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Breastfeeding vs. Formula: What is the Right Choice for You

The argument over baby formula versus breast milk has rage since formula first became available. Doctors thought formula was superior to breast milk for a short time, but several studies showed that breast milk is far superior.

When comparing breast milk versus formula nutrition, we see that breast milk contains many more nutrients, minerals, vitamins, probiotics, and immunity factors that are just left out of formula. And it’s not because they purposely leave out these nutrients, it’s that it’s impossible to add these nutrients to the formula and maintain the ability for it to sit on a shelf for several years.

We know many of you came here to learn about a baby formula and breast milk together, so we want to answer that question right away. As long as your baby is maintaining proper nutrition through the breast milk, supplement breastfeeding with formula is not going to hurt your baby. Often, it’s easier to combine breastfeeding and bottle when traveling and you do not have the security or convenience for breastfeeding.

You will want to check out some the information we have on allergies and irritants that are found in formulas, just so you can make an informed choice. All of that’s below.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Important Facts

Are breastfeeding benefits exaggerated? No.

Breast milk is considered to be perfect food for human babies

While breastfeeding as long as possible is ideal, the facts remain that breastfeeding rates still are at less than half of all babies are being breastfed after 12 months. Other breastfeeding statistics show that over 80% of all babies are breastfed and formula fed together.

Quick reasons why breastfeeding is best for mother and baby

  • Increases bonding
  • Immune protection is perfect
  • Balance of nutrition
  • Decreased chances of asthma, illness, digestive problems, and ADHD
  • Babies sleep better and cry less

One of the most important reasons why breastfeeding is important after delivery is that the first breast milk produced by the mother is not actually milk, but a colostrum of immune factors, probiotics, and other nutrients designed to aid the transition from the womb to air. Within one to three days, the colostrum transitions to breast milk. Fortunately, these benefits to breastfeeding last a lifetime.

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Why Breastfeeding is Better than Formula

Nutritionally, breast milk is a perfect food. What breast milk has that formula doesn't is more to do with phytonutrients and immune protection than vitamins and minerals. There are over 10,000 phytonutrients that help protect a baby. Plus, as we detail below, when a baby becomes sick, the mother produce antibodies that are passed to the baby during breastfeeding. Thus, the baby is protected as well.

Breast milk isn’t a cure for the illness, and it doesn’t cure anything at all. It’s a food and nutrient source for the baby. While many people and websites tout the wonders of this food, the fact remains that all breast milk is good for is the complete nutritional needs of a growing baby. That doesn’t sound like a lot when written out, but it is the world and beyond to you and your baby.

what's in breast milk infographic

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Breastfeeding Myths and Misconceptions

  • Breastfee​ding for Weight Loss
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Breastfeeding is not a weight loss regiment. Yes, many women do lose weight while they are breastfeeding. However, this is not due to getting rid of unhealthy fat. Much of it comes from the cannibalization of muscle tissue and organs to help feed the newborn. The mother is robbing her own store of nutrients in order to feed her child.

Of course, many women also choose to eat a healthier diet while breastfeeding. This will naturally lead to weight loss. But, we don’t want you to confuse breastfeeding with healthy weight loss. This does not happen.

  • Not Having Enough Milk

Some women don’t think they have enough milk. This often happens when breastfeeding is reduced and formula feeding is increased. The amount of milk produced is dictated by hormones released during the act of breastfeeding. The rhythmic act of sucking causes these hormones to be released. The longer and more often you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce.

  • Breastfeeding and Pumping

There also seems to be some confusion over the benefits of breastfeeding verses pumping of breast milk. Breastfeeding is best, and we have pumping breast milk and feeding through a bottle is a very close second. The baby is still getting all the nutrition of the breast milk. Very few nutrients and enzymes are lost when pumped and stored.

Many women find great benefits of pumping their breast milk. Here are a few of the reasons we found: it hurts less, at work it is easier to pump then breastfeed, some babies will only breastfeed from a single breast, and it can help relieve tension in multiple births.

  • Breastfeeding as a Birth Control

The one thing we want to clear up is that breastfeeding is not birth control. The act of breastfeeding does not stop the ovaries from producing a viable egg. Lactational amenorrhea causes a depression in hormones that trigger the release of an egg from ovaries, but it does not stop them. It is not considered enough to be considered a birth control method. Please do not rely on breastfeeding to prevent a future pregnancy.

WebMD calls for a very specific set of circumstances for breastfeeding to be used as birth control, and only at 98% effectiveness for the first 6 months after birth:

  • Only breastfeeding – meaning no pumping or formula.
  • A feeding cycle must be maintained with no gap between feedings that can last longer than 4 hours.
  • Your hormones for ovulation must not be produced, thus causing a period.

I don’t have a way to track hormone production in my body and I can’t imagine a newborn’s mother being able to, either. WebMD continues with point 3 saying you must be free of your period. We want to remind you that you produce an egg 2 weeks before your period, so you could become pregnant before having your period after giving birth. You can read more on how your period works and the very first stages of pregnancy in this article

Breastfeeding Benefits

There are thousands of studies on how breastfeeding benefits both mothers and babies. The evidence and statistics don’t lie.

