As a new parent, one of the biggest decisions you will make is whether to breastfeed or formula feed your baby. This can seem like a daunting choice to make, but it helps to do your research about both methods and learn about their benefits and disadvantages.
Health experts generally recommend breastfeeding as the most natural way, with numerous nutritional advantages for your baby. But this isn’t an option for many mums; the decision may often depend on lifestyle, comfort level, and medical situations.
Fortunately, mums who can’t or don’t breastfeed still have a lot of choices. Formula feeding is an excellent alternative that provides your baby with all the nutrients they need.
The decision to breastfeed or formula feed is a purely personal one; both methods are healthy and good for you and your baby. It’s a matter of deciding which one suits you, and learning about the pros and cons of each method can help with that.
Nursing is a special experience for both mum and baby. It forms a unique bond that is natural and healthy. Most health organizations like the WHO even recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies, at least for the first six months. This method of feeding has numerous benefits for both baby and mum.
Protection from infections
It’s well-known that breastfed babies tend to be better protected against mild infections. This is because breastfeeding ensures that antibodies in the mother’s body pass through and strengthen the baby’s immune system. This lowers the chances of the baby suffering from many infections and illnesses like diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and mild ear infections, as well as other health conditions like asthma. Breastfeeding is even more beneficial for premature babies.
Breast milk is known as a true “complete food” for a baby. It contains a perfect blend of all the nutrients necessary for a baby’s growth and development. Every vitamin and mineral required for a healthy baby’s growth is already present in breast milk. Although formula products try to replicate this as closely as possible, they’re still unable to provide an experience identical to nature.
Breast milk is naturally perfect for a baby’s delicate digestive system. It contains lactose, protein in the form of whey and casein, and fat—which are all very easy for a new-born to digest.
Research shows that breastfed babies have fewer cases of diarrhoea or constipation, and less difficulty with digestive issues when compared to formula-fed babies.
According to some studies, breastfed babies seem to be slightly smarter than others. Research shows higher average IQ scores for babies who were exclusively breastfed, compared to formula-fed babies.
Good for mum too
Breastfeeding isn’t all about your baby’s needs; it has several health benefits for mum too. In addition to helping new mums feel more confident, breastfeeding is also shown to lower the risks of conditions like breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in women. It’s also generally good for a mother’s body and helps her stay healthy and fit.
The intimacy and close emotional connection formed through breastfeeding is itself a reward for many mums. The “skin-to-skin contact” of breastfeeding makes a lot of mothers feel happy and confident and enhances the emotional bond between the baby and the mother.
While it has tons of benefits, breastfeeding is no walk in the park. There are still significant challenges, particularly to new mums. Both mum and baby need time and patience to get used to the whole process. Here are some of the most common concerns of new mums, particularly during the early stages of breastfeeding.
Many mums feel uncomfortable during the initial stages of breastfeeding. One of the main concerns is latch-on pain. This is normal for the first week or so but usually fades away soon (if the pain is prolonged, it’s wise to visit a doctor). In general, most concerns of discomfort can be overcome with awareness, support and practice.
Breastfeeding requires a great deal of commitment, especially initially. This can be a concern for mums with busy lifestyles. You need to work frequent feeding times into your daily schedule, which can be difficult for mums who work or travel.
Breastfeeding women need to be aware and conscious of what they eat and drink, as their nutrients are passed on to the baby. They also need to limit the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, etc.
Many illnesses and conditions can make breastfeeding unsafe. Similarly, certain types of medication, treatments like chemotherapy, and breast surgeries can also be a limiting factor when it comes to breastfeeding. Mums with these conditions or undergoing these treatments should make sure to consult a specialist before beginning the breastfeeding process.
Formula Feeding Benefits
Artificially produced formula milk is generally a good alternative to breastfeeding. Mums with medical conditions that prevent breastfeeding, or those who find it too difficult or stressful, utilize this option as it has several benefits.
Formula feeding isn’t as involved as breastfeeding is, so a parent or caregiver can feed the baby at any time. This also means that the mother doesn’t always need to be present for feeding, so her partner can get involved in bonding with the baby too.
Formula feeding allows a lot more flexibility in a mum’s schedule. She can continue to work, travel, or fulfil other obligations while still making sure her baby’s needs are met. She can also easily feed the baby in public, which is difficult in the case of breastfeeding. Also, formula milk is less digestible, which means that the baby needs to be fed less frequently.
Women who formula feed don’t have to restrict their diets and be aware of what they eat and drink like breastfeeding mothers do.
Formula Feeding Challenges
While formula feeding is a good alternative to breastfeeding, it has its drawbacks too.
Lack of protection from infections
Formula milk lacks the antibodies and other immune system boosters that breast milk provides to a baby.
Formula milk is much more difficult for a baby to digest than breast milk. Formula-fed babies are likely to have more gas or experience difficulty in bowel movements including constipation.
Planning and expenses
Unlike breast milk which is naturally available at all times, formula milk has to be purchased and stored in safe and sterile conditions, right when your baby needs it. You also need to prepare all the necessary equipment like bottles and nipples and keep them clean and available. This can be difficult and time-consuming.
Both breastfeeding and formula feeding have their own sets of pros and cons; it’s up to each mum to decide which one is perfect for her. Discuss the topic with your family, and do your research about what is ideal for your situation. Feel free to consult your doctor too. What matters is that you make the right decision to fit you and your family.