To Breastfeed or to Bottle Feed? That is the Question.
I am often asked which feeding method is better for baby: breastfeeding or bottle feeding. I want to begin by saying there are many reasons a new mother and her family may choose one method of feeding over another for baby. Thus, the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed may be based on things such as the mother’s comfort level, lifestyle, or specific medical considerations. It may also be based on beliefs, baby’s needs or financial considerations. Here, we will try to highlight the differences in each feeding option so you and your family can choose the one that works best for you.
In order to be clear on the pros and cons of each feeding option we will detail as much information as possible below.
Let’s begin with breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recommend breastfeeding as the best start for babies. Breastfeeding offers a number of benefits for mother and baby alike.
Breastfeeding fights off infections: Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions your new baby may be exposed to in this new world. Illnesses such as ear infections, diarrhea, digestive problems, respiratory infections and meningitis may all be fought off by the anti-bodies baby gets through breast milk. Breastfeeding is believed to be particularly beneficial for premature babies protecting infants against allergies, diabetes, obesity, asthma, sleep apnea and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Overall research shows that breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants.
Breast milk is nutritious and easy to digest: Breast milk is often called the “perfect food” for a human baby’s digestive system. The components in breast milk, lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat, are easily digested by a newborn’s immature digestive system. Therefore research shows that breast fed infants have fewer digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation than their bottle fed counterparts. Further research shows breast milk contains all the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients a growing baby needs and will adjust as baby grows to fulfill the requirements of baby’s little system. The AAP recommends that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months to offer the very best start for your infant’s nutritional needs. Beyond that, the AAP encourages breastfeeding until at least 12 months and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.
Breastfeeding helps mom: Breastfeeding also helps mom in a number of ways. Pregnancy, labor and delivery all take their toll on mom’s body. By breastfeeding you are ensuring that you must slow down during your day to take care of feeding your baby. This allows your body to rest and heal. Additionally, the hormones released during breastfeeding will help your body shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size, shape, and weight more efficiently as baby takes from the stores you built up during pregnancy. Mothers often report losing their “baby fat” faster as their body continues to meet the nutritional needs of two instead of just one. Research also shows that breastfeeding may help lower the risk of breast cancer and decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding is FREE: Breast milk is a free, ready-made meal that requires no preparation or refrigeration. However, if you need to store breast milk, busy mothers can pump bottles for their infant in order to remain working or in school while breastfeeding. Breast milk may also be frozen for extended periods of time to ensure a steady supply is available for baby when needed.
Breastfeeding offers mother and baby a special bonding time: Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mom and baby. It provides an ideal bonding experience that many nursing mothers cherish. Many nursing mothers report really enjoying the experience of bonding so closely with their babies. Additionally, the skin-to-skin contact may enhance the emotional connection between the mother and her infant.
Breastfed babies may be smarter: Some research suggests that children who were exclusively breastfed have slightly higher IQs than children who were formula fed.
Disadvantages of breastfeeding: In the beginning as with any newly acquired skill, breastfeeding is a skill that takes time to master. Have the number of your local lactation consultant on hand because they can be very useful in helping new mothers successfully learn to breastfeed their babies. Additionally, some women feel latch-on pain (a pins and needles sensation in the nipple area) in the beginning for the first week or two but this normally subsides within a minute of the initial latch-on. Further concerns pertain to feeding times and schedules. Because breast milk is completely digested in 1 hour and 45 minutes, some women feel they are doing nothing but feeding baby in the beginning. However this is not all bad as it normally allows mom time to relax and enjoy her baby while enabling her body to go back to its pre-pregnancy state. Further, women who breastfeed need to continue to eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, manage stress, and get plenty of rest.
Bottle feeding: Although experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants, breastfeeding may not be possible for all women. In choosing to bottle feed you are choosing to offer your baby the best in commercially prepared infant formulas which are a nutritious alternative to breast milk.
Adequate nutrition: Commercial formulas are manufactured under sterile conditions to ensure the safety of your baby. Commercially prepared formulas have come a long way in attempting to duplicate mother’s milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins. Some formulas even contain vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements. This blend of nutrients would be virtually impossible to create at home therefore it is important that if you choose to bottle feed you only offer your infant a commercially prepared formula.
Mom can share feeding duties with other family members: When a baby is bottle fed, unlike their breastfed counterparts, just about anyone in the family can feed the baby (although this is also true for mothers who pump their milk). When others can feed the baby, this allows the mother to share the feeding duties and may help her partner to feel more involved in the crucial bonding time that accompanies the infant feeding process.
Convenience and flexibility: When a baby is bottle fed, parents have more flexibility. Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother can leave her baby with a partner or caregiver knowing that her little one’s feedings are taken care of (although this is also true for mothers who pump their milk). However with bottle feeding moms, there is no need to pump or try to schedule obligations and activities around the baby’s feeding schedule. But bottle feeding moms do need to bring supplies for making bottles to feed the baby during her outings and this may require bringing a small cooler to maintain formula temperatures while out and about. Formula fed babies also tend to take longer to digest their food so their bodies require less feedings during the day than their breastfed counterparts. Lastly, mothers do not have to watch what they eat in order to maintain a healthy diet for their infants when they bottle feed.
Bottle feeding challenges include: Preparing bottles and formula can be a tedious task for some new moms. Every formula is different but often a bottle can only be left unrefrigerated for one hour before it must be thrown out and replaced. Further, any formula left in the bottle after a feeding must also be discarded as prepared formula can only be stored for 24-48 hours depending on the instructions on the bottle. It is very important to heed all formula preparations based on the manufacturer’s recommendations when using a commercially prepared formula.
Lack of anti-bodies and digestion problems: Because formula is a commercially prepared food, it lacks the anti-bodies naturally contained in breast milk. Additionally, some babies struggle with digestion problems and try several formulas before finding one their immature digestive system can handle.
Formula is a commercially prepared product: Because formula is manufactured and not a natural product, it has yet to duplicate the exact composition of breast milk. Nor does it have the ability to change and adapt as your baby’s nutritional needs change. That being said, manufacturers have come a long way in producing a nutritional product that works for baby.
Expense: Again, because formula is commercially prepared it can be costly. Powdered formula is normally the least expensive, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed formulas being the most expensive. If your baby has special nutritional needs, those specialty formulas (i.e., soy and hypoallergenic) can cost even more. It is estimated that during the first year of life, the cost of basic formula can run a new family about $1,500 and as transportation costs continue to rise, so too may this number.
The bottom line is women turn to many factors when choosing feeding options for their new baby. The way you choose to feed your baby is a personal choice that should only be made with assistance from your doctor and other family members so that you choose the best option for your baby, your family and your lifestyle.
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