Breastfeeding Benefits to Infant

If you want the best in life, breast is best. Here are just some of the well documented breastfeeding benefits that your baby will experience year after year

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  • Increased intelligence
  • Increased earning potential as adults
  • Lower rates of chronic health problems – asthma, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes
  • plus
    Lower rates of acute problems – ear infections, respiratory diseases
  • plus
    Increased immune protection
  • plus
    Lower rates of Sudden Death Syndrome
  • plus
    Lower rates of eczema

Breastfeeding Benefits to Mother

While not as many, there are some that exclusively benefit the mother. Many of these studies are just coming out, mostly because for the first time in history many women are choosing not to have children. Prior in history, not having children meant something was medically wrong with the mother.

  • Lower risk of certain cancers – breast, uterine
  • Faster weight loss rates (although, this one is being debated)
  • More mental stability later in life
  • plus
    Breastfeeding changes the brain for the mother through healthy hormone production, which increases the ability to multitask and reduces memory problems

Studies also found the breastfeeding women have only HALF the amount of stress hormones, compared to those not nursing. Oxytocin lowers blood pressure and inhibits the release of the stress hormone glucocorticoid. Prolactin, which causes lactation, reduces fear and anxiety.

Breastfeeding Benefits to Family

Dads and siblings benefit greatly from breast feeding. On top of learning that breasts are not just sexual objects, children are exposed to healthy and constructing views of a woman’s body. This can help reduce improper sexual connections later in life.

On top of that:

  • Creates stronger bonds between mother and father when the father aids the mother by bringing the baby to her, helps to clean up, and burps the baby
  • When the father does those things, the baby develops a stronger relationship with the father
  • Father and siblings see and help out, thus developing strong ties for protection and love
  • plus
    Breastfeeding saves money by not buying infant formula

Breastfeeding Benefits to Community

Everyone benefits when babies are breastfed. Society breastfeeding creates solid bonds and helps establish strong ties to community and family.

  • No wastes are generated through breastfeeding
  • Better overall health of the community
  • Stronger emotional ties to fellow humans

Of course, we all need to be stronger tied to the benefits of all people, and breast feeding is one way to get there.

How Breastfeeding Affects Fertility

When you are breastfeeding, your chances of becoming pregnant are small. The longer you go from the time of birth, the higher the chances. In fact, after you start to ween your baby onto something other than breast milk (formula or food), in your first menstrual cycle, there is a 66% chance you ovulated and can have a viable pregnancy. Remember the conditions we set above for lactational amenorrhea, any change to these guidelines means your risk of pregnancy increases.

After you start ovulation and pregnancy, you should have no decrease or increase in your ability to become pregnant again. This is providing nothing unusual happened during the pregnancy, in which case your doctor will inform you of future risks of becoming pregnant again.

Breastfeeding Disadvantages

While not many, there are a few disadvantages to breastfeeding. Some of the drawbacks to breastfeeding including passing on viruses and other blood infections to the newborn, the sharing of drugs and medication to the newborn, and pain in the breast.

  • How breastfeeding changes your breasts?

The most common one, the breast sagging, is not true. Many women attribute breastfeeding to their breast sagging, but research has shown that breastfeeding actually increases the structural connections, the Cooper's ligaments, within the breast and prevents sagging. The most common cause of sagging is actually a poor fitted bra. The 2008 study in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, shows breastfeeding is not a risk factor for breast sagging.

  • Is it safe to breastfeed when the mom is sick?

So long as the mother keeps healthy, limits medications, and eat a healthy diet, they don’t really need to worry about passing on illnesses to their newborn. Quite the contrary, even if something is passed on to the newborn, continuing to breastfeed means that all of the antibodies the mother produces gets passed on to the newborn as well. The baby is actually safer breastfeeding.

  • Does breastfeeding hurt?

Some women experience pain in their breasts so severe they are unable to breastfeed. However, most women are able to breastfeed with little discomfort. Much of the pain can be relieved with a change in position, ice packs, and moisturizers. If you do experience pain, encourage your baby to switch breasts to allow each nipple and breast to heal between feedings. If you do experience pain to the point you are unable to breastfeed, be sure to see a doctor. This is often a sign of something odd deeper within the breast.

  • How long is too long to breastfeed?

Of course, they’re also certain disadvantages of breastfeeding too long. While many cultures will breastfeed after two or three years of age, there are certain disadvantages of breastfeeding after 2 years old. For one, by this age your child will produce most of their own enzymes, immune factors, and other pathways that will serve them for the rest of their lives. By continuing to breastfeed, it encourages these pathways to become suppressed with the concentrated nutrition that comes from breast milk.

When your child stops breastfeeding, it could lead to minor malnutrition until the body is able to re-establish itself. This disadvantage is very minor and should not be used as an excuse to stop breastfeeding too early.

