WHO guidelines state that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months and continue it, with other foods until two years old. When a mother looks at the health benefits of this protocol, it seems just about right to say that nature is always one step ahead of mankind! To think that a mother’s body is designed to ensure that the new-born does not starve and is the most self-sustaining, limitless and high nutrient source for the baby, is surely a miracle.
However, while mothers understand and are committed to following this gift of nature, there are some real and important reasons why breastmilk can be an issue for some moms and formula milk becomes a real life-saver. Furthermore, while breastmilk definitely has some distinct advantages, it is not necessarily the only method to ensure a healthy child.
Formula milk provides certain vitamins that breastmilk is intrinsically lacking in, immunity of child can be ensured by other facets of the womb and last but not the least, tests proving the superiority of breastmilk could have been subjective. Barring aside science and facts, there may be an issue with the mother's milk, let's be a little empathetic and understanding of her mental and physical state as well. Having undergone a long and complicated pregnancy, which in some cases can be tough, and a delivery which certainly would not have been a picnic, to say the least, breastfeeding need not be yet another obstacle in the maternity race. If this is a task that makes her happy, then that's fine else why prolong her discomfort.
Let's begin with some reasons why formula feeding our little beans may make them smarter.
20 Con: Colostrum Is Loaded With Nutrients
The first milk or ‘colostrum’ is very rich in nutrients, almost uniquely so, such that even the best formula milk brands can only come close to it but it can never be exactly like the same. In fact, it is so beneficial for a newborn, that it is referred to as the ‘super-food’.
“Colostrum is rich in immunologic components such as secretory IgA, lactoferrin, leukocytes, as well as developmental factors such as epidermal growth factor. Colostrum also contains relatively low concentrations of lactose, indicating its primary functions to be immunologic and trophic rather than nutritional. Levels of sodium, chloride, and magnesium are higher and levels of potassium and calcium are lower in colostrum than later milk.”
This first milk is so dense with nutrients, that it serves as an early immunity guard for the baby and helps in cell growth.
It is also easier to digest for the delicate stomachs as it contains more proteins and less fat and sugar. This thick creamy liquid is best consumed a few hours after birth but can last for as long as five days post-delivery, after which it starts to blend with normal breastmilk. In short, Colostrum is like an early shield of protection given to fight against the new, unknown bacteria of the big, bad world she has entered into!
19 Con: Breastmilk Is Unique
Breastmilk has the unique distinction of having nutrients that change with the growth of the baby, thus continuing to be the protective shield. It reduces the baby’s risk of developing a childhood illness – it has been cited that breastfed babies may have lower chances of having diseases like diabetes, asthma, and allergies etc. as compared to infant formula fed babies. It is also true that breastfed children are less prone to explosive diapers than formula fed children.
“Human milk also contains many hundreds to thousands of distinct bioactive molecules that protect against infection and inflammation and contribute to immune maturation, organ development, and healthy microbial colonization. Some of these molecules, e.g., lactoferrin, are being investigated as novel therapeutic agents”
In fact, the real, protective components of human milk are so many and so multi-beneficial, that science is just starting to diagnose its' many functions. The most important contribution is that babies who are born with immature immune defences are protected against pathogens through the maternal antibodies.
Working mothers realize the nutritional value of their breastmilk, chose to express and refrigerate the milk, though reheating this milk may change the original nutrient composition. Yet, the benefits, even in expressed breastmilk, is undisputed.
18 Con: No Picky Eaters Here!
Breastmilk is definitely tastier, so much so that often mothers complain that breastfed babies find it difficult to move to other forms of milk. Maybe that is the reason for a need for milk supplements!
Jokes aside, since the mother’s food intake is constantly changing, the baby also benefits from a varied taste palates. She is introduced easily and smoothly, with minimum impact on their tiny stomachs, into the world of salt, sugar, mild spices, oh yum! This also ensures that the baby is more likely to enjoy family recipes once that they are started. The child, already familiar with varied tastes, is likely to be less fussy over food and relish the diversity of dishes she/he is provided.
There are instances of children preferring mild, diluted versions of family fare over branded children’s foods.
The additional benefit is that until the baby knows better and asserts her preferences, you can feed her healthy and delicious foods such as mashed bananas, apple stews, boiled vegetable stews etc. that provide her the additional vitamins like vitamin K and vitamin D, cited to be less in mother’s milk. I can almost visualize the breastfed baby drooling over all the goodies he can see or that they just got a whiff through the mother’s milk and can now enjoy the real thing.
