Dec 2018 Newsletter: Why Artificial Feeding for Infants Should be the Last Resort: Observations from Maureen Minchin’s talk

By Khatim Hamidon, Vice-President, BMSG
Photos courtesy of Alexandria Neoh, Picspirations Photography

Formula milk shrinks penises.

At least, that was one of the revelations about artificial feeding that stuck in my mind during a talk by Maureen Minchin, a renowned Australian breastfeeding researcher. The talk, titled Infant Feeding and Modern Epidemics: Obesity, Allergy, Autism, Diabetes, was organised by the BMSG  last November.

Maureen Minchin has studied the effects of artificial feeding for the short and long term.

Minchin, who pioneered the field of lactation consultancy, was in Singapore under the invitation of the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy (Singapore) (ABAS), and was also promoting her book, Milk Matters: Infant feeding & Immune Disorder, which took almost five years and not without sweat, tears and sacrifices to complete.

Formula feeding is wrought with sensitivity, with mothers pitted against each other on which mode of feeding is “better”. Minchin, however, did not shy away from the fact that formula milk should only be used as the last resort on what an infant should be fed during her talk. This was also an important tenet that underlies her writing.

Many people know about the benefits of breastfeeding (which is not a “benefit” to begin with, because breastfeeding should be the norm!). Breastfeeding reduces childhood illnesses, improves mothers’ health and promotes bonding between mother and child.

Minchin bravely delved into this further. She posited the milk hypothesis, in which breastfeeding is critical in transitioning a baby from a life inside the womb to a thriving life outside of it.

From health professionals, to breastfeeding counsellors, mothers and members of the public – all were interested to hear what Minchin had to share.

Breastmilk is the species-specific building blocks of the baby’s growth and development. An infant’s gut is permeable for this reason: to absorb stem cells and growth factors, besides the nutrients and antibodies in breastmilk, so as to develop optimally.

When breastfeeding is not realised, and the baby is exposed to formula milk instead, this will trigger epigenetic changes.

Babies exposed to formula milk are developing on ingredients that are not easily absorbed by their tiny bodies, and instead can be harmful to their gut – for example, synthetic nutrients derived from marine algae – which results in the baby’s development not following the same trajectory as that of a breastfed baby. This in turn affects babies right to the cellular level, skews the gut microbiome and this may be manifested both in the short and the long term hence why the various list of modern epidemics that Minchin shared with us in the title of her talk: obesity, eczema, PCOS, precocious puberty…and shrinking penises.

That is not all. These changes are also vertically communicated from the parent (either mother or father) to their children, and compounded through generations, as more and more babies are introduced to the supposedly modern artificial feeding.

It goes without saying that Minchin’s position is not shaming parents who are not breastfeeding their infants. On the contrary, she means that the majority of parents are not fully informed on the harms of artificial feeding. “How many OBGYNs actually talk to mothers about the importance of breastfeeding?” she asked the audience.

Minchin shared that a mother of a sick child cried when she read Minchin’s book, and exclaimed that she was relieved that whatever that her child was going through, was not her “fault” as a mother. That truly pierced my heart, because this was essentially a mother trying her best caring for her child and fighting the inadvertent product of previous generations.

It goes without saying that Minchin’s position is not shaming parents who are not breastfeeding their infants. On the contrary, she means that the majority of parents are not fully informed on the harms of artificial feeding. “How many OBGYNs actually talk to mothers about the importance of breastfeeding?” she asked the audience.

Some of BMSG’s volunteer counsellors and EXCO members with Minchin (centre, in black).

It feels quite bleak when you think about the generations of populations around the world introduced to unnecessary artificial feeding, and the well-meaning but damaging belief that it is a cure-all for almost any ailment: jaundice, weight loss, ineffective suckling, etc. Perhaps so many illnesses and health conditions could have been averted should young infants receive only what their sensitive tummies are meant to only fully digest: breastmilk.

But all is not lost. “Epigenetic changes do persist, but don’t persist forever,” Minchin explained, “…if we can manage to get the right care for breastfeeding babies for a few generations, we may be able to revert back to a better baseline genome.”

As the saying goes, when we know better, we do better. Let’s hope we continue to breastfeed, not just for ourselves, but also for our communities and society.

Minchin concluded with a stirring dénouement that, to me, simply cannot be summarised:

“Every one of you who is actually breastfeeding or has breastfed, has changed history for the better. You’ve helped to make the world a healthier place. You can regard yourself as (a) positive miracle worker, having succeeded in a society that stacked against success, structurally, in every way. If society just understood how really good breastmilk is, every mother would have been paid to stay home and breastfeed, or employ a wet nurse to do the job for her.”

I wanted to burst out crying. Mothers; we are miracle workers. Continue to advocate for breastfeeding for your child’s health, and for your child’s child’s health. We can make this world a better place.

Visit Maureen Minchin’s site here for more information on her work. You may also want to consider getting her book, Milk Matters: Infant feeding & Immune Disorder, which is sold at the BMSG website for $95. Part of the proceeds will go towards the BMSG.