Formula

There are several types of formula out there, ranging from mass-produced, commercial products to organic and supposedly all natural ingredients. Many of these will depend on how much you want to spend for formula. Unfortunately, it is rare, and very expensive to find a formula that comes even close to breast milk nutrition and eliminates the potential allergens and irritants.

We listed out many of the health benefits to breastfeeding earlier in the article. You can actually flip those statistics around and say why formula is inappropriate for most babies.

Baby Formula Ingredients

The most common baby formula ingredients are the ones that a baby should never have. They are comprised of wheat, soy, cow’s milk, chemicals, and oftentimes a lot of sugar. This is the disadvantage of formula.

Rather than make a formula that’s fit for babies, manufacturers realize that the parents will taste test the formula before giving it to the baby. So they want to make sure it is tasty to the parent. Hence, the reason for lots of sugar. Unfortunately, a baby’s pancreas is not yet ready for the high doses of sugar and cannot produce the insulin required to handle it all. It’s the reason why babies who are formula fed have as much as a five times greater risk of developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

foods not to give babies infographic

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The next most in common ingredient is wheat. A baby does not have the ability to produce the enzymes required to digest grains of any kind until they are two and a half years old. Which means that the wheat and wheat products that are in formula and infant snacks is not even digested. Furthermore, because wheat is a potential allergen, it can cause an immune reaction or damage to the intestinal lining. It is the leading cause of diarrhea in infants.

When it comes to soy, this is just bad news. There are over 107 studies to show that soy products cause cancer and other damage to the body. In fact, all the studies that show soy to be healthy have been debunked. 96% of all soy is GMO and all commercial formulas that use GMO soy have been found to contain pesticide residues now banned in California and most of Europe. There is nothing in soy formula that is healthy for your baby this includes soy isolates and soy proteins that are added to other formulas.

Cow’s milk comes in two basic forms: whole, natural milk and processed, mutilated, defatted crap. Local, minimally processed milk can be healthy for babies and infants, so long as it’s in small doses and only used as a treat. Contains natural sources of vitamin D, calcium, and lots of healthy fats. But, the cow’s milk that you find in the grocery stores and in infant formulas is anything but healthy. The pasteurization and homogenization process destroys all of the healthy nutrients, and the defatting process removes all the healthy fats. All you’re left with is cow flavored sugar water. And that is what they use for whey and cow milk-based formula.

Despite these problems, you can find organic formulas that use vegetables and other natural ingredients to create formula. It is a bit more expensive, and harder to find, but it will save your baby many health problems throughout their lives.

If you have to feed your baby formula we recommend putting in the time of the effort to search out these better formulas and avoid the irritants we’ve just listed out.

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Breastfeeding Versus Formula Cost Comparison

Breastfeeding and formula have very different costs. When you formula feed, you see the cost right up front. You see the cost of the formula, bottles, and all of the other materials needed to make the formula. But you don’t so much in breastfeeding. When the mother eats healthy food she has to eat additional foods in order to produce quality breast milk. The increase in food that she eats may not be seen immediately through the grocery store bill.

The cost of formula is often $0.08 to $0.31 per ounce. Over the course of a year, this can be over $3,000. On the other hand, the cost of the additional food for the mother averages about $10 a week. Over the cost of a year, this is $520 (although, most websites say the cost is zero). If you add in all of the extras that can be purchased, that cost is close to $300. You save significantly by breastfeeding.

(US based costs as of 2016)

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Breastfeeding Versus Formula Feeding Statistics

Around the world, the vast majority of women breastfeed. Formula is simply not accessible or favored in many areas. Most doctors recommend breastfeeding, despite the popular opinion of several years ago.

In many areas of this article we have listed out several benefits to breastfeeding. Many of these include improved IQ, improved health, improve digestion, improved immunity, less fussiness, and faster growth.

Formula Benefits

But there are a few conditions where breastfeeding is contraindicated. While very rare, a few babies are allergic to breast milk. If the mother has experienced illnesses or diseases that require intense drug therapy, such as chemotherapy, it is not recommended she breastfeed. There are also some cases where a woman is so sensitive that it is physically painful to breastfeed. In cases like these, formula feeding is a benefit.

Of course, the most common reason for additional formula feeding is when the mother does not produce enough milk and breastfeeding is not enough (like we said before, this is rare). This is definitely a time when you should supplement breastfeeding with formula. It ensures that your baby gets enough nutrition. Although there are drugs * and alternative therapies that can help increase the mother’s milk, there are times when it is just not enough.

The British Medical Journal recently retracted pivotal research showing hypoallergenic formula is safe and effective. Apparently, the research was fabricated and the researcher was found in possession of bank accounts and money that could not be explained. Some of the money has been traced back to lobbyists who represent formula manufacturers. Currently, the US FDA is looking into the research and will decide if claiming a chemical baby formula is safe is true or false.

Conclusion

When it comes to benefits, breastfeeding is a clear winner. It is what nature intends, and medical science has shown it to be far superior. In some cases, formula feeding is beneficial, if a good quality formula is chosen (hint: it’s not the most popular brands). So, we recommend breastfeeding and if you have problems, contact a lactation specialist or consult your doctor.

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