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Since time immemorial, new mothers have been at the receiving end of advice from well-wishers and other experienced mothers. One of the topics that come up is the concept of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. An ongoing debate, there are plenty of opposing views on this matter. Making an informed decision is necessary for the health and happiness of both, mother and baby.
Breast Milk or Formula Milk – What Should I Go For?
A recent study conducted suggests that while comparing young children who were breastfed to those who were not nursed as babies, there are not many differences between the two. However, the following positive developments were observed in children who were breastfed, against those who weren’t:
- Kids who were nursed as babies showed fewer problems with hyperactivity, by the age of three.
- These kids also scored higher on tests of vocabulary and problem-solving.
Remember this, moms: breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for your baby, although there are certain ‘dos and don’ts’ you need to follow when it comes to the same. However, there could be a situation when you have to choose to formula-feed your infant. Knowledge about the nutritional value, as well as the growth differences presented by either option can help you make a more informed decision about the question of breastfeeding vs formula.
Growth Difference Between Breastfed and Formula-fed Babies
Here are the differences between the growth patterns of babies who are breastfed and their non-nursing counterparts.
1. A Few Days after Birth
Babies lose some weight immediately after birth. Studies have shown that when it comes to breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, infants who are fed on breast milk lose more weight than those who are fed formula in the initial weeks of birth. Though breast milk is more nutritious, supply can be low right after birth. On the other hand, there’s no dearth of formulated milk which is why babies who are formula-fed weigh more than breastfed children.
2. First 3-months
Health experts believe that once the supply of breast milk normalizes, there’s no difference between the growth of formula-fed babies and breastfed babies. Both can enjoy a good supply of nutritious milk and gain weight in a consistent manner.
3. 6 to 12 months
Doctors recommend that babies be introduced to solid food along with continuing breast milk or formula milk once they complete the 6-month milestone. This is when many mothers begin weaning their babies off milk and adding solid food to their daily diet. However, since many infants don’t finish the food given them, the growth of breastfed babies can be slower. But what about that of formula-fed babies?
For infants to grow at a consistent rate, they require a fair amount of energy and proteins. Once a mom tries to wean her baby by introducing him or her to solid food, breastfeeding gradually decreases. However, babies may not get all the required nutrition from solid food especially if they don’t eat too much or reject it completely. This means lower consumption of energy and protein-rich food. Yet babies who continue to be formula-fed get the required nutrients from formula milk. This is why a formula-fed baby growth chart shows ‘better results’ than that for breastfed babies.
Nutrients in Breast Milk Versus Formula
While formula contains necessary vitamins and minerals, the nutritional content of breast milk is unbeatable. Here is a summary of the nutrients in either option.
Seeing that there is a range of formulas on the market (eg: soy formulas, hypoallergenic formulas etc.), the following list gives just the general ingredients and content of what can typically be found in formula.
- Carbohydrates (sources of energy) like lactose and corn maltodextrin.
- Protein content (which help to build bones and muscles) from partially hydrolyzed reduced minerals whey protein concentrate.
- Fats from palm olein, soybean oil, coconut oil, etc.
- Minerals such as potassium citrate, calcium chloride, sodium citrate, etc.
- Vitamins such as Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, folic acid, riboflavin, etc.
- Enzyme – Trypsin.
- Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) like taurine and L-Carnitine.
- Nucleotides which are chemical compounds that are the structural units of RNA and DNA.
- Soy Lecithin-An emulsifier.
2. Breast Milk
The nutritional content in breast milk is a long list that contains nutrients such as vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and so on, which are in formula milk – and then some more! The list extends to over 200 individual components of breast milk. Here’s a summarized list of the same.
- Carbohydrates such as lactose and oligosaccharides.
- Carboxylic acid like alpha hydroxy acid and lactic acid.
- Proteins such as whey protein, alpha-lactalbumin, casein etc.
- Non-protein nitrogens such as creatine, creatinine, urea etc.
- Amino acids like alanine, arginine, valine, and so on.
- Nucleotides like uridine diphosphate, guanosine diphosphate, etc.
- Fats such as triglycerides, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acids, etc.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, phospholipids, sphingolipids etc.
- Sterols like squalene, lanosterol, vitamin D metabolites, steroid hormones, etc.
- Vitamins A, B6, B8, B12, C, D, E, K and numerous others.
- Hormones which are chemical messengers that carry signals to one or a group of cells to another via the blood.
- Enzymes such as amylase, catalase, lipase and so on, which support chemical reactions in the body.
- Antimicrobial factors, which are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects, such as neutrophils, lymphocytes, phagocytes and so on.
Breast milk contains plenty of antibodies that equip babies with a better immune system. In the long run, this proves to be more beneficial for their steady growth and development. There is no comparison to the goodness of mother’s milk for the baby. Also, some of the constituents in formula may be hard to digest and can result in diarrhoea. Fats in formula milk are hard to break down too and could lead to excessive weight gain. Though the growth chart for breastfed babies may not seem to be as impressive as that of formula-fed infants, studies show that breastfeeding is more nutritious.
- In this video, Dyan Hes, a paediatrician, compares breastfeeding and formula feeding for babies, and how mothers have to make a choice based on what they are comfortable with.
- Breast milk offers protection for the baby’s immune system like no other source. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be affected by common childhood infections such as diarrhoea, ear infections, and even asthma.
- If you are starting your baby off with formula, choose a cow’s milk formula. The nutrients in formula that is available on the market are comparable to that of breast milk as well.
- If your baby is being exclusively breastfed, he will require Vitamin D drops, around 400 units a day, starting when he turns two weeks of age. Babies on formula don’t require the same.
Switching Between Breast Milk and Formula
Even if you make the decision to breastfeed your baby and stick to that decision itself, there may be trying situations that may require you to switch between breast milk and formula. It could be that your body is not producing adequate milk for your child; or that you are unable to feed or pump due to time or place constraints (such as, at the workplace); or that your sleep is getting interrupted due to night-time feedings. In such scenarios, you’ll probably have to depend on incorporating formula in your baby’s nursing schedules.
- If inadequate breast milk supply requires you to switch to formula at intervals, keep in mind that the baby may consume a quantity more than while he is breastfed. This may mean that his hunger will be satiated for longer, and the intervals between his feeding may increase. At the next feeding though, offer your breast first. By alternating between breast milk and bottle feeding, you can work out a regularity in your schedule eventually.
- Figure out as early as possible what you prefer to feed the baby with at nighttime. If you are in dire need of shut-eye, formula-feed the baby right before he goes to sleep. Since he will take in more, it will help him sleep longer through the night as well. Ensure that you burp him properly as alternating between breastfeeding and bottle feeding can cause gas in your baby.
- While introducing the baby to formula, some claim that mixing formula and breast milk can help the baby adjust to the taste of formula. However, it is best to stay clear of this idea due to two main reasons – the components of breast milk and formula milk are different and also, the shelf life differs for both options as well. Following this method can cause problems for your little one.
After you’ve dealt with labour and birth, your biggest concern is your newborn’s health and development. You want to ensure that your bundle of joy gets all the nourishment he or she needs for proper growth. Breast milk can provide your little one all the nourishment he needs in his early stages. However, if you are unable to or not interested in breastfeeding for any reason, please discuss this with your doctor and take a call accordingly.