17 Con: Breastmilk Is Convenient
Many times, mothers complain that, by the time, they prepare the bottle, the baby has fallen asleep, probably crying herself to sleep. A time consuming and very unwelcomed task in the middle of the night, is preparing the bottle. Prepare or cleaning the steam equipment, warm the water to make the milk, check for temperature etc. – all done at a speed appropriate to a half-asleep parent!
Now in contrast to breastfeeding, there are no preparations needed, no temperature to be checked, no hygienic levels to be maintained, no proportions to be checked, milk comes pre-prepared to perfection. No effort, no waiting – the baby wants milk and the mom’s hormones respond automatically and voila, milk flows out! The baby and mother can both be in a happy half-asleep state and drift back easily. The bottle preparation task renders almost the whole household awake and there are no words to express the frustration of parents who have had to rock/walk an irate baby to sleep.
And, of course, an additional benefit of breastmilk, you never run out of it. Meaning, there is no need to go rushing out in the middle of the night for that 24-hours open pharmacy shop. What’s more, it is free but more about that later!
16 Con: Breastmilk Creates A Happier Baby
Another unique aspect of breast milk is that it contains endorphins. These hormones help in reducing pain naturally, thereby providing a natural and easier method of comfortable alleviation of pain or discomfort in a sick baby.
Of course, there is also the feel good factor that comes with the physical and emotional proximity between mom and baby. The act of closeness and cuddling with the baby acts like a natural tranquilizer for both baby and mom, thus soothing down a fussy baby and the release of prolactin allows the mother to relax simultaneously. In fact, sometimes the baby may be seeking comfort more than feeding, and while many would say this should not be encouraged, if it helps calm a needy baby down, so why not. Ultimately, it is really between the mother and her baby, and those who disagree are not really helping as in this ritual of bonding. There are no rules written in stone, every case is different.
Working moms would also know the pleasure of reuniting with their babies over a feeding session, making them bond again with a possibly upset baby who has missed her but cannot express it.
And, the mom also feels this is the best way to make up for lost time. Now, all of this assumes that breastfeeding is an absolute delight for the mother and she has no trouble providing the same. But, what happens when the poor long-suffering new mom is just not able to provide this service without pain or any other real issues that go with breastfeeding.
15 Pro: Mom's Milk Dried Up, Time To Open The Can
Some working mothers have reported less supply of milk as they rejoin work - possibly due to tired bodies or less demand for production of milk. They have also agonised over the baby refusing to take to the bottle and becomes the single most important point of stress for the whole family. So, we see many a working mom trying to express and prepare the baby to a feeding bottle but babies are smart. As long as they know the real thing is around, they do not like the artificial nipple. The working mom has to, then, compensate in the night. Would it not be better for the health of the baby and mom to keep regular hours of sleep and feeding as she grows older?
So begins the exercise of other family members coming to the working mom's rescue and getting her baby used to both, formula milk and the bottle. Once this routine is established, the relief of the harassed working mom is palpable. She can finally enjoy her baby and spend quality time with her, even becoming mobile and traveling with her, all in all, a far more pleasurable way of bonding when the hours are few and precious.
14 Pro: Formula Has Vitamins That Breastmilk Doesn't Have
Enough has been said and expressed about the importance of vitamin D. The extent to which a baby gets vitamin D from breastmilk can be woefully inadequate, more so if the mom is also vitamin D deficient. Also, only a part of this gets absorbed by the baby since sunlight is the best way to get this precious vitamin.
The importance of this vitamin cannot be emphasised enough - the soft skull of the baby needs this resource, inadequacy can lead to bone deformities, developmental delays, and weak muscles.
Since vitamin D is already added to infant formula, babies who are formula feeding may be getting sufficient vitamin D, so long as the baby drinks about four 8 oz bottles of formula per day to get the recommended 400 IU of vitamin D. Now, is that not a big relief!
Added to this is the need for Vitamin K, which is something that is needed to help the mother in the recovery process. It is a known fact that babies do not get enough vitamin K from their mothers during pregnancy, or when they are breast feeding. However, infant formula does manage to provide higher dosages, "On average, babies who are fed formula receive nearly 100 times more Vitamin K1 than babies who are breastfed (45.4 micrograms per day compared to 0.55 micrograms per day)"
13 Pro: Formula Can Benefit Adopted Children
What happens when circumstances just do not allow the mother to feed her child as in the case of adopted babies. In such a scenario, infant formula becomes a very viable and healthy option. Keeping in line with FDA regulations, established baby formula milk brands ensure to provide a special blend of nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, that are close in the formulation to breast milk.
