Published On: Sat, Aug 24th, 2019

Choosing Between Breastfeeding and Formula

The topic on whether it’s better to breastfeed or use formula seems to be the ultimate debate among pregnant mothers. Ever since baby formula came on the commercialized market, mothers have argued back and forth on which option is better for your baby. Regardless of your choice on the matter, you will most likely run into a few people who question your decision. Women who choose to breastfeed in public often feel awkward or judged by their peers, and on the other side, women who use formula are criticized for not providing the “best” nutrition. 

The reality of the situation is that the best method of feeding your baby comes down to your personal needs and comfort level. Both breastmilk and formula provide the essential nutrition needed for your baby to be healthy and strong. Other people’s opinions should have no effect on your decision, as only you can know what’s best. If you’re on the fence about deciding which route to go, read below to find out more about the different pro’s and con’s associated with each method.

photo/ public domain pic from pixabay.com

Choosing to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding may seem like the most natural choice for your child because after all, breastmilk is specifically developed based on their personal nutritional needs. In general, breastmilk is considered to be the best option for feeding a child. Numerous health organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) unanimously agree that breastfeeding is the best choice for your baby’s nutrition. This is because of the various health benefits gained from breastmilk. Some of the things breastmilk can help with include:

  • Fighting infections: It’s been proven that breastfed babies experience fewer infections and hospitalizations compared to formula-fed babies. Breastmilk contains a large amount of antibodies, which helps strengthen the baby’s immune system. Developing a strong immune system early on in life can prevent certain infections like
    • Ear infections
    • Diarrhea
    • Respiratory infections
    • Meningitis 
  • Fighting against chronic conditions: Antibodies and other germ-fighting chemicals in breast milk can also help avoid the baby developing chronic conditions as they grow. Some of those conditions include:
    • Allergies
    • Asthma
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity

Breastmilk can also prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This is especially important for premature babies who are already at a higher risk of dying from SIDS. In general, breastmilk is very beneficial for premature babies as it helps speed up recovery from an underdeveloped immune system and underdeveloped organs. 

There are other perks to breastfeeding that can help with the convenience of feeding your baby, including:

  • Easier digestion of foods: Breastmilk is much easier for a baby to digest than formula. The components of breastmilk are mostly made up of lactose, protein, and fat, all of which are easy on the baby’s stomach. This means that a breastfed baby may experience fewer instances of constipation and diarrhea. Breastmilk is also filled with beneficial vitamins that help the baby grow. Additionally, breastmilk is often referred to as the “perfect food” for babies because it supplies the baby with special nutrition that cannot be replicated with formula. Even though formula is still a great alternative, breastmilk is a complex substance that is formulated for the child’s specific needs, and that is something that can never be made in a factory.
  • No cost of nutrition: A huge advantage for breast milk is the fact that it is completely free. Having to constantly stock up on formula can quickly add up in cost, but breastmilk is always available. You won’t have to worry about taking a midnight run to the store because you forgot to buy food for your baby. If you’re nursing directly from the breast, that also eliminates the need for bottles and other feeding supplies. Since a breastfed baby needs fewer trips to the doctor, you also save money on co-pays and medication.
  • Exposing your baby to new tastes: While nursing, it’s recommended that you maintain a healthy diet and eat a wide variety of foods. The foods you eat change the taste of your breastmilk. Exposing your baby to different tastes gets them used to eating these types of foods, which in return helps them accept solid foods in the future. 
  • Higher IQ: There have been recent studies released that suggest breastfed babies have better cognitive functioning compared to formula-fed babies.
  • Helps recover from pregnancy: Breastfeeding is not only good for the baby, it’s also good for mothers too! Nursing burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, which speeds up the process of the mother returning to her pre-pregnancy body. Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and endometrial and ovarian cancer. 

Possibly the best part of breastfeeding is the bond you create with you and your child. Holding your baby close and having skin-on-skin contact while nursing releases pleasure hormones, like oxytocin. Breastfeeding creates an intimate and emotional experience and helps your baby become more attached to you. Mothers have said that breastfeeding was one of the most enjoyable parts of caring for their baby after they were born.

