I hope everyone is having a blessed week.
I’m sure you can guess by the title, but this is a post to add to the ever popular debate on which form of feeding is best for infants. If you have extremely strong opinions on the topic, I do welcome any opinionated comments, but please keep negativity and the arguments to yourself. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, and this is definitely a topic that promotes strong opinions.
Before I continue, I’d like to add a disclaimer: I am not ignorant to the fact that breast milk is nutritionally better for infants than formula, and I do know that the benefits from breast milk are far better than those from formula of any kind. With that said, ‘Fed is Best’ implies that feeding a baby is better than not feeding a baby. That’s obvious, is it not?
I am going to present this post as if you, the reader, are uninformed on the pros and cons of both breast feeding and formula feeding. Now, if you’re ready to read why I strongly believe FED is best, please read on.
B R E A S T F E E D I N G
It’s no secret that, today, women are much more educated about the benefits of breast feeding and are advocating for the normalization of breast feeding. Whether you strongly believe in breast feeding your child because you enjoy the beautiful bond it provides, you believe it is the healthiest option your little one, it’s the best option for your budget, or because you are an advocate for desexualizing the woman’s breast in today’s sex-crazed society, breast feeding is a wonderful choice. Not only is it the most natural option for feeding your child, “a number of health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions” (1). According to the American Pregnancy Association, the nutritional benefits of breast milk far outweigh those of formula. The nutrient-dense breast milk provides infants with the proteins whey and casein, which balance perfectly to allow for easy digestion, and help protect against infection. Below is a list of additional nutrients found in breast milk (also provided by the American Pregnancy Association):
- Lactoferrin inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This inhibits certain organisms, such as coliforms and yeast, that require iron.
- Secretory IgA also works to protect the infant from viruses and bacteria, specifically those that the baby, mom, and family are exposed to. It also helps to protect against E. Coli and possibly allergies. Other immunoglobulins, including IgG and IgM, in breast milk also help protect against bacterial and viral infections. Eating fish can help increase the amount of these proteins in your breast milk.
- Lysozyme is an enzyme that protects the infant against E. Coli and Salmonella. It also promotes the growth of healthy intestinal flora and has anti-inflammatory functions.
- Bifidus factor supports the growth of lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is a beneficial bacteria that protects the baby against harmful bacteria by creating an acidic environment where it cannot survive.
Human milk also contains fats that are essential for the health of your baby. It is necessary for brain development, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and is a primary calorie source. Long chain fatty acids are needed for brain, retina, and nervous system development. They are deposited in the brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and are also found in breast milk.
The amount and types of vitamins in breast milk is directly related to the mother’s vitamin intake. This is why it is essential that she gets adequate nutrition, including vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, are all vital to the infant’s health.
Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, and panthothenic acid are also essential. Because of the need for these vitamins, many healthcare providers and lactation consultants will have nursing mothers continue on prenatal vitamins.
Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in human milk. It accounts for approximately 40% of the total calories provided by breast milk. Lactose helps to decrease the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the stomach, which improves the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It helps to fight disease and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the stomach.
Many of these nutrients are exclusive to breast milk, and cannot be added to formula (2).
Aside from the nutrition that breast milk provides, breast feeding can also be a more cost-effective feeding choice than formula. Breast milk is essentially free! Usually, women need to pump breast milk in order to keep their supply up and keep the pain of engorgement down. Many insurance companies will provide mothers with a free breast pump, which is great to know if you are on a tight budget and cannot afford to purchase a pump on your own. In the case of leaks (which are very common), there may also be the cost of nursing pads; and for convenience’s sake, nursing bras can be purchased. The milk is free, but the accessories are not. One benefit, though, is that these accessories are not items that need to be purchased often-once they are purchased, they usually last quite a while. These accessories are not necessarily essential, but can be very convenient and beneficial.
Another benefit of breast feeding is the convenience that it provides (once the routine and the latching are figured out by mama and baby). When an infant gets hungry, it takes little time to prepare-you just need to adjust your top and bra to expose the breast to the infant, then get him/her to latch on, and some women choose to create more privacy by covering up with a nursing cover. If the mother’s breast milk supply is consistently available, then the breast milk is always ready to feed the infant and is at the perfect temperature.