All other forms of milk like those of cow and goats are not as advantageous or digestible as infant formula milk. This is due to the nutritional composition of animals' milk is not adequate and many are not suitable for the delicate digestive system of the baby. Moreover, infant formula milk may be able to provide the additional fortifications required for visual and brain development like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid), omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
While some advocates for breastmilk may even propagate induced lactation through hormonal therapy, this is still controversial as the FDA and AAP advise against it fearing the secretion of substances into the baby through breastmilk. So, moms of adopted kids, you are in safe hands, there is no need to agonise or feel at a disadvantage as infant formula milk comes to your rescue.
12 Pro: Dad Can Join In On The Feedings Too
"Dear husband, here is a task that I happily delegate to you", many new moms can say this dialogue with much relief to the new dad. After all the hardship and labour (pun intended!) of producing a baby, surely this is one task that the mom can safely hand over. With paternity leave on the rise, involved fathers find the task of preparing the milk bottle and feeding the baby one of the few ways in which they can bond with their newborns. The warmth of a dad's cuddle can be different from that of a mother's, but equally effective in creating a safe cocoon. Formula milk gives a dad the opportunity to participate as well.
Not only for dads though, bring on the granny, grandad, uncle, aunts - all the doting family members who have been waiting for so long to cuddle and express their affection.
Standing at the peripherals, these extended family members can be very productive and useful resources particularly since they are more experienced and less anxious. Feeding a baby not only helps them bond with the newborn but also helps the tired, sleepy parents, if they can take over the task during the night.
11 Con: Breastfeeding Discomfort Is Not Tolerated By All
The statistics are quite clear - painful nip nips are one of the most common reasons for breastfeeding being suspended or discontinued. The reasons vary from one to the next, for example having the wrong latch by the baby, incorrect use of the breast pump, nerve issue, infection etc. In some cases, this pain can be mild and goes away as breastfeeding continues.
Just when a mother thinks that the baby has been delivered healthy, she is recovering and can hope for some rest, this double whammy of tender and injured tips are really difficult to recover from. No one can blame a mom going through this unfortunate events, if after relentless trials, efforts at softening, healing the ladies and getting suggestions from many lactation experts, and she is still wincing with pain at the sheer thought of breastfeeding.
Due to multiple reasons, there is a high probability of early weaning and need for infant formula milk to help the suffering mom. Surely, she can be spared more pain especially when the cure is not found or inadequate breastmilk just aggravates the whole situation. Moreover, a baby that is just not able to latch on properly, despite gentle nudges, would surely benefit more from the ease of a bottle tip and healthy intake of formula milk
10 Con: Totally Embarrassing In Public
Not all women are comfortable with exposing themselves. While it is becoming more and more socially acceptable for women to breastfeed anywhere, first-time moms, in particular, may find it embarrassing. Not to mention, if you are out at a gathering that may not comprise close friends/family. Not only the mom, at times even the larger gathering feels embarrassed, may want a mom to cover up.
The breastfeeding mom may even feel excluded from social gatherings, as she needs to remove herself from the room to breastfeed or simply not go.
