New Delhi/Amsterdam, Aug 7: Early introduction to cow or buffalo milk may lead to several health complications in newborns, say experts who maintain there is no substitute to breastfeeding as mother's milk is the best source of nutrition for a baby.
In several households, especially in urban areas, mother's are unable to breastfeed their child due to various reasons including lack of motivation, ignorance, work pressure and work places being not equipped with facilities, they said.
In India, a positive trend has been observed in breastfeeding practices over the last decade. According to the National Family Health Survey-IV, 55 per cent of the infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
According to Dr Bernd Stahl, R&D Director of Human Milk Research at Nutricia Research in Utrecht, the Netherlands, the mother's milk is an orchestra of benefits having all nutrients that are required by the infant to achieve optimal growth, brain and cognitive development.
It also helps fight infections and illnesses like diarrhoea, allergies and asthma, among others.
"Breastfeeding also has a positive impact on mothers. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers and metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. It also helps in postpartum weight loss," Dr Stahl said.
According to Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, director of neonatology at Fortis La Femme, which also runs the not-for- profit Breastmilk Foundation here, cow or buffalo milk for newborns should be avoided.
"People generally think that cow or buffalo milk can be a substitute for mother's milk, which is not true. Bovine milk has a high protein content called Casein which is a much more heavier molecule for the baby to digest, causing an extra pressure on kidneys.
"Also, once pasteurised, cow milk loses all the micro- nutrients like iron, zinc and iodine," he said, adding that it should be introduced only after first year.
AIIMS head of paediatrics Dr V K Paul said some families wrongly believe that mother's milk alone is not enough to provide required nutrition to the newborn and choose to supplement it with bovine milk.
"Mother's milk is such a fortified diet that it is enough to provide required nutrition for a baby. The infant intestine is not properly equipped to digest non-human milk, and this may result in diarrhoea, allergies, intestinal bleeding, malnutrition and obesity among babies," Paul said.
Cow's milk allergy is the most common food allergy in young children, Dr Nandan Joshi, head of nutrition science and medical affairs at Danone India said.
The food allergy usually establishes in the first six months of life and a majority of the affected-children have one or more symptoms involving one or more organ systems, mainly the gastrointestinal tract and/or skin.
He said cow's milk allergy is generally outgrown during early childhood. Children at risk of not resolving the problem are those who have multiple food allergies, or concomitant asthma and allergic rhinitis.
"Avoidance of cow's milk protein in any form is the only available treatment," Joshi said.
Meanwhile, as the government is making all efforts to encourage breastfeeding among mothers, infant formula's available in market claim to be an alternative to breast milk.