Monday, May 20, 2002

SOY BABIES: The brochures OB-GYNs and pediatricians hand out to new mothers always start this way: "Breast is best, but...." The "but" is always followed by an attempt to persuade mothers who can't or choose not to breastfeed that formula is basically equivalent to breastmilk, and that soy-based formula is basically equivalent to milk-based formula. Some mothers choose formula over breastfeeding, then read about dairy allergies, decide that milk-based formulas are bad, and immediately put their babies on soy formula. Other mothers start out breastfeeding, but when their babies develop dairy allergies, stop breastfeeding and turn to soy formula, instead of dropping dairy from their own diets. The result is that almost 15% of babies in the U.S. eat soy-based formulas, even though the percentage of dairy allergies in babies is much smaller. What makes this over-use of soy troubling is that it's a pretty poor substitute for breastmilk. Formula-fed babies generally have more illnesses than breastfed babies, and now it looks like soy-based formulas may cause even more immune system problems. Of course, soy formula is a necessary alternative for women who can't or don't breastfeed and have babies with milk allergies (although five to 30 percent of babies who have dairy allergies also have allergies to soy). But mothers who can choose between breastfeeding and formula need to make an informed choice -- and that means knowing the trade-offs.

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