Choosing formula and breastfeeding – it’s a big decision for parents. While there are many factors to take into consideration, in the end there is really only one thing that matters: Which choice is right for you and your child?
As a registered dietitian and nutritionist in a pediatric practice, I discuss breastfeeding and formula with new parents every day. Below is a breakdown of the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding and formula feeding – here are the facts!
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk as the best source of nutrition for infants. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by the introduction of complementary foods, with continuation of breastfeeding till 1 year or older is recommended by the AAP. You can access their Policy Statement about breastfeeding here: http://pediatrics.
The benefits with breastfeeding include:
- Provides natural antibodies to help baby resist illnesses
- Easily digested, and babies often experience less constipation and gassiness
- May lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome during the first year
- Some studies have shown higher levels of cognitive function in breastfed babies
- Evidence shows that breastfeeding protects against a variety of diseases and conditions including: childhood overweight/obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac’s disease, asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, and lymphoma
- Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer
- Women who breastfeed lose pregnancy weight faster than women who do not
- It is a bonding opportunity for mother and child
- It is a low cost option (of course there is your time and supportive tools, equipment ad/or advice)
Challenges with breastfeeding:
- There are some medical contraindications for breastfeeding – please speak with your pediatrician regarding medical reasons not to breastfeed, and you can also refer to the AAP Policy Statement
- Mother must be available for feeding and/or provide pumped milk
- Mother must pump if feeding is missed
- Certain medications can interrupt breastfeeding
- Mothers need to be cautious of their diets while breastfeeding since nutrients are being passed directly to baby – this means following a well-balance diet to provide enough energy and nutrients for mom and baby, as well as avoiding alcohol, excessive caffeine, fish high in mercury
- Early breastfeeding may be uncomfortable and can be difficult
The AAP recommends iron-fortified cow’s milk-based infant formula as the most appropriate milk feeding from birth-12 months for infants who are not breastfed or partially breastfed.
The benefits with formula feeding include:
- Formula is manufactured to simulate human milk as a complete food for infants (The FDA mandates that all infant formulas marketed in the US provide the same nutrition for healthy, full-term infants and closely monitors that manufacturers to assure their products provide appropriate nutrition)
- A variety of infant formulas are available for healthy, full-term infants as well as infants with special needs including: cow’s milk formulas, soy-based formulas, hypoallergenic formulas, lactose-free formulas, partially digested formulas, amongst others
- Convenience: formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time
- Flexibility: there is no concern about needing to pump or be physically with your child to provide their nutrients, so you can leave formula with any caretaker
- Mothers do not need to alter their diet specifically for the baby, including moderate alcohol and caffeine
- Pediatrician/caregiver can determine the amount to feed baby – many parents find it reassuring to know exactly how much milk their baby has consumed
- Feeding can be evenly divided between parents, which can be helpful when mothers return to work, as well as allowing fathers to enjoy a close bond with child
Challenges with formula feeding include:
- Infant formula is made to resemble breast milk as closely as possible, however cannot reproduce the living antibodies and antibacterial properties of breast milk
- Formula can be costly, in addition to bottles and sterilizing equipment
- Cleaning and sterilizing bottles can be time consuming
- Infant formula needs to be warmed and preparation times can vary
- Baby may not tolerate all formula well
- Must always carry bottles, formula/mixing items with you
As you can see, there are benefits and challenges to both options, and this is a emotional topic for some families. Do not be shy about reaching out to your doctor and/or lactation consultants for help and support. And remember, do what is right for you and your family!