Breastmilk or Formula… Is there Really a Difference?
There are lots of important decisions you will need to make as a new parent. The decision about how you will feed your baby is one of them. Most families will make this choice before their baby even arrives. Here are some important factors to consider as you make your feeding decision.
Breast milk has health benefits for your baby.
- A mother’s first milk, colostrum, is the perfect first food for babies. It is full of antibodies and is very easy to digest.
- Breast milk contains living cells that can help to prevent your baby from becoming ill. When you are exposed to a germ, your body makes antibodies to that germ. The antibodies will appear in your milk, passing the protection on to your baby.
- Breast milk is specifically made for human babies; it has all the necessary nutrients, in just the right amounts.
- The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby’s life. They recommend continuing to breastfeed, as you introduce other foods for up to 2 years or more!
- When babies are fed infant formula, the chance of having asthma, allergies, ear, chest and stomach infections increases. This does not mean that breastfed babies will not get sick or that formula fed babies will be sick all the time. It means that if a baby is fed breast milk, the sickness may not be as often and may be less serious.
- Formula companies have tried hard to make a product similar to breast milk. However, the fact that breast milk is “custom-made” for your baby makes it impossible to be copied.
Breastfeeding has health benefits for the mother as well!
- Breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, making is easier to lose the extra pregnancy weight.
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months will delay the start of your periods. You can learn more about the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of family planning here.
Women who do not breastfeed have:
- Increased chance of bleeding heavily after birth (hemorrhage).
- Increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Increased chance of developing osteoporosis (weak bones).
Other facts to consider:
- Formula feeding requires extra time (and money!) Baby bottles need to be sterilized for the first 4 months. Water used to dilute powdered or concentrated formula must be boiled and cooled prior to use.
- There is potential for making mistakes when mixing formula. It needs to be measured carefully as adding the wrong amount of water can have a very serious effect on your baby’s health.
- Formula needs to be stored and handled safely. If safe practices are not followed, there is potential for bacteria to grow and make your baby sick.
- If you are thinking of switching from breastfeeding to formula, it is important you know that it can be difficult to return to breastfeeding once you have stopped.
Breast milk banks
The breastfeeding community is working to set up ‘milk banks’. A milk bank will ensure that families have access to breast milk for their babies when mother’s own milk is not available. For more information on milk banks, see: Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Breastfeeding and returning to work
It is possible for women to continue to breastfeed when they return to work. There are government policies that support working women both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
You can learn more about your rights by visiting these websites:
Baby Friendly Initiative
The Baby Friendly Initiative strives to ensure you have enough information to make an informed feeding decision. To find out more about Baby Friendly, see this post.
To help new moms learn be more prepared, we’ve created a free ebook called “5 Crucial Ways to Prepare for Breastfeeding” Download it for free here.
References and More Information:
- “AAP Policy on Breastfeeding and Use of Human Milk.“HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. N.d. Web.
- “Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Nov. 2015. Web.
- “Facts for Fathers about Breastfeeding.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Nov. 2015. Web.
- “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months.” hc-sc.gc.ca. Health Canada, 18 Aug. 2015. Web.
- “Why Breastfeed?” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, 21 Nov. 2015. Web.
- “10 Great Reasons to Breastfeed your Baby.” Phac-aspc.gc.ca. Public Health Agency of Canada, 05 Apr. 2015. Web.
- “14 Risks of Formula Feeding.” InfactCanada.ca. Infact Canada. (n.d.) Web.
- “What Do Health Authorities Say about Breastfeeding past the First Year?” KellyMom.com. N.p., 07 Aug. 2014. Web
About the authors:
Cindy and Jana are Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who have assisted over 20,000 families.