It’s a love like no other, isn’t it? The first time you look at your newborn brings a feeling unlike any other. And all you want to do is love and protect that precious baby. That begins with what you feed them. As a new mom, you can receive conflicting information about your newborn’s nutrition. But there’s always one question lingering on every mom’s head. What should you choose: breast milk or baby formula – or both?
This is a contributed post offering advice on this topic.
“Breast is Best”
You may have heard or seen this common phrase many times. Leading global health organizations like the AAP, WHO, and UNICEF are pro-breastfeeding. They recommend that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for their first six months. Babies should then continue breastfeeding until their first birthday. In fact, UNICEF recommends breast milk up to and beyond the age of two.
Breast milk contains multiple nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. It also has digestive enzymes, hormones, immune cells, stem cells, and other bioactive molecules. These bioactive molecules form part of the defensive barrier in your baby’s intestines against pathogens. They also help balance the baby’s gut bacteria to further enhance immunity and help digestion.
What makes breast milk even more special is its dynamic composition. The volume of nutrients and other components in breast milk change to match your baby’s needs. For instance, your breast milk has more protein within the first six months than in the subsequent months. This matches the rapid growth that babies go through in those first six months. In fact, scientific analysis shows that even when a mother’s nutrition is not adequate, her breast milk will always have adequate essential nutrients.
Human breast milk is truly the perfect food for a baby’s digestive system. Breast milk is much easier to digest than baby formula or cow’s milk because it’s best for a baby’s delicate digestive system. Further, breast milk composition changes to match the baby’s needs, which no other supplement can replicate.
You don’t have to buy anything or sterilize any bottles or worry about what is in your breast milk. It is the safest option for babies and the most convenient as they can feed as and when necessary.
Breastfeeding can protect your baby from the ear, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal infections. Your breast milk contains antibodies that pass on to your baby. These antibodies boost your baby’s immunity so that s/he is less susceptible to these infections.
Scientists have found a strong association between breastfeeding and lowered risk of your child being overweight or obese as adolescents and adults. One reason for this association has to do with self-regulation among breastfeeding babies. Babies feed on breast milk on demand, while babies on formula feed on a schedule. Breastfed babies can control their meal sizes and feeding intervals and learn to self-regulate. This self-regulation translated into their later years helps keep excess weight off.
Breast milk lowers the risk of Type 1 diabetes by passing on specific antibodies to the baby. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the baby’s exposure to foreign foods associated with diabetes. For example, cow’s milk contains a specific milk protein that can cause a defect in your baby’s immune system, leading to the development of type 1 diabetes.
Breastfeeding helps mothers bond with their babies. The skin-to-skin contact releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps milk production and bonding between mom and baby. Oxytocin also helps shrink the uterus back to its normal size and lowers post-delivery bleeding to guard against anaemia. Studies have also shown a relationship between breastfeeding and lowered risk for ovarian, endometrial, and breast cancers.
Besides the health benefits, breast milk is free, so feeding your baby has no added costs. The lowered childhood infections mean fewer hospital visits saving you money and reducing stress.
With all these benefits of breast milk, is baby formula bad for your baby? Not at all! Organic baby formulas such as Holle or HiPP are a great alternative if you cannot breastfeed. Baby formula models breast milk, and manufacturers aim to match the carbohydrate and protein proportions as accurately as possible. There are different types of baby formula, including:
Term formula contains modified cow’s milk with added lactose. It is appropriate for most infants born at full term and may contain additional nutrients that promote eye and brain development.
These are also made from cow’s milk with additional lactose. They are for babies born under 34 weeks to 36 weeks, weighing around 3lbs. They have more proteins, calories, and minerals that will help the baby grow as they would in utero.
These are for babies that cannot tolerate the usual baby formula. For babies with lactose deficiencies, there are soy formulas and lactose-free formulas. Hypoallergenic and non-allergenic formulas are for babies with milk allergies or other allergies such as eczema. Babies born with reflux issues also have anti-reflux formulas.
Baby formula means that anyone can feed your baby. You don’t have to rush home to breastfeed or try to fit pumping into your schedule. Plus, you do not have to think about getting up every few hours to breastfeed. Someone else can handle that for you.
Breastfeeding helps you bond with your new baby, but formula feeding allows your partner to bond with the baby. They can prepare the bottles and spend that special quality time feeding and bonding with the baby.
Babies digest baby formula slower than breastmilk. As such, you can have a near-accurate feeding schedule for your baby. This allows you the freedom to do what you want within the hours between feedings. You can also share that schedule with your babysitter when you need to leave.
Breastfeeding moms may avoid certain foods their babies can’t tolerate. They also have to avoid alcohol as long as they are breastfeeding. The baby formula gives you the freedom to eat whatever you want and have a drink too.
Breast milk or baby formula – Or can you do both?
Yes, You Can Do Both.
Supplemental feeding is where you breastfeed and formula-feed concurrently. It is highly beneficial, especially for pre-term babies that need extra calories. Supplemental feeding is best for babies with jaundice, dehydration, or low blood sugar. Babies that struggle to latch onto the breast can use supplemental feeding. Also, if you are just not making enough milk, please don’t beat yourself up. Just combine breastfeeding and baby formula.
There should be no guilt or judgment whether you chose breast milk, baby formula, or both. Your baby just needs to get adequate nutrition for their growth and development. Add your love and care to that, and your baby will be fine.
You’re doing great, Momma!