Mothers are always looking for ways to ensure that their baby gets the best nutrition. For the first year of a baby’s life, breast milk is enough to meet all their nutritional needs. It contains the right amounts of vitamins, proteins, fats and minerals required to help them grow in a healthy manner. It also contains enough water which means that you don’t have to additionally feed water to keep them hydrated. Iron is one such essential, growth-promoting nutrient present in breast milk.
Iron is an important mineral present in breast milk. It helps in the production of haemoglobin which is a compound present in the RBCs of the blood that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. If your baby has an iron deficiency, they will not be able to produce enough haemoglobin.
Babies are usually born with enough iron to last the first few months. During this period, breast milk is enough to help meet their iron needs. Some people believe that it is necessary to complement breast milk with cow’s milk to help meet iron and other nutritional needs. They think that just by feeding breast milk, their baby may not get all the iron they need. This is not true. In fact, feeding cow’s milk to your baby can do more harm than good.
Cow’s milk also lacks Vitamin C, that is required to help the body absorb iron. So although cow’s milk and breast milk have similar iron quantities, the iron in cow’s milk is not absorbed by the body. As cow’s milk is tough on the immature digestive system of a baby, it can lead to loss of iron through bleeding in the intestine.
Breast milk, on the other hand is easily digestible. The nutrients present in breast milk can be easily absorbed by the baby. Your baby’s body can absorb around 50% of the iron present in breast milk. However, they can only absorb 10% of the iron present in cow’s milk.
This could be because breast milk contains lactoferrin (part of the whey protein), a specific protein, which helps absorb the iron.
Cow’s milk, on the other hand, contains high amounts of casein, a complex protein molecule which is not only difficult to digest but also limits the absorption of iron. Giving cow’s milk to your baby can thus result in an iron deficiency. This is because of the lack of easily absorbable iron or bioavailable iron in cow’s milk.
Instead, you should continue to provide breast milk to your baby to meet their iron requirements. If you are anaemic, your doctor may recommend iron supplements that are safe to consume while breastfeeding. You should also consume foods that are rich in iron as well as Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb iron better.
Breast milk is the best source of iron for your infant during this period of rapid growth. The introduction of cow’s milk is not only unnecessary for your little one, but also harmful, as it is not only tough to digest, but also does not meet the iron needs of your baby. It is important to continue breastfeeding as long as you can, so that your baby can stay healthy, and obtain growth promoting nutrients for overall development.
Disclaimer: All the information provided in the blog is for reference purposes only. Please do not consider this as a medical advice. Start Healthy Stay Healthy programme is for educational purposes only, in partnership with doctors. Always consult a doctor if you have any questions related to your own health or the health of your child.