New moms face a variety of choices after giving birth. One of the most important is how to feed their newborn. With more women choosing full-time careers along with motherhood, the debate whether to breastfeed infants or opt for formula is one happening more and more often. More people are wanting to do both and career moms are more likely to want to breastfeed. In some cases, a mother may want to breastfeed, but she isn't able to, either because her body simply doesn't produce enough milk or for other health reasons. Both breastmilk and formula offer nutrition for infants, but is one significantly better than the other?
The consensus among experts is that "breast is best," and the American Academy of Pediatrics says mothers should exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months of an infant's life and up to a year or longer if possible. But if a mother's lifestyle makes it difficult to breastfeed or she is unable to produce an adequate milk supply, is there any evidence that bottle-fed children grow up deficient in essential nutritional and developmental needs?
"There are numerous studies on the benefits of breastfeeding for health, nutrition, and development," says Elizabeth Smith, MD of University of Utah Health Care."What is most important is to look at breastfeeding as the normal; what we would expect."
Understanding the Possible Risks
Doctors have found that not breastfeeding can lead to decreases in nutritional health and development. However, that is not to say children who are formula fed will definitely be worse off than their breastfed peers. "How much of an impact is dependent on a lot of other factors going on in the house/family," says Smith. "So it won't necessarily have an impact. But it does have the increased risk of impact."
Smith adds that there are some risks of contamination from formula and mothers must know how to safely prepare and feed formula products. "The most important thing for a mom to know is that there are reasons why she may choose or cannot breastfeed her child," said Smith. "It is up to her and her family to make the best decisions for her child. If she isn't breastfeeding, she needs to have education and support for her feeding method."
If you are still on the fence as to whether or not breastfeeding is the safest and more nutritious option for your infant, here are four more reasons why breastfeeding is the ideal option for your baby.
Breastfeeding allows the mother to pass antibodies to her infant that are instrumental in fighting both ear and respiratory infections, meningitis, some allergies, and asthma. "Due to not getting the antibodies from the breast milk, the baby is at higher risk of illness, both acute and chronic," says Smith.
Easier to Digest
The composition of breast milk is appropriately balanced with protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, and hormones. It also contains the proteins casein and whey which are important for digestion. In human milk, the early composition has a higher whey rate and slowly increases to a 50/50 ration at about 6 months of age. Formula products have a 50/50 ration for all the milk products so it is harder on the newborn and younger baby's gut. The way the proteins digest is also one of the components that leads to a reduction in SIDS for breastfed babies.
The time a new mother spends with her infant is an enviable moment. "The bond babies develop with their moms due to breastfeeding leads to better emotional development and stability," says Darcia Narvaez, PhD. "The act of breastfeeding and the skin-to-skin contact involved releases the hormones serotonin and oxytocin in both the mom and baby." This process encourages a strong emotional bond between mother and infant.
The financial advantages of breastfeeding are hard to overlook. Let's face it: babies are expensive. Between clothing, a crib, diapers, wipes, toys, care, and other general items that are sure fill up your minivan, infant formula can double those costs. Let's figure an average cost of $105 per month, for a total of six months; parents can spend up to $700 on formula alone. By comparison the cost of breast milk is zero. They would have to continue on formula even with complementary foods for up to a year. So we usually use the $1200-$1500 per year in estimating cost.
Moms want what is best for their babies. That's why we always like to say "breast is best" when it comes to feeding.