (important organ of the immune system), earlier onset of puberty, increased links with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), more ear infections (associated with allergy), and a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Connections between autism, diabetes and heart disease have been made and early nutrition can even affect gender role play or orientation, and multiple sclerosis in later life.
it doesn’t take a genius or a biochemist to recognise that feeding babies new and often untested soups by bottles was bound to cause problems, most of them unforseen
Other findings in the book include:
- Differences in ovary and testicular development in formula fed babies compared with breastfed babies potentially affecting fertility in later life.
- An association between the length of formula feeding and levels of childhood leukaemia.
- Differences in the brains of breastfed and formula fed children—particularly the areas of the brain controlling language, emotional function and cognition.
- How aluminium in formula can be ten to forty times higher than in breast milk
Wealth instead of health
Minchin explains how much research to date consists of poorly controlled trials where the breastfed babies in a study have not been exclusively breast milk fed, and the formula fed babies have had some breast milk—this successfully blurs results between two samples of mixed fed babies. This suits industry who want to bury any research that shows formula in a bad light. The result? Ridiculous news articles and bloggers claiming breastfeeding is no better than formula…
Any breast milk given to the bottle-fed is likely to reduce the apparent harms of formula, while any formula given to the breastfed is likely to increase problems for them.
But surely formula is safe?
Formula is assumed safe, so any ongoing health issues aren’t connected to it, instead they are explained away as being a problem with the baby. The burden of proof ought to be on the industry to prove formula safe, but, as Minchin explains, this has never been the case and a list of formula recalls through the decades record numerous mistakes from deficits in ingredients to contamination with aluminium dust or arsenic.
some babies will survive and grow on any food in any environment and their parents will believe this is because of the food, not despite it
Book Two: Creating a ‘perfect’ breast milk substitute: reality and myths
Book two looks at the way industrial milk (formula) is made and whether it is ‘good enough’ for babies’ brains and bodies. In short, Minchin presents a well researched case that the answer to this is no. When formula became accepted as a part of life in the 1940s, babies growing fat on artificial foods was seen as a good thing, several generations later, more and more links are being made between this early diet and various health issues.
Minchin looks at how the ‘need’ for formula arose in the first place, how powdered milk eventually evolved, and the manufacturing processes for industrial milks. She looks at the successful marketing campaign of formula as a whole and how it is facilitated by governments while parents assume that formula is carefully monitored:
Do parents or professionals believe that USFDA [United States Food and Drug Administration] maintains strict control, independently scrutinises, and then approves, every infant formula marketed in the United States? If so, they are utterly deluded.
Defending the premise that infant formula alters normal growth and brain development, Minchin looks closely at the ingredients in formula, including the wide range of non human proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, additives and unintended contaminants such as solvents and pollutants. The inclusion of common food allergens, genetically modified soil fungi and marine algae and contamination from the packaging itself are discussed with the conclusion:
it is still not possible to produce anything like breast milk, any more than we can produce artificial blood
Minchin explains that not only do all formulas vary between batch and brand according to the cheapest and most easily sourced ingredients, nobody knows which infant formula is ‘best’.
Interesting facts in book two include the association between plastic feeding bottles, asthma and allergy. How hydrolysed infant formulas are made and how hypoallergenic they really are. And how fats used in formula (e.g. soy oil, peanut oil, hazelnut oil) can cause allergies and how fatty acids from formula fats can even kill intestinal cells.
And so much more:
- How toxic metals found in formula have a connection with autism.
- How the impurities in water used to mix formula is a big concern when babies drink nearly a litre of it every day.
- How artificial probiotics are sourced and how heating water to make feeds to 70°C (as advised by the World Health Organisation to kill pathogens) destroys them anyway.
- How oestrogen mimicking compounds found in formula, baby food cans and feeding bottles influence reproductive organs and sexual behaviour.
- How human milk fortifier (HMF) for premature babies is implicated in causing meningitis, sepsis, increased surgery, necrotising enterocolitis and brain damage.
to develop a normal immune system, human infants need human milk, it’s as simple and as difficult as that
Don’t shoot the messenger
Minchin is careful to point out that her book is not intended to create panic or persuade parents to shun modern industrial infant formula when they need it. Most young babies can survive and grow on present day formulas and nobody could match them with home made versions. But where breast milk is available, formula is an unnecessary risk. As Minchin explains; hiding the truth to protect parents would be like not telling parents that prone sleeping is more dangerous—just in case parents of babies who died from SIDS were made to feel guilty.
The dark side of the synthetic milk industry with all its limitations, health implications, code of secrecy and billion dollar profits is uncomfortable reading, and many may seek to deny it.
All too often intelligent (but uninformed) women are the vocal, even offensively aggressive, defenders of an industry that has persuaded them that its products are the virtual equivalent of women’s milk—and not only necessary but better than breastfeeding.
Book Three: Crying out for Attention
This section looks at the many ways that food allergy can affect our babies and cause fussy behaviour. Minchin believes that food allergy could be the main cause of symptoms commonly called colic in the past and more recently, labelled as reflux (GORD) and lactose intolerance. Any such labels, she points out, are very convenient for industry who can then sell their ‘cures’ namely commercial thickeners, drugs and special formulas. Industry likes to think “it’s a problem with the baby” without acknowledging that it is their allergenic product (formula) that cause these issues in the first place. Minchin has plenty to share about the harms of each of these ‘cures’.
Minchin describes a link between baby colic and parental migraine, and the lesser known connections of food allergy with constipation and encopresis (lack of bowel control), bed wetting into teens, having rages, and being unable to sit still or concentrate.
A great resource
Health professionals working with families will find the book an excellent resource with references to many studies and including a sample set of questions for taking a two hour family history for a suspected allergic baby.
Any health professional who asks breastfeeding mothers to wean, or gives the impression that the mother’s milk is the problem (not what’s in her diet), or that the hypoallergenic formulas they can prescribe are risk-free, and that there is no loss involved in ending breastfeeding, or who seeks to medicate a breastfeeding mother before enquiring about her diet: these should be totally shunned.
Minchin is keen to change the status quo of infant feeding, she urges parents not to blindly choose formula, and for health campaigns to stop tip toeing around the subject:
Can you seriously imagine a successful anti-smoking campaign that merely celebrated how great fresh air is for you and your unborn child, and downplayed all extreme talk of dangerous pollutants causing respiratory disease as being unproven?
The information in Milk Matters Infant Feeding and Immune Disorder ought to be of interest to everyone from parent to health professional to government. Although the length may make it a challenge to read, and although Minchin admits not everything can be proven, this book is truly (infant) food for thought.
And if you’re still hungry for more, there are further quotes from Milk Matters in Fussy Breastfed Baby, Reflux in Newborns, Lactose Intolerance in Babies, Elimination Diet, Milk Allergy in Babies and Starting Solid Foods. And there is an excerpt from the book here.