Infant Feeding Practices and National Breastfeeding Month
This August is the 13th year National Breastfeeding Month has been observed in the United States . National Breastfeeding Month is for everyone. Whether you breastfeed, pump, formula feed, or anything in between, the right infant feeding choice is the choice that works best for you and your family! This month and every month, let’s remember to educate ourselves about the realities of infant feeding, spread helpful resources, advocate for better policy and workplace environments, and appreciate the hard work that goes into feeding our little ones.
Each week of National Breastfeeding Month is broken down into themes so that different cultures and communities can share their histories, speak out about, and celebrate different parenting experiences.
Week 1 (August 1-7): World Breastfeeding Week, Making a Difference for Working Parents
Week 2 (August 8-14): Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, From the Stars to a Sustainable Future
Week 3 (August 15-21): Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week, Telling Our Stories, Elevating Our Voices!
Week 4 (August 25-31): Black Breastfeeding Week, We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities
[New] Week 5 (September 5-11): Semana de La Latancia Latina
Breastfeeding in the United States
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant’s life, and supplemental breastfeeding for the first 2 years of life. However, despite strong encouragement from these organizations, medical professionals – and not to mention the societal pressure – most babies do not receive the recommended exposure to the beneficial components of breast milk . This is most certainly not from a lack of trying, as feeding infant formula is often a choice made from necessity rather than preference.
Human breast milk is often characterized as liquid gold, a name given to reflect its nutritional qualities and how breast milk has evolved over thousands of years to optimally support the growth and development of an infant. Every component in breast milk, which is comprised of macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins, plays a role in infant growth and development. For instance, several breast milk components have impressive anti-inflammatory effects in newborns, antibodies improve infants’ immunological responses, and human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) promote the development of a healthy gut, among many other benefits  . Additionally, maternal milk can change its composition to address a baby’s growing needs throughout the day and throughout the entire course of a lactation journey. For example, milk expressed in the afternoon or evenings can contain more fat than milk expressed in the morning or late at night, and protein in breast milk is highest in the first 1-2 months of life and protein levels in breast milk start to decrease when babies are 4-6 weeks of age  .
The list of ways breast milk components nourish little ones could go on and on, and some are still being discovered today. Still, despite the universal recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding infants, only 25.4% of infants are exclusively breastfed at 6 months and only 37.6% of infants receive any breast milk at all at 12 months .
So why don’t most babies receive the recommended exposure to these beneficial components?
The answer isn’t black-and-white; and saying “just do it” is most certainly not helpful. One’s expectations of their ideal feeding journey prior to giving birth could be miles away from their postpartum reality, as our CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. Leila Strickland, can personally attest to.
Just as the list of breast milk’s different compositional benefits could go on and on, so could the list of reasons as to why a parent cannot or chooses not to breastfeed: one of the many paradoxes of parenthood. To name only a few, a parent may not breastfeed their child because they have experienced :
Issues with latching
Issues with milk supply
Pain when nursing
Concerns about infant nutrition and weight
Concern about taking medications while breastfeeding
Unsupportive work policies and lack of parental leave
Cultural norms and lack of familial support
Unsupportive hospital practices and policies
Lack of access to lactation care resources or supplies
Mastectomy or breast cancer
Additionally, LGBTQ+ families, adoptive families, and surrogate families don’t always have access to human breast milk. Donor milk is often expensive, and there is only so much of it available through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). Informal milk sharing (though an incredible help) is a process that requires constant scheduling and logistical challenges that many families may not have the time to do while also experiencing all the other adventures that come with raising a newborn. With that in mind, it is more than reasonable that the majority of families in the United States turn to infant formula before the recommended duration of exclusive breastfeeding .
Bringing more of the benefits of breast milk to more babies
Infant formula is a fantastic source of nutrition for babies that also supports early-life growth and development. However, innovation in the infant feeding space has been limited, with only a handful of the hundreds of human milk oligosaccharides in breast milk being produced, most commonly made with precision fermentation, to be included in infant formula . This is partially due to the fact that human milk has historically been largely underfunded and understudied.
While there are options to choose from, like soy and plant-based formulas, the majority of infant formulas are cow-based . Cow’s milk and human milk have vast differences in their macronutrient profiles and ratios, causing infant formula companies to process cow’s milk to achieve a profile that is closer to human breast milk. This work, and HMO production, has added impressive nutritional value to infant feeding options, but there is still a nutritional gap between formula and breast milk. The potential value-add to infant formula from more recent innovative companies, like BIOMILQ, is extremely promising when it comes to bringing more of the benefits of breast milk to more babies!
BIOMILQ is revolutionizing early-life nutrition by leveraging the incredible potential of mammary cell culture. Human mammary cells are uniquely capable of producing the most functional forms of breast milk components. Through our patented technology platform designed to make human milk outside the body, using mammary cells originally isolated from breast milk donated by women passionate about our mission, we can create the appropriate environment for mammary cells to achieve their extraordinary biological function of producing a vast array of molecular components that are only found in breast milk and uniquely beneficial for the human body. We are producing a pipeline of functional human milk components that can be added to early-life nutrition products, while also working on a whole human milk early-life nutrition product that fully supports the growth and development of an infant.
Read BIOMILQ’s past articles on National Breastfeeding Month here:
2021: It’s National Breastfeeding Month, Listen Up, diving into the stats & facts of infant feeding in the United States. 2022: The Twists and Turns of Infant Feeding, a 2-part interview series on 6 mothers’ personal feeding journey: all full of unseen challenges that still resulted in selecting the best choices for them and their families. (Part 1) (Part 2)
National Breastfeeding Month. U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. (n.d.). https://www.usbreastfeeding.org/national-breastfeeding-month.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, August 7). Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html
Ruiz-Palacios, G. M., Ivarsson, A., Tapper, D., Gross, S. J., Insoft, R. M., Gdalevich, M., Haversen, L., Olsen, S. F., Harris, W. S., Martin, L. J., Dai, D., Hanson, L. A., Labbok, M. H., Clavino, N. R., Dvorak, B., & Schlesinger, L. (2010, January 21). Breast Milk as the Gold Standard for Protective Nutrients. The Journal of Pediatrics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022347609011287
Sekerel, B. E., Bingol, G., Cullu Cokugras, F., Cokugras, H., Kansu, A., Ozen, H., & Tamay, Z. (2021, September 24). An expert panel statement on the beneficial effects of human milk oligosaccharides (hmos) in early life and potential utility of HMO-supplemented infant formula in cow’s milk protein allergy. Journal of asthma and allergy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8478436/
Italianer MF, Naninck EFG, Roelants JA, et al. Circadian Variation in Human Milk Composition, a Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(8):2328. Published 2020 Aug 4. doi:10.3390/nu12082328
Kim SY, Yi DY. Components of human breast milk: From macronutrient to microbiome and microRNA. Clinical and experimental pediatrics. 2020;63(8):301.
Producing human milk sugars for use in formula. International Milk Genomics Consortium. (2022a, March 7). https://www.milkgenomics.org/?splash=producing-human-milk-sugars-for-use-in-formula#:~:text=Extracting%20HMOs%20from%20milk&text=One%20such%20approach%20involves%20concentrating,lower%20(24%2C%2026)
Rossen, L. M., Simon, A. E., & Herrick, K. A. (2016, March). Types of infant formulas consumed in the United States. Clinical pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703581/