29 November 2006

The One Animal Product You Should Feed Your Children

In my earlier post "Children and Heart Disease" available here, I noted that, in the seventh and final edition of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care: A Handbook for Parents of the Developing Child from Birth to Adolescence, Dr. Benjamin Spock no longer recommends feeding animal products to children after two years of age. According to Dr. Spock:

Most families have become more conscious about the fat content of meats, and many are choosing the lower-fat cuts. The healthiest diets of all, however, go a step further, and get their nutrients from beans, grains, vegetables, and fruits rather than from meats.

Children can get plenty of protein from beans, grains, and vegetables, and when they do, they avoid the animal fat and cholesterol found in meats. Unfortunately, switching from red meat to chicken does not help very much. Chicken actually has just as much cholesterol as beef (about 100 milligrams of cholesterol in a 4-ounce serving) and almost as much fat. Researchers have also learned that the cancer-causing chemicals that form in beef as it cooks also tend to form in chicken.

Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. [My emphasis]

There are other reasons why families are looking more favorably at plant-based choices. In recent years, the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria in meat, poultry, and eggs has risen sharply, which is why health authorities insist that these products be carefully handled and thoroughly cooked, if they are used at all.

Meatless meals also help your child to keep stronger bones. Children stay in better calcium balance when their protein comes from plant-based sources. (pp. 332-3)
Those are all compelling reasons to not feed your children meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.) or eggs. What about other animal products such as dairy products? Dr. Spock "no longer recommend[s] dairy products after the age of two years" (p. 331).

But what about prior to two years? Are there any animal products that Dr. Spock recommends feeding children from birth up until two years? The answer is "Yes." There is one animal product that Dr. Spock recommends feeding newborns and infants. That animal product is human breast milk. Human breast milk is a near perfect food for human newborns and infants. According to Dr. Spock:

Breast-feeding is valuable in a number of ways. Careful studies in recent years have shown that babies receive immunity to a variety of infections through the colostrum (the fluid that comes in before the real milk) and through the milk. Though it contains very little iron, breast milk contains a form of iron that is unusually well digested and absorbed.

A big advantage of breast-feeding is that the milk is always pure; a baby can't catch an intestinal infection from it. From a purely practical point of view, it saves hours of time every week, because there are no bottles to wash or sterilize, no formulas to mix, no refrigeration to worry about, no bottles to warm, and it's less expensive than formula. . . . Breast-feeding is more adapted to satisfying the baby's suckling instinct. At the breast, he can suck as long as he feels the need. (pp. 105-6)
Dr. Spock is not alone in his endorsement of breast-feeding human infants. Dr. Michael Klaper has this to say about breast-feeding:

Breast-feeding is certainly the best, most natural form of nutrition during the infant's first year of life, and holds great benefits for the mother as well. All the child's nutritional needs through the first six months can be met through the miraculous infant food that is human mother's breast milk.

The breast milk of vegan mothers is fully nutritious for infants, and contains the full compliment of energy, protein, and vitamins, needed for the rapid growth of life's first half year. Breast milk not only contains nutrients, but also antibodies that bolster the baby's immune system. Very importantly, the breast-feeding years create emotional security in the child through the many hours of intimate contact with the mother. (Dr. Michael Klaper, Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet, p. 32)
Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine also recommends breast-feeding infants:

Breast-feeding is nature's way of meeting the infant's nutritional needs, and also helps boost immunity, not to mention its psychological benefits. When breast-feeding is not possible, commercial soy formulas are nutritionally adequate. There is no need for infants to be raised on cow's milk formulas. Aside from the colic-inducing proteins that bother many children on cow's milk formulas, cow's milk is a common cause of allergies. Immune responses to milk proteins are implicated in insulin-dependent diabetes and even in sudden infant death syndrome. Soy formulas are commonly used in hospital nurseries, although they can occasionally be allergenic as well. Soymilk sold in grocery stores is not the same as soy baby formula, however, and is not adequate for infants. (Dr. Neal Barnard, Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life, p. 159)
As these nutritional experts attest, there is only one animal product that all children should be fed and that animal product is human breast milk. There simply is no dispute in the medical community that human breast milk is the best food a human infant can be fed. Children should not be fed cow's milk or cow's milk-based formulas for the reasons cited above. Breast-feeding is so nutritionally superior for human infants that the World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breast fed for the first six months of life and the American Academy of Pediatrics now urges mothers to nurse for at least a year and maintains that nursing up to three years is healthy.