Aug ’18 Newsletter: Babies, boobs & Zzzz

By Elaine Chow (BMSG President)

Across the various counselling channels that we have here at BMSG interacting with many mothers over the past several months has led us to notice a trend of a new recurring topic – sleep training. Many mums write to us, call our helpline or post on our Facebook group, asking how they can manage or improve baby’s sleep. I thought it timely for BMSG to put our position on this matter publicly.

Worrying about baby’s sleep?

Sleep is such a hot button topic among parents! So many mums worry about how much sleep baby is getting; whether it is enough, how we can get baby to sleep more or longer and many other concerns. There are also so many different, and often conflicting, viewpoints out there. Who should you listen to? Which approach best supports breastfeeding? If you want to learn more about infant sleep, and want to get information that supports breastfeeding, then this article is for you.

Myths & Misconceptions About Baby Sleep

The root of most of these worries and questions is an incorrect understanding of how babies are supposed to sleep, particularly at night. The general misconception is that babies should begin life with x number of night wakings, slowly decreasing to x-1 number of night wakings, then x-2, and all the way down to zero. The reality, though, is that there is a great variance in the number of night wakings that babies have, and this tends to go up and down for the first two years of life or longer. This is much later than many parenting books or “sleep experts” would have us believe.

Another misconception is that babies need to be taught how to sleep, or how to become “independent sleepers”. The reality is that babies do not need to be taught to sleep, in the same way that they do not need to be taught to walk. Babies will sleep best when they are put in an environment that encourages sleep – when they feel full, warm, loved and comforted. Breastfeeding your baby to sleep naturally creates such an environment.

Why Night Waking is Completely Okay

It is completely normal that babies, and even toddlers and children, need help to fall asleep. At such a young age, they can hardly do anything for themselves! They need you to feed them, change them, carry them around. So naturally, they will also need help to fall asleep. There are many ways to help them fall asleep, and breastfeeding is a great way to get this done. The act of breastfeeding, that close contact with mother, is always a surefire way of helping baby calm and settle down. Furthermore, breastmilk that is made at night contains higher levels of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

One of the lesser-mentioned benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). The exact explanation for why breastfeeding reduces the incidence of SIDS is still unclear, in part because the reasons for SIDS are not clear. Night wakings protect babies from SIDS, and breastmilk, being easily digested and often consumed in smaller quantities at the breast than in the bottle, promotes night waking.

But with the strain of modern living, especially with mothers having to return to work so soon after giving birth, how can we ensure that we are also getting enough sleep ourselves?


Safe co-sleeping (or bed-sharing) is the main way in which breastfeeding experts recommend for mothers to get as much sleep as they can, while still tending to the needs of baby at night. For tens of thousands of years, bed-sharing between mother and infant has been the biological norm for humans. It is only in modern times, with the decline of breastfeeding, that authorities have begun to recommend infants sleeping separately from their mothers.

The basics of safe co-sleeping are for babies to be sleeping on the back, on a firm surface, in a smoke-free environment, with a light blanket. Babies should not have their head covered, and the bed should not have any stuffed toys or pillows around the baby. Parents should also be non-smokers, and not under the influence of sedating medication, other drugs, alcohol, or other substance that will impair their awareness of baby’s presence.

The dangers of sleep-training

What about the sleep training techniques which are mentioned so often in so many modern parenting books? Methods such as extinction, controlled crying, check and leave, pick-up-put-down, or any other time-based method of withholding feeding or comfort to your child have become part of the vocabulary of the modern mum. But science clearly shows that such methods have a detrimental impact on the child. Babies fare best when they have caregivers who are responsive to their needs.

From a breastfeeding perspective, limiting or scheduling feeds can affect milk supply and milk intake by baby, resulting in other health issues further on such as slow weight gain, early weaning or the need for formula supplementation.

Breastsleeping – yes, there’s such a thing!

All this knowledge and information about breastfeeding, night feeding and infant sleep, has come together in a new concept proposed by sleep researcher Dr James McKenna – BreastsleepingBreastsleeping occurs when a nursing mother is safely bed-sharing with her nursling. His research showed that:

“…breastsleeping dyads synchronize their breathing and sleep cycles so that baby latches on and mother adjusts coverings, kisses baby’s head, etc. without either waking up fully. Breastsleeping babies also maintain higher body temperatures and breastfeed double or triple the number of times during the night compared with solitary sleeping infants. Both increased nighttime arousals and breastfeeding protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”

Understand What is Normal

Sleeping close to your baby at night, understanding and accepting his normal biological behaviour to wake at night, responding to his needs for comfort or feeding, all contribute to healthier and happier baby, and helps you maintain breastfeeding for longer. And of course, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefit to you and your baby. So don’t worry, your baby is normal, and they will all eventually learn how to sleep on their own when they are ready to do so.

References & Further reading: