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Soy-based formula for babies may affect their reproductive systems

This research shows that soy-based formula for babies can cause faster development, and this was especially true for baby girls. Read on to know more.

Soy-based formula for babies is chosen by parents when their little ones are sensitive or allergic to cow's milk protein. However, a recent study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), U.S., has unveiled a startling health effect of soy-based formula for babies.

They discovered that feeding your infants soy-based formula, as opposed to cow-based formula or breast milk, may create differences in their reproductive cells and tissues.

Let's find out more about this study and its findings.

Should you say 'No' to soy-based formula for babies?

Researchers found that soy formula contains a high concentration of plant-based estrogen. This can bring about subtle effects in estrogen-responsive tissues in soy-fed infants, which may or may not have long-term health effects.

Virginia A. Stallings, MD, director, Nutrition Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), who co-wrote the study with NIEHS said, "Because this formula is the sole food source for many babies in the first six months of life, it’s important to understand the effects of exposure to such compounds during a critical period in development."

However, she did note that these differences were subtle and not alarming. But only further investigation can prove the long-term effects of "exposure to estrogen-like compounds found in soy-based formulas."

Why plant-based estrogen may not be good for your baby

According to the study, many mothers who are unable to breastfeed or give cow-based formula, instead opt for soy-based formula for babies. This could be due to difficulty with breastfeeding or the baby being lactose intolerant.

But what they do not realise is that soy-based formula may have high amounts of genistein, an estrogen-like compound.

"Like other estrogen-mimicking chemicals found in the environment, genistein can alter the body’s endocrine system and potentially interfere with normal hormonal development," CHOP stated in its release. That is why soy-based formula for babies may not be a good option.

Baby girls were more susceptible to faster hormonal development

To further understand the level of hormonal development, the researchers enrolled 410 infant-mother pairs. But only 283 pairs completed the study.

Out of these, 102 infants were exclusively fed soy formula, 111 were given cow-milk formula, and 70 were on breast milk. And, about 50 percent of the infant participants were girls.

Stallings clarifies, “This was an observational study, not a randomized trial. All of the mothers had decided on their feeding preferences before we enrolled them in the study.”

The team studied three outcomes:

  1. Maturational index (MI), which was based on epithelial cells taken from the baby's urogenital tissue
  2. Ultrasound measurements of uterine, ovarian and testicular volume, and breast-buds
  3. Hormone concentrations through blood tests

Stallings noted, “The main differences we found related to different feeding preferences were among the girls."

soy-based formula for babies Baby girls studies in this research had higher developmental trajectories. | Image courtesy: stock image

There were three changes that they noted.

  • As compared to girls who were fed cow-milk formula, those who were given soy-based formula showed higher developmental trajectories
  • Such babies also had higher vaginal cell MI
  • Their uterine volume decreased more slowly (as compared to babies fed cow-based formula)

Incidentally, the study team found similar differences between breastfed and soy-fed girls.

“We don’t know whether the effects we found have long-term consequences for health and development, but the question merits further study,” said Stallings. She also added that while many mothers may prefer soy-based formula, they still recommend breastfeeding.

“For new and expectant mothers deciding on how to feed their infants, as always, we strongly support breastfeeding, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)," she categorically stated.

But what if you are unable to produce enough breast milk?

How to naturally increase breast milk supply

As stated in our previous article, milk production works on the demand and supply principle. When your baby demands milk, your body will produce milk to fulfill his need.

However, sometimes your body needs an extra push in order to produce enough milk to sustain your baby’s demand.

In that case, you can try the following.

  • Milk boosters. You can increase milk supply naturally by including galactagogues (breastmilk boosters) in your diet. These include fenugreek seeds, herbal tea, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and dried figs. Lactation cookies also contain many of these galactagogues.
  • Pumping. You may have to start pumping using an electric breast pump. Ideally, you should pump every three hours and even during the night. So pump for five to six minutes on a low to medium setting on the pump. Then, follow it up with a breast massage. Afterwards, pump for five to six minutes again.
  • Donor breast milk. When none of these natural ways work, you can consider donor breast milk.

If all fails, consult your baby's paediatrician for support and guidance.

 

Sources: Science Daily, Medicalxpress, CHOP

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Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore