We’ve all heard it before: “Breast is best.”
It seems our society automatically presumes that just because a mother is breast feeding, her baby is immune from all things formula fed babies are prone to and are sort of “shielded” from any harm. No one really talks about what a mother eats (or should be eating) during the time of lactation. It seems no one really cares. As long as the mother is breast feeding, the child will get all the nutrition they need, right?
But I have a question… What if the diet of the mother is not the best? What if the mother eats a Standard American Diet full of trans fats, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. Then is breast best? Or not so much?
The Problem With Trans Fat
The majority of us now know trans fats are bad news. We’re not talking about the small percentage of natural trans fat found in dairy and animal meats – we’re talking about man-made trans fat. Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with a host of other serious diseases, not only cancer but also atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons. (source)
Trans fats are found in processed foods like baked goods, pizza dough, frozen foods, margarine, and shortening and “food” that comes from fast food joints. These are things we should NOT be consuming. However, unfortunately a large majority of people do.
What is the main problem with trans fat anyway?
The number one biggest problem about trans fats is they are not recognized by our bodies. In other words, they are not natural. When trans fats are created, they go through an abnormal hydrogenation process. During this hydrogenation process, the cellular structure changes in such a way our body does not understand what it is.
Because the human body does not understand these newfangled trans fats they are not eliminated through the body. Instead, they indefinitely become a part of your cell structure — in other words, your cells become partially hydrogenated. From there, havoc starts to wreak throughout your body (especially cell metabolism) because chemical reactions can only take place when electrons in the cell membranes are in certain arrangements or patterns, which the hydrogenation process has disturbed. (source)
Can we all say “yikes!” together??
Are Trans Fats Transferred Through Breast Milk?
I think some women think breast milk is satisfactorily enough when it comes to providing their new babies with nutrition. It can be, if you are eating the right type of foods. But let’s be real here, not every mom eats the right type of foods during pregnancy and lactation.
Honestly, to me, common sense says, “Yes. Diet DOES matter.” If you are a lactating mother and your diet consists of processed foods containing refined sugars, flours, trans fats, and foods that have pesticides, GMOs and toxins, then I’m sure those harmful factors will transfer over to your baby.
But most times, common sense is not good enough. People want to see the proven scientific evidence that trans fats indeed transfer through in breast milk.
What About The Studies?
In 2008 Brazilian researchers took lactating rats and divided them into two groups; a control group fed a diet containing soybean oil and the other group was fed a diet containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. In total, the trans fat concentration was 11.75% of the total fat in the diet.
Once the pups were weaned, the researchers fed both groups a normal diet until age 60. The results were recorded at that point.
The researchers found a significant decrease in measures of glucose metabolism in the heart muscles of the pups whose mothers was fed trans fat.
‘Our data strongly suggest that trans fats ingestion during early life is particularly related to insulin resistance and to the consequent impairment of cardiac glucose metabolism in adulthood,’ wrote lead author Fernanda Silveira Osso from the State University of Rio de Janeiro.” (source)
Fernanda also stated more studies should be done to “understand the mechanisms of underlying the early- and long-term actions of these fatty acids.”
Another study was conducted in 2010 between a group of 96 women; mothers who only breastfed their infants, those who only used formula milk and those who used a combination of breast milk and formula.
The study found the infants whose mothers consumed more than 4.5 grams of trans fats per day while breast-feeding were twice as likely to have a high percentage of body fat than babies whose mothers consumed lower amounts of trans fats. (source)
“Trans fats stuck out as a predictor to increased adiposity in both mothers and their babies,” said study co-author, assistant professor Alex Anderson, of the University of Georgia. (source)
Scientists said further research was needed to learn more about how a mother’s consumption of trans fats may affect her child’s long-term health.
“It would help to be able to follow the child from when the mother was pregnant, through birth, and then adolescence, so that we can confirm what the type of infant feeding and maternal diet during breast-feeding have to do with the recent epidemic of childhood obesity,” study co-author Alex Anderson, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, said in a university news release. (source)
Here’s a fun fact as well: Trans fats were found to make up from seven to 17 percent of Canadian women’s breast-milk fat. That’s a big percentage of trans fats, don’t you think?
So, What Are The Results?
There are no “complete” proven studies but there is definitely evidence pointing to the fact that trans fat may indeed pass through from the mother to the baby. If you combined what common sense told you and what these studies show together, one would come to the conclusion that it is of best interest for you and your baby to stay away from trans fats during the lactation process.
Better yet, stay away from that crud as much as you can before conception, during pregnancy, after pregnancy and throughout the course of you and your families whole life.
Make sure to include whole, fresh foods in their most natural form. Stay away from processed, boxed, and canned foods. Focus on nutrient-dense foods like organ meats, pastured meats & eggs, raw dairy products, fermented and pro-biotic rich foods, and take a good quality fermented cod liver oil (learn why fermented cod liver oil is a super food).
photo credit: Neil Owens Photography