Breastfeed or Formula Feed?

In recent news there was a story of a little boy named Avery from Lebanon, Mo. who contracted a rare bacterial infection that is said to have been linked to the powdered infant formula, Enfamil Newborn powder, sold in Wal-Mart stores.  The news story claimed,

“Avery was taken to St. John’s Hospital-Lebanon late last week after appearing lethargic and displaying what his family said were signs of a stomach ache. He was later moved to St. John’s Hospital-Springfield, and preliminary tests showed that he had contracted a rare bacterial infection, Cronobacter sakazakii, the newspaper reported. He died Sunday after being removed from life support.”

You can read more about the news story here.  Even though Wal-Mart subsequently pulled the batch of the powdered formula from more than 3,000 of its stores nationwide, the story got me thinking about why we should choose to breastfeed our infants over formula feed.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for all infants.  These organizations say the first 6 months of an infant’s life they should be breastfed exclusively, and they encourage breastfeeding for at least 12 months or longer, if possible.  The decision to breastfeed and for how long to breastfeed is a very personal choice, and while there may be certain medical considerations that limit the ability of a mother to breastfeed her infant, here are some of the top advantages to breastfeeding over formula feeding.

1. Infection-fighting

A nursing mother has special antibodies that her body produces for the purpose of passing them on to her baby. These antibodies are important for the baby’s immune system and protect the baby from certain viruses and diseases. It is said that breastfed babies contract fewer illnesses and have fewer hospitalizations than formula fed babies.

2. Nutrition and ease of digestion

There are vital minerals and vitamins present in breast milk that a newborn requires for nutritional health.  The attempted duplication of the natural ingredients of breast milk is being done by baby formula manufacturers everywhere. But how can you trust that your baby is getting all their nutritional needs met when the more complex substances of breast milk are too difficult for manufacturing, or have not yet been identified? The components of a mother’s breast milk are lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat; which all run easily through the young digestive system of a newborn.  It is known that breast-fed babies have fewer instances of diarrhea and constipation.

3. Cost

Breast milk is the only food we can produce with our own bodies, as humans, so it is completely free.  Alternatively, the cost of baby formula certainly adds up.  In addition, with the many antibodies and vitamins that the breast fed baby gets, there will undoubtedly be fewer trips to the doctor which means fewer hospital bills, and less money spent on prescriptions and over the counter medications.

4. Taste

Breast milk will taste differently depending upon what the nursing mother has eaten.  This will allow the baby to be introduced to different flavors and tastes right from the start.  This could also deepen the connection between the mother and baby by allowing the mother to identify which foods she can eat that the baby likes and reacts positively to when nursing, and which foods the baby reacts negatively to that she can avoid.

5. Convenience

A nursing mother can be active and on the run without having to worry about preparing a bottle whenever her baby becomes hungry.  Breast milk is fresh and easily available whenever, wherever mom may be.

6. IQ

Studies suggest that children who were exclusively breastfed have higher IQs than children who were formula fed.

7. Contact

The skin-to-skin contact between a nursing mother and baby is like no other.  It is safe to say that an emotional connection is made during this special time in a baby’s life, and not to mention, the mother’s life.

8. Beneficial for Mom

In addition to the emotional satisfaction that breastfeeding brings the mother, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of diseases like breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  It may also help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer in nursing mothers.