Breast Milk vs Baby Formula
Deciding whether to breast feed a baby or not is one of the biggest decisions a mother has to make. For some women there is no such luxury as circumstances such as the mother’s state of health, baby’s health, lifestyle and comfort level dictate how baby gets fed. But for others, the decision has to be made and it helps if the mom knows the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding and formula feeding. While breastfeeding is the best, easiest and convenient option, it does not work for all women or all babies. If you worry that if you do not breast feed you will fail to bond with your baby, stop worrying. You can still bond with the baby through bottle feeding, spoon feeding, bath time and play time.
Whatever your decision, never allow other people to make you feel guilty. Some people will not feel comfortable around you when you breastfeed while others will criticize you for not breastfeeding. It can be confusing and you can’t please everyone. Make a decision that is best for you and your baby. When deciding what to feed the baby, take your circumstances into consideration. Are you a stay-at-home mom or must you go back to work? Did you have breast surgery before? Do you have medical problems that might interfere with breastfeeding or make breastfeeding risky for your baby? Good news is that both breast milk and formula provide hydration, energy and nutrients so your baby will grow irrespective of what you choose to feed it.
Breast milk is the most natural food for your baby since it was designed for human babies. It is quite complex compared to other mammals’ milk since it has to build our more complex brains, our unique digestive systems and our immunity. Even health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breastfeeding for babies. The AAP recommends breast milk exclusively for 6 months and then up to twelve months if both mother and baby are still able.
Advantages of Breast Milk
- Hormones that promote bonding and regulate appetite.
- Stem cells that are thought to support organ development and repairs.
- Positive bacteria that protect and develop the baby’s digestive system and the gut microbiome.
- Prebiotics that support gut health.
- Long-chain fatty acids that are required to develop the baby’s eyes, nervous system and the eyes.
- Enzymes that support baby’s digestive system and the immune system.
- Nucleotides and hormones that are involved in the development of baby’s sleep-wake patterns.
2. Develops baby’s immune system
- The very first breast milk produced by the mother, the colostrum, contains antibodies to protect the newborn baby against diseases.
3. Strengthens baby’s immune system
- During breastfeeding, white blood cells, antibodies and other germ-fighting agents move from the mother to the baby to strengthen the immune system and reduce risks of infections.
4. Easy to digest
- Breast milk is easy for baby to digest it. It is rare for breast-fed babies to suffer from constipation.
5. It’s a complete food
- Breast milk contains more than 1,000 proteins, and all the vitamins and minerals that a baby needs to grow and stay healthy. Only vitamin D is absent so if you live in the tropics, take your baby for a walk daily and if you live in the cold regions give your baby vitamin B supplements in winter and take walks in summer.
6. It’s free!
- Breast milk is free. Even the less fortunate people can raise healthy babies because they do not have to pay for breast milk.
7. Taste varies
- The mother’s diet influences the taste of the milk so the baby gets exposed to the various tastes through its mother’s milk.
- Breast milk is readily available any time and place: no washing and sterilizing of bottles, no preparation, no warming up and waiting for milk to cool down. Best of all, it never runs out at inconvenient times!
9. Smart babies
- Some studies have found that babies that are raised on breast milk are smarter than babies that are raised on formula.
10. Can be pumped
- If you have to go to work you can pump the milk. Basically, the more you breastfeed and pump, the more milk you produce so there is always plenty of milk for baby. You can even freeze any excess milk for when you are away from baby.
11. Shrinks the uterus
- When you breast feed soon after giving birth you will feel your uterus responding. Breastfeeding actually helps the uterus to shrink faster.
12. Prevents diseases for moms
- Scientists have found that women who breastfeed their babies reduce the risks of high blood pressure, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
13. Emotional connection
- The skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby during breastfeeding enhances the emotional bond between mother and baby. The ability to totally nourish your baby helps you to become more confident in your ability to raise the baby.
- Breast milk is a living fluid that changes according to the needs of the baby. For example, when baby is ill, the mother’s body makes extra white blood cells and antibodies that enter the baby’s body through the milk and fight infections.
15. Disease prevention for baby
- Breast milk prevents type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, lymphoma, asthma and overweight in the child’s later years.
- It lowers the risks of sudden infant death syndrome in baby’s first year.
- Breast milk burns up to 500 calories per day, helping mom to lose weight fast.
So far, there are other components in breast milk whose functions are not yet understood. Scientists are still studying it.
