Breastfeeding vs. formula: Which is better?
- In a 2014 CDC survey, 15.52% of respondents agreed that 'infant formula is as good as breast milk,' while 58.21% disagreed.
- Commercially made infant formulas are regulated by the FDA and come in three varieties: cow's milk protein-based formula, soy-based formula, and protein hydrolysate formula (for babies who have a protein allergy).
- The CDC reports that in 2019/2020, 83.9% of infants in the US were breastfed at some point, while 25.8% were exclusively breastfed through six months.
- Lactation consultants are breastfeeding experts who 'support mothers in how to increase milk supply, find the best nursing position, and manage breastfeeding pain.'
While babies' diets have been historically supplemented with animals' milk, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) notes that breast milk is still considered nutritionally superior because of the specific benefits it offers babies. And according to March of Dimes, breast milk is formulated with the ideal combination of vitamins, proteins, and fats to satiate babies, sustain development, and strengthen fragile immune systems.
Experts at Johns Hopkins say that breast milk is better absorbed and utilized by a baby's delicate body. They also indicate that babies who have been exclusively breastfed benefit from enhanced brain and nervous system development, scoring higher on intelligence tests as they grow. Fortunately, breast milk changes to meet the nutritional needs of a growing child. Hormones and antibodies in breast milk also help protect babies from illnesses while reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The Cleveland Clinic even cites fewer instances of childhood cancers and speech and orthodontic problems in babies that have been exclusively breastfed.
In addition to obvious physical benefits, breastfeeding strengthens the bond between mother and child by increasing skin contact and affection while reducing social and behavioral problems later in life. Breastfeeding promotes the release of oxytocin in the mother's system, which can help reduce her chances of experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). According to Healthline, breastfeeding may even promote weight loss in moms and help the uterus contract to its original size. Aside from all the benefits to babies, breastfeeding can help moms reach their pre-pregnancy weight and return to normal more quickly.
Although formula can provide nutrition to babies, it isn't as protective, absorbable, or adaptable as breast milk--and certainly doesn’t offer the same benefits of breastfeeding for the mother.
Formula is superior to breastfeeding for many reasons. It’s easier on working parents, it can supplement breastfeeding, and it’s digested slowly. Further, as opposed to formula, breastfeeding can take an undue toll on the breastfeeding parent.
In an age where a joint income is needed to stay afloat, most parents return to work quickly after childbirth. Formula feeding is convenient and accessible for parents whose children rely on other caregivers during the day.
For newborns with weight loss issues, breastfeeding is often not enough to nourish them. A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics recommended that parents whose newborns are losing weight supplement their breastfeeding regiment with formula feeding. Die-hard commitment to breastfeeding even if your child isn’t thriving is not only unnecessarily stubborn but dangerous to the baby.
For working parents with tight schedules, the digestibility of formula might be a boon to their sanity. Since formula is digested at a slower rate than breastmilk, it keeps babies fuller for longer and allows for more time between feedings. In addition, a regular feeding schedule can help newborns develop more regular bowel movements.
Feeding babies with formula is also less restrictive for parents. Not only can mothers and fathers alike bond with their baby during feeding, but it's more accepted publicly. Breastfeeding in public can be uncomfortable, and can fall under scrutiny despite being perfectly natural. In addition, if the breastfeeding parent has any health issues or the required restrictive diet isn’t compatible with their medical needs, formula can keep their baby nourished without any added stress.
Formula feeding is convenient for parents and could be life-saving for babies, making it the better choice.