Breast Is Truly Best

As a family physician, I discuss breastfeeding with all of my prenatal patients and their families. Whether mom is a pro or a first time breast-feeder, we take time to discuss the gift she is (or could be) giving her child.

We know breastfed children have lower rates of asthma and diabetes. They have higher IQs and better immune systems. Yes, breast milk provides immunity in these vulnerable creatures, born essentially without an immune system. Breast milk is rich in mother’s immunoglobulins or immune cells, which when passed to baby help create immunity through the gut. This gut immunity is the foundation of a life-long symbiotic relationship with our intestinal bacteria, which promote digestion, nutrient absorption and our overall health. The first milk a mother produces, known as the colostrum, is highest in these illness-fighting cells; this is why mother’s early milk is thicker and more nutrient dense, and why less is produced.

The gift of breast milk is so great that companies are cropping up to meet the demand. Of course it’s not as economical and free as using your own breast milk, but it’s an alternative for those who cannot breastfeed. Remember that if you’re breastfeeding, some of what you put inside of you will pass through to your milk.

Similarly, I ask mothers to read the ingredients of formula milk, especially if they are on the fence about breastfeeding. The first or second ingredient in most of these formulas is cow’s milk, which physicians recommend against feeding children until last least 12 months of age, if at all. Early introduction to cow’s milk can cause micro hemorrhages (small bleeds of the intestine), which can present symptoms such as bloody stools, malabsorbtion, and indigestion.

Formula contains a lot of sugar and doesn’t communicate that clearly through labeling. The nutrition labels tell you how many micrograms of selenium (one microgram equals 0.000001 g) are in a serving but they don’t outright tell you grams of sugar per serving. Thirty-nine percent of a 2oz serving of formula amounts to about 2g of corn syrup solids. The average newborn is drinking this 2oz serving every 3–4 hours, thus consuming approximately 16g of corn syrup a day.

Another common ingredient of formula is the thickener carrageenan, which is prohibited in all infant formulas in the EU and may be linked to gut inflammation known as colitis. It’s also a common ingredient in alternative and nut milks. Organic formulas still contain all of these ingredients, but they do generally use non-genetically modified corn.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and human milk is not recommended in some cases. Infants with the rare metabolic disease galactosemia should not be breast fed. Mothers with HIV (on or off antiretrovirals), untreated active tuberculosis, and those receiving most types of cancer treatments should not breast-feed. See the CDC’s website for more information:

Lastly here are a few medical pearls for our breastfeeding moms:

  • Frozen breast milk can last up to 6–12 months. See the CDC webpage for how to store and safely re-you’re your milk (microwaves are not recommended).
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast-feeding begin “as soon as possible after birth, usually within the first hour…Procedures that may interfere with breastfeeding or traumatize the infant should be avoided or minimized.”
  • The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
  • Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger increased alertness or activity, mouthing, or rooting (sucking mouth motions). Crying is a late indicator of hunger. This amounts to 8 to 12 feeds per 24 hours, feeding 10 to 15 minutes on each breast until satiety. Non-demanding babies should be aroused and fed two to four hours after the last feed.
  • Mastitis, tender inflammation of the breast is common: it develops in as many as one in three breast-feeding women. Continue breast feeding through the inflammation to keep breast ducts open and flowing. There is no risk to your or baby and the condition will self-resolve.
  • To increase milk production stay hydrated and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, clean proteins and whole grains to help produce more milk. The more you feed or pump (when not in the presence of your child) the more milk you’ll produce on average.
  • If you choose to have the occasional alcoholic beverage, avoid breastfeeding for at least two hours after.
  • If breastfeeding, be sure to introduce iron-rich solid foods at six months to compliment the breast milk diet.
  • If baby makes less than six wet diapers a day, he or she is dehydrated and needs more breast milk (remember no free water until at least six months — it can throw off electrolytes and decrease desire for feeds). All of baby’s hydration should come from your milk.
  • Seek out a lactation consultant for any breast feeding troubles.
  • If you have a work environment that’s not supportive of your breast-feeding, have your doctor write a note on your behalf. We are happy to do all we can to support you and your child!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Maysa

Dr. Maysa Alavi is a USC graduate in Neuroscience and Biology who received her M.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She sees patients at USC-Eisner Family Medicine Clinic in downtown Los Angeles, at California Hospital Medical Center, and of course for Heal.

Follow Dr. Maysa Alavi of Heal on social medial to keep up to date with her lectures, writings, and retreats and to ask her your health questions to cultivate a healthier you!


Any views or opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author, an independent physician, and do not necessarily represent those of Heal. You should not assume or construe that this blog post represents the opinion of Heal. In addition, although this blog post provides information concerning potential medical issues, it should not be relied upon as medical advice. It is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified, licensed physician and does not replace a physician’s independent judgment about any given patient’s condition or appropriateness or risks of any treatment or procedure. Rather, this blog post is solely for general educational and informational purposes. Your reading of this blog post does not create any physician-patient relationship between you and the author.

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