Challenges of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a different experience for every mother. Some mothers are able to breastfeed immediately without any problems, but that is not the case for many others. It can be a long process for both you and the baby to get used to breastfeeding. It takes patience to be able to learn how to properly nurse without difficulty. Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Feeling uncomfortable: While breastfeeding can be a great experience, it, unfortunately, can come with a lot of stigmas as well. Some mothers feel incredibly awkward having to stop wherever they are to breastfeed their child, especially if they are in public. People may judge nursing mothers for exposing themselves too much in front of other people. Also, new mothers might not know a lot about breastfeeding and feel uncomfortable trying to figure it out themselves. Fortunately, with proper education, support, and practice, most mothers can overcome stigma and become knowledgeable about breastfeeding.
  • Latch-on pain: Many mothers experience pain from their baby latching onto the nipple. This is normal for the first 1-10 weeks and usually only lasts less than a minute into feeding. Continuous pain or sore nipples may indicate that the mother needs assistance from a lactation consultant. These doctors can teach you the proper latching technique and can help you find ways to reduce discomfort. 
  • Frequent feeding: Because breastmilk is so easily digested, that means a baby will need to feed more often. In fact, a breastfed newborn usually needs to feed every 1 to 3 hours. This can create a huge time commitment for mothers and disrupt their daily schedule. If the mother cannot stop to breastfeed each time, they may have to regularly pump their milk and carry bottles throughout the day. 
  • Restricted diet: Women who choose to breastfeed have to monitor their diet. Anything the mother eats can be passed into the breastmilk. This can be a huge downside to breastfeeding because the mother has already spent 9 months with food restrictions. Breastfeeding mothers should avoid eating too much fish because of the risk of mercury being passed onto the baby. If you’re drinking alcohol, you should wait at least 2 hours before nursing. You should also reduce your caffeine intake to no more than 300 milligrams a day because it can cause your baby to be restless and irritable.

Some women may have certain conditions that can prevent them from breastfeeding. Conditions like HIV and AIDS or using chemotherapy treatment can make breastfeeding unsafe. There are also certain medications that can be harmful to the baby if passed through the breastmilk. If you have any kind of health condition, make sure to reach out to your doctor to get their opinion on whether or not breastfeeding is the ideal choice. Talk to them about the medications you take to find out if you can keep using them while nursing. 

Choosing to Use Formula

Here’s the truth: breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Choosing to use formula does not mean you care less or that you’re a bad mother. Formula is a fantastic alternative to breastfeeding that still supplies your baby with all the essential nutrition they need. In fact, formula contains some vitamins and nutrients that are not present in breastmilk. 

There’s no need to worry if formula is safe. Formula is manufactured under sterile conditions and aims to duplicate the complexity of breastmilk by using a combination of proteins, sugars, and fats. Commercially prepared formula is the best option if you choose not to breastfeed, and you should not try to make your own formula at home.

There are many reasons as to why a mother may want to use formula over breastfeeding:

  • Having certain medical conditions: Some conditions require medications that can be harmful to your baby. It’s not always as easy as “just stop taking them” because many women rely on daily medications to treat chronic illnesses. It’s not worth risking your health over trying to breastfeed. Being healthy allows you to care for your child in the best way possible and formula is an adequate substitute.
  • Too much difficulty breastfeeding: Even with support from a lactation consultant, breastfeeding can cause more difficulties than benefits. Some women have inverted nipples or breast implants that block the ability to breastfeed. In other cases, breastfeeding simply causes too much discomfort. 
  • Convenience: Using formula can make it easier to feed your baby throughout the day. Formula is less digestible than breastmilk and takes more time to process through the body, which means a baby will not need to eat as often. 
  • Flexibility: Another great perk about formula is the fact that you don’t have to be the primary source of food for the baby. After you’ve filled up bottles with formula, you can leave your baby with a partner or caregiver without worrying who is going to feed them. This also allows partners to share feeding duties with the mother and gives them a chance to bond on their own time.
  • Diet: A mother using formula never has to worry about their diet because there is no concern of passing it to the baby.
  • Infant Jaundice: infant jaundice is a very common condition in newborns caused by excess bilirubin in their systems. A little known fact is that formula can actually help babies get the extra bilirubin out of their system faster and speed up the time it take for infant jaundice to go away.  

Challenges of Formula

Like breastfeeding, formula comes with own set of challenges, including:

  • Lack of certain nutrition: As previously mentioned, although formula provides vital nutrition, it is not able to completely replicate the ingredients in breastmilk. Formula does not contain antibodies, which means there is no added protection against an infection or illnesses.
  • Planning: Formula requires more commitment than breastfeeding. Breastmilk is always readily available, provides an unlimited amount of nutrition, and is always at the appropriate temperature. Formula feeding requires planning to make sure you have the right amount of food and all of the supplies that go with it. You’ll have to regularly take trips to the store to stock up on formula, bottles, and nipples. If you’re planning to go anywhere, you always have to make sure you’ve packed the right amount of food and materials. This amount of planning and organization can be overwhelming to some mothers.
  • Expense: The cost of formula can add up quickly over time. For the first year of life, the average cost of formula adds up to about $1,700. 

Choosing What’s Right For You

No matter which route you choose to follow, no mother should be shamed for their decision. The only thing that matters is that you are doing the best to care for your baby. Choosing between breastfeeding and formula can be a long, hard process. It’s okay if you decided on one method during pregnancy but changed your mind after they were born. It may be beneficial to reach out to your doctor, as well as friends and family, to help make your decision, but at the end of the day, it’s ultimately up to you to know what’s best for your child. 

Author: Birth Injury Help Center

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