Now, there are obviously a lot of benefits to breast feeding for both mom and baby, but that is not to say that there are no disadvantages. Breast feeding can create tension for the mother due to frustration with difficulty getting the baby to latch, pain or discomfort with early nursing, infection, and having to be readily available to nurse whenever the baby is hungry. In the case of a mom going back to work or being away from her infant on a daily basis, she will have to make time to pump milk in order to not lose her milk supply. Some would argue that breastfeeding is not convenient, some would argue that it does not create a beautiful bond, and some would not agree that it is the better choice for their lifestyle and family-and that’s okay! No woman should be shamed for deciding to breastfeed, just as no woman should be shamed for choosing the other option…
F O R M U L A F E E D I N G
Formula feeding a baby may be inconvenient to some, but may also be much more convenient than breastfeeding for others. Feeding a baby a bottle provides the mother with a chance to allow someone else to feed the baby while she gets a break (which mamas need sometimes!), provides an alternative form of nutrition for the baby if breast milk supply goes down or completely goes away, can be convenient during travel, provides a means of nutrition for babies who aren’t getting enough breast milk or who do not have the chance to nurse.
As stated before, formula does not provide the same amount of nutrition as breast milk, but it does provide nutrients that still help babies grow and live healthy lives. Many formulas today resemble breast milk much closer than formulas of the past and may even help babies receive nutrients that mothers are lacking and cannot provide for their babies the amount that is needed.
Infant formulas “offer nutrients that breastfed babies may need to get from supplements, such as vitamin D. Like breast milk, formula can also have the important omega-3 fatty acid DHA” (3), and can be low in Cholesterol and Sodium, a good source of Vitamin E , Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus and Copper, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Riboflavin, Niacin and Calcium” (4).
Some women either never get their breast milk after having their baby (our bodies are amazingly different from one another!), have adopted/are caring for a baby that they did not give birth to and therefore do not have breast milk, or have a milk supply that has decreased or completely gone away. Formula offers the opportunity to either supplement to meet a baby’s needs, or provide an alternative to breast milk if a mother does not want to/cannot breastfeed.
Unfortunately, formula feeding is not as inexpensive as breastfeeding. When feeding a baby formula, the costs of formula, bottles, nipples, bottle warmers, etc. can add up. According to the Formula Cost Calendar provided by the Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, the first year of formula feeding can cost anywhere from $1,138.5 to $1,188.00 in formula costs alone (5). Fortunately, the government does offer financial assistance for mothers who cannot afford to buy formula on their own.
It can sometimes be difficult to get a baby to take a bottle of formula if it is not a warm temperature, which often means that bottles will need to be warmed. Warming a bottle is not necessarily a difficult task, but it can take away from the convenience of bottle feeding.
**2 Great strategies for warming bottles without purchasing a bottle warmer: 1. Fill a mug half way with water, microwave for 1 1/2 minute, then set bottle of milk/formula in the warm water for 1-15 minutes (do not exceed 15 minutes; 2. Run the bottle of milk/formula under hot water. Always test the temperature before feeding baby the bottle!**
When dealing with formula-filled bottles, more is to be taken into consideration than when feeding directly from the breast. Examples of what must be considered is the length of time that the bottle is left out of the refrigerator and how much time has passed since the bottle was made. Again, these are not necessarily difficult, but they may create an inconvenience for some.
**Travel Tip: When travelling, pack a bottle of water and a container with a pre-measured amount of formula (according to the amount of water) in it so that the formula may be mixed later, as opposed to hours before it is needed.**
Lastly, a great aspect of formula/bottle feeding is that it provides the opportunity for individuals other than the infant’s mother to take care of the feeding. If mama needs a nap or break, or is at work or needs to complete a task, bottle-feeding makes feeding the baby an easy task for anyone to accomplish and still allows for those precious snuggles and bonding.
Obviously, there are both positive and negative aspects to breast feeding and formula feeding. A VERY important thing to consider is that the decision of what to feed a baby lies with the parents (or guardian/caretaker) of the baby. We all know it certainly takes a village to raise a child, but the “village” does not need to give unsolicited advice about how or what to feed a baby. It is a huge decision, but once the decision is made, no one has the right to shame a parent for choosing to either breastfeed, formula-feed, or both. Please, please, please remember this: you do not have the right to make a mother (or anyone else) feel guilty for her choice on how to feed her child. If the child is getting fed and is receiving the right amount of nutrition, is healthy and happy, then that is what’s best. FED is what’s best.
I would love to receive feedback on this post, as well as any comments or questions. I am open to constructive criticism and welcome any comments you might have, but ask that you are respectful in your approach and understand that not everyone agrees on everything.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
xoxo Mrs. Parry