Ask anyone experienced in animal husbandry and they will confirm: THE crucial factor in a calf living & growing versus dying is whether or not the calf receives colostrum within an hour of birth This is one of the key reasons why you’ll find the cattle farmers quite short on sleep during calving season.
Bottom line is that newborn mammals need to suckle right after birth.
Why do we persist in the myth that “breastfeeding is the mother’s choice” and make no distinction between first-hour colostrum and ongoing breastfeeding? In what other circumstances do we allow “parental choice” to put the lives of their children at risk? We insist on safety seats in cars, we insist on immunizations, we have compulsory education. If a child is inappropriately dressed for the weather, beaten, obviously malnourished, or living without shelter, child protective services intervene. We go so far as to recommend that human mothers, like bovine mothers, be immunized against certain diseases during the latter part of their pregnancy so that the newborns can carry certain immunities at birth.
Yet we make inadequate efforts to educate for newborns to receive colostrum from their mother at the beginning of their breathing days. We lump the crucial first-hour colostrum together with the entire package of breastfeeding and let it be lost to “the mother’s choice”. The evidence of benefit from the practice of suckling colostrum is so strong across multiple species that I think it is tantamount to child abuse to withhold it from any infant.
Regarding infant nutrition and health, statistical analysis estimates that approximately 900 infant deaths per year in the USA could be prevented if children were exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months. Recent DNA-based findings that breast milk can contain more than 700 species of bacteria are amazing when coupled with evidence of the contributions made to immunity from the digestive flora. Human sciences are merely confirming that which has been known by the cattle farmers for decades!
The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. These are not idle recommendations drawn from anecdotes and hear-say: they are evidence-based and effective for improving the health and saving the lives of our children.
For the sake of the children being born into your clan, let us adopt realistic expectations and attitudes regarding the female capacity to feed our young. Men and women alike, we need to accept and honor this capacity as we model life and teach our children. Let our boys and girls respect that for which mammary tissue is developed, and let our young mothers be encouraged from all the people in their life to give life to their babies through breastfeeding within the crucial first hour of each and every birth, and continuing to give breast-milk as the sole source of nutrition for the first 6 months.