Disadvantages of Breast Milk
- New mothers normally feel a lot of discomfort when their babies suck hard on nipples that are not used to the pressure. Sores on nipples are common in the early days of suckling the first baby. With proper education and support mothers do get used to breastfeeding.
2. Feeding in public
- A baby can get hungry at very inconvenient times and the mother is forced to feed it in public. If there is no restroom for mothers and babies, simply cover your breasts with a baby blanket and feed your baby.
3. Frequency of feeding
- Breast milk is light and easy to digest so babies get hungry quite often during the day and the night. The mother has to be available many times per day and night for feeds.
4. Mom must watch her diet
- Whatever the mother consumes is passed on to the baby through the milk so a breastfeeding mother must watch what she eats and drinks. Avoid fish that is high in mercury, low-mercury fish, alcohol, and caffeine. If you consume alcohol or caffeine please wait for some hours before breastfeeding. Knowing how fast breast-fed babies become hungry, drinking alcohol and caffeine is not a good idea.
5. Not easy with medical conditions
- If you had breast reduction surgery, some of your milk ducts were severed so you will not have enough milk. If you are HIV/AIDS positive, or you are undergoing chemotherapy or you are taking certain meds, breastfeeding might not be safe for your baby. Discuss with your medical practitioner.
About Baby Formula
Commercially produced baby formula is the best alternative to breast milk. Manufacturers of baby formula make an effort to match breast milk but they can never properly duplicate mother’s milk which is a living substance. In fact, formula is cow’s milk that has been processed intensively to make it suitable for infants. Fortunately, the manufacturers are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure the formula contains all the necessary nutrients including vitamin D.
Formula brands contain different ingredients but basically formula is made of processed skimmed cow’s milk with added stabilizers and emulsifiers. It may also contain lactose, plant-based oils such as palm oil, fatty acids from fish oil, vitamins, minerals from plant and animal sources, a number of enzymes and amino acids and sometimes probiotics. Goat’s milk, hypoallergenic and soy formulas tend to have a different mix of ingredients.
Considering that breast milk contains more than 1,000 proteins, copying a number of proteins will never make formula resemble breast milk. To increase the amino acids to the level that meets baby’s needs, excess protein has to be added to the formula. Unfortunately, it is converted into fat and babies become too fat, making parents believe they are doing well. Not necessarily!
Advantages of Baby Formula
1. It is highly nutritious
- Though it may never match breast milk exactly, it has a high value of nutrients.
- The mother can go to work or even travel and leave the baby at home with a caregiver. Also, the baby’s father can share the feeding responsibility, especially at night, and bond with the baby.
- The mother can wash and sterilize the bottles and leave them ready for use while she goes away to work. She does not need to plan her activities around the baby’s feeds as a caregiver can do the work for her. In public the mother can easily prepare the milk and feed the baby anywhere. She does not need to seek privacy like the breastfeeding mom.
- Formula takes longer to digest so the baby gets fed less frequently.
- You do not need to worry about your diet since you are not breastfeeding, so you can enjoy a glass of wine or coffee once in a while.
Disadvantages of Baby Formula
1. It is costly
- The milk has to be bought together with the bottles and nipples. Powdered formula is the least expensive, followed by concentrated formula followed by the very expensive ready-to-feed formula. If baby has special needs and requires special formula such as soy or hypoallergenic, then the cost is much higher than basic formula. Also, formula-fed babies tend to be sicker than breast-fed babies so there are more trips to the doctor and the cost of medicines.
2. Lack of antibodies
- Formula does not contain antibodies that are found naturally in breast milk. Therefore, a baby who is started on formula right from birth does not enjoy the protection that a breast-fed baby enjoys.
3. There is no variety in taste
- The milk is designed to taste in a certain way and it stays that way.
- The bottles have to be washed and sterilized, the milk has to be prepared which increases the risks of tummy bugs if the adult is not hygienic. Formula never comes at the right temperature; it is either too hot or too cold and baby has to wait for the right temperature. Planning and organization are required to make sure that milk is ready at the right time before baby become too fussy.
5. No versatility
- Formula can never match the versatility and complexity of breast milk which changes as the baby’s needs change.
6. Digestive problems
- Formula-fed babies tend to suffer from gas and constipation more than breast-fed babies and their stools are firmer compared to the loose stool of breast-fed babies. That means more discomfort and lots of crying compared to the breast-fed babies.
Armed with this knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of both options, you should review your circumstances to determine what is best for you and the baby. If you have to go to work while baby is still small, maybe a combination of breast when you are at home, and formula while you are away will work best. Enjoy!