There are many important decisions to make that ultimately affect your child’s future health. One of these is the debate between breastfeeding and formula feeding. While the decision seems clear-cut, there are actually numerous considerations to make. Breast milk is often promoted by experts as the best way to feed your baby, but this method is not feasible for everyone. Before your baby is born, work with your doctor to determine the best feeding methods. Learning the pros and cons of each method can help you make the best decision possible.
Breast milk is the oldest, most natural method of feeding newborns and infants. Mothers lactate within a day of giving birth. Breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization for the first six months of life. Mothers are encouraged to continue the process for the full first year, if possible. However, this doesn’t mean that breast milk is appropriate for all babies.
Pros of Breast Milk
The primary reason why breast milk is generally the preferred feeding option is because the nutritional value is unbeatable. Milk from lactating mothers contains balanced levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates to keep your newborn nourished. At the same time, newborns gain multiple other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Breastfed babies are less susceptible to gastrointestinal ailments, such as constipation and diarrhea.
Research shows that breastfed babies gain more than the nutrition they need to for sustenance from their mothers’ milk. In fact, hormones transferred through breast milk can help guard against future health ailments, such as asthma, allergies and infections. While breast milk doesn’t protect babies against such issues 100 percent, the chances are significantly lower compared with bottle fed infants.
The benefits of utilizing breast milk also extend to mothers. If you choose to breastfeed, you may have a reduced risk for developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer, as well as obesity and osteoporosis. Plus, this method of feeding is significantly cheaper – Medline Plus estimates an annual savings of $1,000 compared to formula.
Cons of Breast Milk
In many cases, the benefits of breast milk outweigh any cons. However, this isn’t the case for all babies and mothers. Babies who are born prematurely, or with cleft palates and certain digestive ailments may not be able to breastfeed on their own. This can be devastating for low-income families as well as for mothers who long for the special bond many associate with breastfeeding.
Certain health conditions on the mother’s side can also make breastfeeding off-limits. Such illnesses include, but are not limited to breast cancer, herpes and heart disease. Another consideration is that you have to be proactive about your nutritional needs when breastfeeding. This can be a burden to parents who barely have time to sleep, let alone eat properly. Malnutrition transferred through breast milk can adversely affect a baby’s health.
Baby formula, also called bottle feeding, consists of using store-bought milk made for infants. These milk products are available in ready-to-use formulas to place in bottles, as well as powder versions you mix with water. Baby formula is made to mimic the nutritional value of breast milk, but it can’t replace the same level of hormones offered through traditional breastfeeding.
Pros of Baby Formula
Convenience and flexibility are the primary benefits of formula feeding. For one, you don’t have to stress about your own diet as much since what you eat won’t pass to your baby. Formula is easy to use anywhere, and at any time. You can even prepare multiple bottles at once before heading out. This type of easy preparation is also easy if your baby is in daycare, or is cared by others in the family.
(Also read: Tips For A Healthy Pregnancy Diet.)
Cons of Formula
While packed with numerous nutrients, baby formula doesn’t offer the same hormones and levels of antibodies as natural breast milk. These missing pieces can lead to short-term discomfort, such as excess gas and constipation. In the long-term, bottle fed babies may be more prone to allergies and infections.
Mothers who enjoy the convenience of using formula should also consider the potential cons. You may find it more difficult to lose weight after giving birth when you bottle feed because you don’t have the opportunity to release hormones through breast milk. In the long-term, not breastfeeding puts you at an increased risk for developing breast cancer and other chronic illnesses. Bottle feeding is an expensive option that many families have difficulties paying for, which can be problematic if you cannot breastfeed.
Breastfeeding and bottle feeding is a hot debate among many parents. Still, it is important to avoid the controversy and stick with works best for you and your baby. Providing your infant with optimal nutrition is the most crucial aspect of the topic – not the debate itself. Address any specific feeding concerns with a doctor.