KOLKATA: Cow's milk is unsuitable for babies as it is nutritionally inadequate, a study has claimed.
"Cow's milk deprives babies of proper nutrition as it contains high levels of protein unsuitable for immature kidneys of infants," Head of Biochemistry and Nutrition, All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Debnath Chaudhuri, said.
"For mothers unable to nurse because of health reasons, its best to consult the family physician about a safe alternative, rather than feeding cow's milk which is nutritionally inadequate for fast-developing babies," he said in a study, National Family Health Survey III, quoting nutritional experts.
Echoing his views, Director of National Institute of Nutrition B Sesikaran said cow's milk lacked nutrients and was also low in iron content. Although feeding infants cow's milk was more than a thousand-year-old tradition in India, he said, "It is an unsafe practice in the modern context where antibiotics and pesticides are detected in high levels in bovine milk."
He said declining rates in breastfeeding were mainly due to supplementation with plain water in the early months, followed by cow's milk in subsequent months.
"Additionally there exists the practice of introducing top feeds early in the form of diluted cow's milk. All this flies in the face of expert advice, which recommends avoiding cow's milk for the first year of the baby's life because it is inappropriate, unsafe and inadequate in terms of nutrient content," Sesikaran said.
Mother's milk, he said, was widely recommended because it was enriched with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including antibodies that safeguarded infants from life-threatening diseases. "Besides minimising risks of diarrhoea, breast milk protects babies from allergic reactions such as eczema."
The study said that many nursing mothers in India in the olden days breastfed for a longer period, but with changing times, they weaned babies off breast milk much earlier.
Data from the survey report indicated that many mothers stopped breastfeeding prematurely, with only 69 per cent infants less than two months of age being breastfed. "By 2-3 months of age the number falls to 51 per cent and by 4-5 months, breastfeeding plummets to 28 per cent only," the study said.
To safeguard infants, the Food Standards and Safety Association of India mandates an upper limit for certain micro-organisms like e.coli, staphylococcus aureus, shigella and salmonella, as well as yeast and moulds, among others, in pasteurised milk.
These norms were necessary because even milk from healthy cows and buffaloes contained a few bacteria that could be liable to hundred-fold bacterial contamination once it was stored for some time at normal temperature, the study said.