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Complementary food

Published: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The late, great Frank Sinatra once said, “It’s the people what make you and it’s the people what break you.”

Sometimes they could real break you hard. Sometimes one wonders why one keeps trying and trying and people keep forgetting and forgetting. Unfortunately, people learn the wrong thing much easier than the correct thing, which explains the failure of communism and of capitalism gone mad.

Take the issue of complementary food for babies. After some years of relative quiet, the baby milk industry has once again begun advising parents that babies need “complementary milk” in the form of “growing up milks”, a false bit of advertisement if there ever was one.

“Growing up” milks have many synonyms, “follow-on”; 1-2-3; progress” etc. Somehow or the other, people have been led to believe that these milks are different to ordinary formulas or ordinary cow’s milk. That is incorrect. “Growing up” milks are just milk. Milk companies try to make out that they are so different from cow’s milk and formulas. They are not. They are essentially the same. There might be minor alterations of the chemical composition but they are all similar. It’s like when we used to have different name brands of gasoline, Shell, Esso, BP etc. In reality, they all came from the same refinery process.

At around six months of age, babies begin to need more calories. By six months most infants are drinking about one litre of milk a day. More than one litre of formula does several things that are harmful.

Too much formula damages the baby’s gut and causes microscopic intestinal blood loss that leads to iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common cause of anaemia in Caribbean babies and is probably related to the excess amount of milk that our babies drink. The traditional way of treating iron deficient anaemia is to start commercial cereals (the beloved Nestum rice cereal) at around six months. These commercial cereals are supposed to be full of iron. This does not work well because the iron in cereal is not easily absorbed. The treatment of toddler iron deficiency anaemia is to reduce the amount of milk given to the child and start solids that contain more easily absorbable iron such as egg, green leafy vegetables and animal protein.

Second, all children, who are not blonde and blue-eyed, lose most of their capacity to absorb the sugar in milk, lactose, by one year of age. That’s most of the world’s babies. Drinking excessive milk, more than a litre or 32 oz a day, causes bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort.

Third, keeping the child on liquids prevents the child from learning to chew. This does several things. One, it does not take advantage of the “window” that lasts from about six to 12 months, during which infants are especially receptive to learning about new tastes and consistencies. You end up with a child who refuses to eat solids in the second and third year of life, gets most of its calories from liquid and becomes overweight. That’s called a “milkaholic” and the term was initially used worldwide, here in T&T, by Dr Bruce Symmonds, the first paediatrician in T&T. Since continued ingestion of a liquid diet is usually accompanied by the continued use of the bottle, these children tend to develop “bottle mouth”, i.e. an abnormal shape of their oral cavity (high arched palate and malocclusion of the teeth) as well as bottle feeding caries.

A liquid diet is also poor in fibre and chronic consumption of milk is associated with chronic constipation and in T&T is the single most important cause of constipation in toddlers.

Finally, not being exposed to solids often means that infants do not learn to chew, which is associated with speech delay and malpronuciation problems.

Complementary feeding means introducing solids from the mother’s plate, that complement the liquid diet...not continuing with more liquids disguised as weaning foods.

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