Breast milk or formula: What’s best for baby?
Welcome to parenthood, where the decisions come by the dozen and Google becomes an even better friend than it was pre-baby. All joking aside, parenting is no walk in the park, it’s filled with daily decisions – some large, some small – many of which can affect the well being of your child for years to come. One of the most important decisions new moms must make is what they will feed their new bundle of joy: breast milk or formula?
Shelley White-Corey, M.S.N., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, outlines several options available to new moms, including: exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, a mix of the two or formula.
“Breastfeeding is a special experience for new moms and promotes bonding through skin-to-skin contact,” White-Corey said. “It can also give the newborn a sense of security.”
Not only is breastfeeding comforting to baby, breast milk is made by nature, meaning it has all the necessary nutrients that a baby needs, as well as antibodies to build up their immune system. It’s also easily digestible.
The most evident advantages though, White-Corey pointed out, are that it is (mostly) free and readily available.
“While breastfeeding is considered “free,” there is a little extra cost in food for mom to consider because she needs to eat 500 more calories per day in order to produce quality milk,” White-Corey said.
Breastmilk is also readily available – no need to tote around bottles and bottle bags – and requires no prep, as it’s already the perfect temperature, making it especially convenient for nighttime feedings.
Obvious disadvantages of breastfeeding include time and commitment.
“Newborns who are breastfed are going to need to be fed more often, around eight to 12 times per day, since the milk is easily digested,” White-Corey said.
While most will agree that breast milk is a good source of nutrition for the baby, many people are uncomfortable seeing mothers breastfeeding in public.
“This can deter new moms from choosing to breastfeed because they may only feel comfortable feeding their baby at home,” White-Corey said. “However, it is important to remember that breastfeeding is a natural thing and it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Though one of the less common forms of breastfeeding, exclusively pumping – feeding your baby only breast milk from a bottle – may be a good choice for moms with babies that have trouble latching correctly or are not able to breastfeed for other reasons, including illness or prematurity.
Milk production depends on frequent and effective milk removal from the breasts, which can make exclusive pumping a very time-consuming option. Exclusively pumping requires that mothers pump at least eight times in 24 hours.
“Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. The more the baby feeds or you pump the more you are going to produce,” White-Corey said. “This is especially important in order to maintain a good milk supply.”
Additionally, exclusive pumpers will need a quality breast pump, which can be pricey. White-Corey suggests calling your insurance company before purchasing a pump, as many now supply electric pumps free-of-charge to expecting mothers.
While pumping, new mothers are going to want a private, comfortable place to do so, and special arrangements may need to be made, especially when going back to work.
“Every workplace should have a designated, private room for pumping. If not, try talking to your manager about what arrangements can be made,” White-Corey said.
Breastfeeding and Pumping
The combination of breastfeeding and pumping is perhaps the most flexible of the two aforementioned options. There are many reasons women choose to both pump and nurse, including: moms who want to return to work, relieving engorged breasts and increasing milk supply.
This option offers the flexibility and ease of feeding your baby in public, along with the bonding that comes with breastfeeding.
Moms who breastfeed and want to go back to work often choose to pump at work and leave a bottle with the caregiver, this way the baby can still get the benefits of breast milk without mom having to be there.
There is the possibility of nipple confusion though, or a preference of a bottle over breast, which can hinder breastfeeding. White-Corey recommended introducing the bottle after breastfeeding is well established, around one month of age, to avoid this issue.
Formula comes with it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages.
A major advantage of using formula is that anyone can feed the baby, which can ease some of the pressure off of the new mother.
“If the newborn wakes up hungry during the night, either mom or dad can feed the baby with formula,” White-Corey said.
Using formula can also make dad feel more included because he can share the special bond that comes from feeding the baby.
Formula-fed newborns do not need to be fed as often as breastfed babies. Typically, formula-fed newborns eat every two to three hours and as they grow, that duration extends to every three to four hours.
While formula feeding does have its conveniences, there are some real disadvantages.
“The cost of formula can quickly pile up as it is something you will constantly need to buy, along with other essential supplies,” White-Corey said.
Formula requires more preparation than breastfeeding as the formula must be mixed and the bottle heated to ensure it is the right temperature for baby (unlike breast milk that is always the perfect temperature).
Formula also has the possibility of causing your little one tummy troubles, as it can be harder to digest than breast milk.
“The lack of antibodies found in formula is a major issue as newborns have immature immune systems and are more susceptible to infection until they get their vaccinations at around two months,” White-Corey said. “To protect your newborn, I would urge all moms to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and make sure everyone in close contact with the newborn is vaccinated as well.”
In the end, there is no superior option that is perfect for all women. It’s simply a personal choice, based on what is right for each individual and their family.
“I believe that women have the right and authority over their own bodies to decide what is best for both themselves and their newborn,” White-Corey said. “It should be a woman’s choice and no one has the right to judge or criticize them for making such a personal decision.”