The nutritional superiority of human breast milk as the food of choice for human infants may not come as a surprise to many of you. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of ignorant people out there who find breast-feeding unnatural [Imagine!] and/or offensive, like the flight attendant (for the ironically named Freedom Airlines) who threw Emily Gillette off of a Freedom Airlines flight for breast-feeding her daughter on the plane. As this Newsweek article and this Washington Post article report, when Gillette boarded a flight from Burlington, Vermont to New York on Oct. 13 after a 2-3 hour delay, she began to nurse her daughter discreetly in her window seat before takeoff. Gillette's husband, Brad, sat in the aisle seat to provide his wife and their daughter some privacy. When that lone Freedom Airlines flight attendant noticed that Gillette was breast-feeding, she approached Gillette with a blanket and told her "You need to cover up. You are offending me." According to Elizabeth A. Boepple (Emily Gillette's attorney), Gillette refused, saying, "No, thank you. I will not put a blanket on top of my child's head." A few moments later that boob of a flight attendant returned with a ticket agent who told the family they were being thrown off the plane.

Gillette was thrown off of the plane for breast-feeding her child. If she had been feeding that same child a fat-laden, artery-clogging Big Mac or a large order of greasy, fat-laden, artery-clogging McDonald's French fries, that flight attendant wouldn't have been offended at all. Feeding your child a diet that will predispose her to heart disease, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes is not offensive, while feeding your child the most nutritious food available is so "offensive" that the breast-feeding mother guilty of that offense had to be physically removed from the plane. How sick and twisted is that.

Sadly, Gillette's experience is not unique. Consider Victoria's Secret, a company who makes much of its money by exposing women's breasts. According to the Newsweek article "Breast on a Plane" just linked-to above, last year Victoria’s Secret would not allow women to breastfeed in their stores in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. One wouldn't want any breast tissue exposed in these Victoria's Secret stores, despite the pictures of scantily-clad models adorning their walls.

The Newsweek article also reports that year before last, a Maryland woman breast-feeding in a Starbucks was asked to move to a restroom if she wanted to continue feeding her baby. Never mind that restrooms aren't the most sanitary of places to feed one's baby. Never mind that the bulk of the fat in Starbucks's beverages comes from the milk -- yes, milk! -- of another species. Apparently, at these Starbucks stores, while hormone-laced bovine mammary fluid is good to go, human mammary fluid has got to go. Never mind all that. There is something twisted about a corporate policy that encourages people to gorge themselves on 720-calorie venti banana mocha frappuccinos (a third of one's total daily caloric requirement in a single beverage) together with a few hundred additional calories from some sugar- and fat-laden pastry, but doesn't allow a mother to provide basic sustenance to her child. How sick and twisted have we become?

As the Newsweek story indicates, 38 states have passed laws giving women the right to breastfeed in any public or private place she’d otherwise be allowed to be. However, 12 states, namely, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming and Wisconsin [Imagine, The Dairy State doesn't protect a woman's right to nurse!], as well as the District of Columbia offer women no protection or very limited protection of their right to breastfeed their children. The legislators in these 12 states ought to be ashamed. We owe it to our children to give them the best start we possibly can. Breast-feeding does just that. We should honor and respect women who elect to breastfeed their babies. If you live in one of these 12 states, contact your state legislators and encourage them to pass a bill (modeled after one of the bills in the other 38 states) that guarantees that nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in any public or private place that they are otherwise allowed to be. We owe it to the mothers in these states and to their babies to allow mothers to provide their babies nature's most nutritious food.

The bottom line: Instead of finding "gross and offensive" the most natural, loving and endearing thing in the world, we as a society should applaud and support women who are doing right by their babies and breast-feeding them. One effective way of doing that is to boycott businesses that interfere with a woman's right to breastfeed her child. Here are some things that each of us can do to stage effective boycotts so as to ensure that every mother has the right to do the best thing for her baby and breastfeed her/him. First, if a business has interfered with you when you were trying to breastfeed your a child, make that fact widely known and encourage everyone you know to boycott that business until it changes its unacceptable policy vis-à-vis breast-feeding. Second, write letters to that business's headquarters letting them know that you are boycotting it and why. Third, write letters to the editor in your local newspaper accurately and fairly describing how the business interfered with your right to nurse your child. Fourth, post fair and accurate descriptions of the incident on blogs and encourage readers to boycott the offending business. Similarly, if you know of a woman whose right to nurse her child in public has been violated, encourage her to come forward with her story, so that conscientious consumers can boycott that business. I don't know about you, but I won't be flying on Freedom Airlines anytime soon. If a woman isn't free to breastfeed on all of their flights, I will freely take my business elsewhere.

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