Being a first-time parent is definitely no walk in the park. From lack of sleep to incessant crying, you constantly have to worry about every minor detail. “The hardest part is not being able to understand what your baby needs.” Ellie Cromwell, a first-time parent recounts her struggles and triumphs with parenthood. “You feel so helpless.” Later, when asked what the biggest decision the first-time mother initially faced, Cromwell stated that it was deciding between breastfeeding versus formula feeding. Among the slew of different questions, first-time parents ask, this by far takes the crown. But why are parents so obsessed with breastfeeding versus formula feeding? Does one really produce more benefits than the other?
According to Dr. Dyan Hes, MD, board-certified in Pediatrics and Obesity Medicine, yes. “As a pediatrician, I always recommend breast milk and breastfeeding, although that’s not the right answer for every single family. What I like to recommend is happy baby, happy mother, happy mother, happy baby.” Dr. Hes goes on to explain that breast milk offers immense protection for a baby’s immune system. Adding that, immunoglobulins, which act as antibodies in the immune system, get transferred from the mother to the baby and remain with the baby for life. As a result, the baby is also much less likely to develop ear infections, diarrheal infections, and/or asthma. Ultimately, Hes believes, “Society often pressures parents to do things that they might not feel comfortable about, and that’s when you need to talk to your doctor. Whatever is right for you is what you have to do for your baby, because the baby will not thrive if the mom or family is not happy.”
Breastfeeding has also plays a key role in an infant’s oral development, it is said that “Breastfeeding helps widen the child’s palate to allow more space for growing teeth. The physical process of an infant suckling on their mother’s breast helps to shape the palate into an ideal wide “U” shape. The force of this action sends a crucial first message to an infant’s brain to start expanding the maxilla bone, which is the first step to develop a wider dental arch in childhood.” (Stephen) Eventually, this enables the infant to develop a perfectly aligned smile when they become a toddler. But studies also show that babies aren’t the only ones benefiting from breastfeeding, mothers are too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.”
While there may be several benefits for mothers when breastfeeding, there are also some other painful repercussions. According to a study conducted by the Journal of Reproductive Medicine Gynecology & Obstetrics, when lactating mothers were asked to rate their level of breast engorgement and pain, 65%-75% said they experienced moderate pain. While the results may seem bearable, BASS Medical has found five very common side effects to breastfeeding which include: back pain, bruising, carpal tunnel, cramping, and osteoporosis. Possibly the most frustrating part of breastfeeding is not knowing how much your baby eats. To save mothers both the stress and pain that come with breastfeeding, there are ways to ensure the aforementioned problems will not prevail. Nowadays, there are thousands of free online courses, that supply first-time mothers with the skill sets and knowledge they need to learn how to: correctly breastfeed, as an example. When comparing the pros and cons of breastfeeding, it is equally imperative to take into consideration both the mother’s health and wellbeing in addition to the baby’s.
Now let’s switch gears to formula feeding, which has a rather interesting history. In 1865, famed German chemist, Justus von Liebig, invented and sold infant food in both liquid and powder form. Liebig’s formula contained: cow’s milk, wheat, malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate. Which was considered the perfect infant formula at the time. But in 1846, scientists began noticing infant mortality rates increasing at an alarming rate and associated this with dry nursing. After Liebig’s invention, the climbing cases of infant mortality allegedly decreased. Regardless, formula feeding caught on quickly among parents seeking to provide healthier alternatives for their children. In 2017, the CDC reported by 6-months, 75% of babies began formula feeding, despite initially being breastfed (84.1%). Dr. Caitlin Colvard Mehran, an LA-based pediatrician weighed in on formula feeding, “Breastfeeding can be very stressful on a mom. Not all women will produce the same amount of milk, it’s very time-consuming. It can be a great experience for some moms, and for other moms— it can be really stressful and it’s not that much fun.” Dr. Colvard follows up by saying that in her practice, she always recommends first-time mothers to initially try breastfeeding because there are multiple benefits for both the mother and baby. However, Dr. Colvard does believe that it is most certainly not the pathway for every mother, especially those with hectic work schedules, “The moment this becomes too stressful and the moment this becomes detrimental to the mom, it’s perfectly fine to switch over and supplement with formula or formula feed your baby altogether. There’s so much pressure on moms to breastfeed, and it’s really not fair— the mom guilt that’s put out there. Ultimately, there’s nothing better for a newborn baby than a happy mom.”
Formula feeding is also generally easier. This is because there is a distribution between both parents when it comes to feeding. With breastfeeding, mothers are solely responsible for feeding their babies. This could even create some disconnect with the other parental figure, making them feel helpless in the situation. With formula feeding, each parent can take turns using a feeding schedule that nurtures that bond between your baby and creates a harmonious balance between both parents. Another immense benefit of formula feeding is that you don’t have to worry about how much your baby eats, on the side of every baby bottle is a measuring chart that reveals the level of milk intake your baby should consume. With breastfeeding, it’s kind of a shot in the dark. Especially considering certain babies have trouble latching, making it even more cumbersome to ensure that your baby has received enough food.
At present, formula feeding is still considered unorthodox and controversial. But to what extent is this true? For starters, nighttime bottle feeding can lead to tooth decay and poor oral development. According to Dr. Angelica Rohner, award-winning Alabama-based pediatric dentist, “Many parents aren’t aware that putting their child to bed with a bottle each night can cause rapid, severe cavities on their front teeth. Often containing something with sugar in it such as milk, formula, or juice, this essentially means their teeth are soaking in sugar for many hours. Their tooth structure can be entirely lost, which requires extracting the remaining root structure or major dental work.” However, Dr. Rohner adds that staying cavity-free is possible with a simple habit change. She suggests using a pacifier to soothe your child or help them fall asleep, avoiding purchasing formula that is high in sugar, and gently wiping your baby’s gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding to keep it as sanitary as possible. Formula feeding can also be very expensive. According to SmartAsset, “The cost of baby formula across popular brands can average between $1,200 and $1,500 during a baby’s first year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Fortunately, there are ways to save on baby formula without having to make the shift to generic branded formula. Prioritizing your items may also help you save those extra bucks. So organic products would be placed at the top, and products that are less of a necessity should effectively cost less. Some other ways to reduce the cost of the formula are by shopping online, using coupons, asking your pediatrician for free samples, signing up for mailing lists that often pass out free samples, and checking in with your insurance provider.
“Should I breastfeed or formula feed?”
Both options are ideal means to provide nourishment and promote adequate development for your baby. Communicating some of the concerns or worries you may be facing to your partner and pediatrician are the best way to establish which method would be most suitable for you and your baby. As a formula baby myself, I can vouch that I turned out perfectly fine. Alternatively, my brother, who was breastfed, ended up having recurring ear infections. So obviously, the statistics are not absolute. To settle the debate once and for all, both options offer an array of benefits and disadvantages, no option is objectively better than the other, so the decision is ultimately yours and your babies. Frankly, breast or bottle, neither of these options matter as long as you feed your baby with unconditional love. This is what truly defines a parent.
Article written by Lynn Robchinsky