Benefit and risk assessment of breastmilk for infant health in Norway


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The present benefit and risk assessment of breastmilk and contaminants in breastmilk was initiated by the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety (VKM). The overall objective is to provide a balanced assessment of the benefits of breastmilk against the possible risks from exposure to contaminants in breastmilk with focus on Norwegian conditions. The aim is to contribute to a foundation for decision-makers when providing recommendations on the length of exclusive and partial breastfeeding. The composition of breastmilk is tailored for the needs of the newborn. Provided that the nutritional needs of the mother are met during pregnancy and breastfeeding, breastmilk covers all the nutritional requirements of the infant the first months of life, with the exception of vitamin D. Breastmilk also contains a number of specialised components, including growth factors, factors with anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and selected immunological components which boost the maturation of the infant’s immune system. Infant formula fulfils the infant’s established nutritional needs, but does not provide the specific protective factors which are present only in breastmilk. However, studies over the last four decades have shown that polluting chemicals have accumulated in the environment, biomagnified in the food chain, are in our bodies, and consequently in breastmilk. The levels of lipid-soluble persistent contaminants in the foetus, the newborn child and in breastmilk largely reflect the amount of these in the mother’s body. Thus, breastmilk contains nutrients and protective immunological factors which have a positive effect on infant health, but may also contain contaminants. Particularly lipid-soluble and persistent contaminants accumulate in the infant during breastfeeding. This has contributed to a debate among experts agreeing that breastfeeding is beneficial, but discussing the advisable length of breastfeeding.




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