Countless doctors have commented on the probiotic and immune-boosting nature of breastmilk, a live and unique food. Formula companies try to make baby formula just like breastmilk, but if you’ve ever read the list of ingredients on the back of most packages, you’ll see a base of cow’s milk with lots of added vitamins and minerals… and you’ll also see stabilizers, emulsifiers, and a host of other additives for shelf life, palatability, marketability, and caloric value. Unfortunately, infant formula could be considered the ultimate processed food.
Now don’t get me wrong: I know there is a real need and place for infant formula. But why, in a world that is really starting to recognize the ills of processed foods, would we want to give our babies formula for one day longer than we need to? It’s in the best interest of formula companies to keep your little one hooked on their product as long as possible, so formula companies have now developed “toddler formula.”
Designed for 12-24 month old children, Similac’s “Go & Grow Formula” has “OptiGRO… our exclusive blend of DHA, Lutein and Vitamin E; these important ingredients are found in breast milk.” Abbott Laboratories admits right in the marketing that they are trying to mimic breastmilk. The real marketing campaign should not be for extending formula use into the toddler years, but for extending breastfeeding into the toddler years.
Pediatrician Dr. Sharon Somekh-Portnoy says she rarely, if ever, sees a need for toddler formula—“it is expensive and offers almost no benefit.” Instead she tries to teach parents to instill healthy eating habits since toddlers should be getting the bulk of their calories from table food. “The real focus,” she says, “should be on the benefits of breastfeeding beyond the first year.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “the continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant… Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother… There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer”(AAP 2012, AAP 2005).
There are numerous benefits to both mother and child when breastfeeding extends into 12-23 months and beyond. In addition to increased weight loss, studies have shown mothers can reduce their risk of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis by helping to rebuild bone density (greater than the normal loss during breastfeeding), can reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, as well as decrease insulin requirements in diabetic women. Talk about keeping your body fit and functioning at its best!
For toddlers between the age of one and three, extended breastfeeding has been shown to decrease illnesses, help illnesses be shorter in duration, and lower mortality rates. Studies have shown a positive relationship between longer breastfeeding duration and social development. Now who wouldn’t want an extra edge when it comes to learning to share and negotiate turns on the swings? And then of course there is the connection between breastfeeding and IQ. But the interesting part is that the greatest gains in IQ are in the children who breastfeed the longest.
Lots of women make it to the baby’s first birthday and stop breastfeeding because they think they no longer need to or the baby no longer needs breastmilk. And then there are those who do continue to breastfeed well into the second year or even third or fourth, but unfortunately often feel embarrassed about it. There are too many “closet breastfeeders,” feeding their toddlers at the breast in private to avoid judgment from society or even other mothers.
Let’s rally with celebrity moms like Salma Hayek and singer Pink who embrace extended breastfeeding publically. After all, if there is room for toddler formula, there must be room for toddler breastfeeding, a clinically proven healthy choice.