There is also another reason admitted by some moms - breasts are perceived to be a part of the romantic aspect with their partners and, hence, breastfeeding makes it all feel a little awkward. The milk that decides to start leaking can also result in a lower attraction, as perceived by some of them. All in all, with no judgments, this is an uncomfortable state of being for the new mom. This may lead to a resentment, awkwardness and eventually a completely uncomfortable experience. A baby who is sensitive to her mom, even at that tender age, may turn cranky with an upset mom, a situation that can be easily avoided with formula milk. A healthy and happy mom-baby bond makes motherhood and enjoyable experience
9 Con: Post-Partum Depression May Halt Breastfeeding
Due to dramatic changes in hormones, new moms can go through a whole array of emotions - from joy, bliss, maternal impulses to difficult emotions of sadness, the nostalgia of better days etc. However, in one out of seven cases, these can be more severe, persist for a long time and create havoc for the mother and her family, not to mention the baby. This post-partum depression is a lot more common and serious than it is apparent. This can be caused by one of many reasons, like the lack of support, history of depression in the mother or the family, hormonal changes, inadequate preparation for the sheer magnitude of responsibility etc. While some may be predisposed, it can even affect any mother who may have given a normal delivery to a healthy baby
Depression may last over several weeks and affect the normal routine of a new mom and create a resistance or disinterest in breastfeeding. She may even become resentful of the child if support is not provided to her or help with the baby. Infant formula milk provides the perfect solace, a salvation to the mom and her family, who can take over at least the feeding duties and allow the mom to recover. It is important for the mother to get her downtime to be able to enjoy a long term relationship with her child
8 Con: Frequent Feedings Are A Total Drag
While a bottle of formula is generally given right before the baby sleeps and is heavy enough for the baby to sleep through the night, breastmilk just does not provide that convenience. Breastmilk is light and usually taken in limited dosages as the baby has to work hard to feed, hence tires her faster. She sleeps in fits and starts waking up frequently to feed. Needless to say, this adds to the woes of the new mom, struggling with her own health issues, like post delivery recovery. So, she wakes with the hungry baby 3, maybe 4 times a night added to which is the task of putting an energetic, now playful baby to sleep.
This is definitely not a night she wants repeated day after day.
Added to this, is the feeling that you are a milk producing milkmaid and always providing milk on demand. Not to mention the boredom of being stuck in one position, says one mom, "Breastfeeding is boring. The numb arms, numb legs, numb mind. God help you if you don’t have your phone near you when you start a session". Wouldn't it be better to allow the mother to enjoy the feeding ritual with a formula milk bottle, rather than making her feel like a milk machine on demand?
7 Con: Don't Eat That, Breastfeeding Mama!
Breastfeeding moms have to be careful about what they eat as any wrong moves could affect her baby's digestive system. She may need to either completely avoid certain foods and drinks or wait for at least two hours to breastfeed. She has to be careful about certain foods like fish which can have high mercury levels. In addition, she should not have too much coffee as that can cause irritability or restlessness in the baby
Whew, that is a long list of considerations. And then, there are foods that can cause flatulence and indigestion in the baby. At times it is a long process of trial and error, as the mom discovers what works and what does not work for the baby every day. In some cultures, the mom is fed fat-rich foods which are considered beneficial for lactation but may not benefit her or the baby's health. It is a bit tiresome examining your food intake at all times and needing to be prepared for mistakes in a diet. The bliss of formula infant milk, which is not dependent on the mother's diet, mood or impulses, is more predictable in terms of the beneficial effects on the baby's health.
6 Con: Breastmilk Quantity Can Be Inadequate
Now here is the other side of the story – if you are feeling guilty that you could not breastfeed your baby at all or as much as you wanted to, it could be due to the hormonal composition inside the womb. To cite below…
Researchers at NTNU's Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine have recently found a correlation between the level of male hormones (androgens) in pregnant women and how much the women breastfed after birth.
"Pregnant women who have higher levels of androgens breastfeed less," says Professor Sven M. Carlsen. "Probably, this is a direct effect of hormones that simply limit nursing ability, by reducing milk production in the breast."
If the baby is losing weight, crying constantly and is suckling for what seems like forever, these could all be signs that the flow of breastmilk is not enough.
In such a situation, the right infant formula milk comes as a saviour to the guilt-ridden mom. Rather than struggling to fulfil WHO norms, strive to implement the advice of well-meaning family elders or the slightly disapproving pediatrician, some moms may gratefully take the help of the bottle to supplement their breastmilk, consoling themselves that at least some quantity is going in.
5 Con: Breastmilk Attributes To Good Health, But Not Always
The researchers at NTNU, from large studies, have also concluded that while breastmilk does provide a healthy start on the surface, formula fed babies are also healthy and not at any distinctive disadvantage.
“Mothers should not worry that their children will be sicker than children who are breastfed. And even though a child's health risks have already been established at birth, the differences are so small that they can only be detected when looking at large groups”.
It is because the mother has had an optimal and healthy mix of hormones in the womb, that she is able to breastfeed while providing a healthy kickstart, thereby confirming that breastfed infants are slightly healthier than bottle-fed babies. However, it is also true that the baby’s overall health is determined even before she/he is born, hence the reason infant milk may have little or no impact.
Also, there are some vitamins on which breastmilk is deficient in Vitamin K, Vitamin D, and iron which can be compensated with formula milk that comes fortified. In fact, purely breastmilk fed babies may have a disadvantage on these critical vitamins and will need supplementation sooner or later. Hence, breastmilk is not as perfect as it claims to be.
