Breast milk is conditionally perfect

Med Hypotheses. 2018 Feb;111:82-89. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.12.020. Epub 2017 Dec 14.


Breast milk is the universal preferred nutrition for the newborn human infant. New mother have been encouraged to exclusively breastfeed by health care professionals and consumer-advocacy forums for years, citing "breast milk is the perfect food". The benefits are numerous and include psychological, convenience, economical, ecological and nutritionally superior. Human milk is a composite of nutritional choices of the mother, commencing in the pre-conceptual era. Events influencing the eventual nutritional profile of breast milk for the neonate start with pre-conceptual dietary habits through pregnancy and finally to postpartum. Food choices do affect the nutritional profile of human breast milk. It is not known who coined the phrase "breast milk is the perfect food" but it is widely prevalent in the literature. While breast milk is highly nutritive, containing important immunological and growth factors, scientific investigation reveals a few short-falls. Overall, human breast milk has been found to be low in certain nutrients in developed countries: vitamin D, iodine, iron, and vitamin K. Additional nutrient deficiencies have been documented in resource-poor countries: vitamin A, vitamin B 12, zinc, and vitamin B 1/thiamin. Given these findings, isn't it more accurate to describe breast milk as "conditionally perfect"? Correcting the impression that breast milk is an inherently, automatically comprehensive enriched product would encourage women who plan to breastfeed an opportunity to concentrate on dietary improvement to optimizes nutrient benefits ultimately to the neonate. The more immediate result would improve pre-conceptual nutritional status. Here, we explore the nutritional status of groups of young women; some of whom will become pregnant and eventually produce breast milk. We will review the available literature profiling vitamin, mineral, protein and caloric content of breast milk. We highlight pre-existing situations needing correction to optimize conception and fetal development. While alternative forms of infant nutrition carry standard product labels of nutrient adequacy, this information does not apply universally to all breast milk. Infant formulas are fortified with various amounts of vitamins, minerals, supplemental protein concentrates, nucleic factors, omega 3 fatty acids and any important new nutritional finding. Infant formulas are manufactured to be consistent in composition and are monitored closely for quality. Not true for human breast milk. Any nutrient deficiency existing in pregnancy will ultimately be carried forward via lactation. It is a biological impossibility for a lactating woman to transfer nutrients via breast milk she does not have!

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child Nutrition Sciences
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation
  • Maternal Health
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Status
  • Postpartum Period
  • Poverty
  • Preconception Care
  • Pregnancy