4 Con: Antibodies Also Come From The Afterbirth
According to Science Direct, it is the afterbirth that also contributes to healthier new-borns.
“Maternal antibodies transported across the placenta protect the new-born. Maternal immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrations in foetal blood increase from early in the second trimester through the term, most antibodies being acquired during the third trimester.”
Even if your baby has not had breastmilk adequately, the immunity components it received in the womb will still protect her.
In a way, the baby is being provided all the immunity defences she ever needs in her early years. There is no deficiency in the immunity components for a formula fed baby. Is it not amazing how nature plans for every exigency and also ensures that all babies are born equal!
While maternal antibodies do get passed down from the colostrum to the baby, it is also true that it gets absorbed only in the smallest amounts and in a localised way, by not entering the bloodstream. It does protect the gastrointestinal area of the newborn but not the larger body's surface. Hence, again showcasing that, while breastmilk has an advantage, it may not be as large and long-lasting as it is believed and is definitely not the only protection offered.
3 Pro: Happy Mama, Happy Baby
Here is the scenario, despite best efforts or maybe due to ill health or complicated deliveries, or maybe even due to the sheer embarrassment of baring oneself, some mothers are just not able to breastfeed. They may have even tried various methods, home remedies, suggestions etc, but without success or happiness in the process.
As well-meaning lactation experts, health professionals, family elders pressurise the new mother into breastfeeding, at the end of the day, what matters is the physiological and emotional bond between the new mom and her baby. If with formula milk, she forms a happier, more relaxed and more loving bond with her baby, surely that is more important. If she is miserable while breastfeeding, and starts feeling like a milk producing factory and may even resent her baby as a result, the person who will suffer the most will be the infant.
If breastfeeding is something that comes easily and naturally to a mother and she makes it her choice, by all means, this is what she must do and provide the incremental gains to her infant. However, if this is a dreaded chore, well then, let the world and all the medical fraternity not force her into it, for surely only a calm mom can create a calm baby or home.
2 Con: Moms May Have Health Issues
There may be instances of serious health problems that do not allow moms to breastfeed. However, even relatively smaller issues like surgery, C-section deliveries can severely hamper the mom's ability and interest in breastfeeding. The cuddly, traditional method of holding the baby while breastfeeding could be a real challenge for the mom who has had a C-section. She may face problems and discomfort in simply holding her baby in the proper latch position. Not to mention the sheer exhaustion of a C-section and the inconvenience of the multiple stitches. For a few days post delivery, breastfeeding may just become a very unpleasant chore for the new mom.
Some mothers are also not sure about the effect of pain medicine on the baby through breastmilk. While most will not be harmful and may just make the baby sleepy, it does prolong the entire ritual. Mom, try breastfeeding a sleeping baby! Moreover, if the C-section has been unexpected or difficult, it can take time for the mother to emotionally recover from it and she may just not be ready to take on the challenge of breastfeeding. In some cases, if the mother has been given a general anesthesia, it may take time for breastfeeding to begin. Infant formula milk becomes the only, healthy choice in such situations.
1 The Final Word – The Jury Is Still Out
There is still no final, unequivocal conclusion that breastmilk is indeed as much a super-food as it is cited to be. While incremental gains cannot be ruled out and, in some classes and countries, breastmilk is the best, the jury is still out on exactly how much of a benefit does breastmilk provide.
“The evidence that breastfeeding protects against obesity and a variety of chronic diseases comes almost entirely from observational studies, which have a potential for bias due to confounding, selection bias, and selective publication”.
A study conducted to see the truth in claims against obesity and other benefits concluded that the benefits cited could just have been based on observations and could not be clinically proven.
The scientists did not see any longitudinal impact of the benefits of breastmilk on the height, blood pressure and other health measures of the children (at 6.5 years,) when contrasting those who had been exclusively breastfed at three months versus those who had not. This could imply that other health regimes, foods may be able to compensate and add to the health of children who have not been exclusively breastfed.
To conclude, while the benefits of breastmilk are apparent and well researched and for some health gains, may even be irreplaceable, formula fed babies are not at a complete disadvantage either.
References: ncbi.nlm.nig.gov, sciencedirect.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, askdrsears.com, ntnu.edu, askdrsears.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, aap.org, enfamil.ca, prengnacybirthday.org.au, psycom.net