Breastfeeding or Formula: Are We Still Debating This?

July 12, 2016

One of the questions that parents and specifically, mothers of newborns have, a topic that is continually being discussed is: breastfeeding vs formula?

An ongoing debate and while it is natural to breastfeed, there are benefits or instances when it is practical for mothers to use baby formula.

With all the attention the debate gets does it really matter that much? More and more mothers are saying stop the debate, a fed baby is the only option that matters, period.

Perhaps a better question is how to choose which option is the best fit for you.

And taking things a step further perhaps we should shift the focus on how can we better support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace and not condemn mothers who chose, for whatever reason, not to breastfeed.

This article will discuss pro and cons of breastfeeding and formula feeding to help mothers choose which option is the best fit for their lifestyle- without the judgment that typically comes with this debate.

How to Choose Between Breastfeeding and Formula

In a video for Pediatrician Dr. Dyan Hes advised…

“as a pediatrician, I always recommend breastmilk 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. I will never force a mother to breastfeed who does not want to breastfeed.”

The Argument for Breastfeeding

Benefits for the Child

Dr. Hes and sources such as list a number of positive effects that breastfeeding can have on a child, including

  • Protection for a baby’s immune system
  • Less likely to get diarrheal infections
  • Less likely to get ear infections
  • Less likely to get asthma
  • Less likely to get illnesses during childhood. also mentions that numerous health organizations recommend breastfeeding to protect against allergies and chronic illnesses.

Benefits for Mothers

The many benefits for a mother who chooses to breastfeed are well documented. lists the following advantages.

1. Reduces risk of uterine and ovarian cancer

During lactation, estrogen levels are lower. With less estrogen available to stimulate the lining the uterus the less risk of cancer in these tissues.

2. Reduces risk of breast cancer

The risk of breast cancer by as much as 25% for women who breastfeed. In addition, the longer a mother breastfeeds the lower her risk.

3. Emotional Health

Studies indicate that breastfeeding mothers suffer less postpartum depression and anxiety than non-breastfeeding mothers.

4. Lessens chance for osteoporosis

Women who don’t breastfeed 4x the chance of developing osteoporosis

5. Cost effective

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding saves on average around $400 in the first year.

6. Child spacing

Breastfeeding delays ovulation; therefore, can prevent a mother from becoming pregnant while nursing.

7. Weight loss

Breastfeeding mothers showed significantly more fat loss compared with formula feeding mothers and tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster.

The Case for Formula Feeding

Breastfeeding isn’t easy for many mothers. It can be particularly challenging and stressful in the beginning. Some mothers experience pain and/or never feel comfortable with breastfeeding. In other cases breastfeeding just isn’t feasible.

Breastfeeding isn’t always Practical

Although breastfeeding is considered healthier by most physicians, there may be times when it isn’t practical or feasible. article “Breastfeeding versus baby formula is not an either or debate” highlights the health benefits for mothers and babies but also shows the instances where breastfeeding isn’t an option.

When Breastfeeding isn’t an Option

1. Back to Work

Once mothers go back to work breastfeeding becomes very challenging. For most woman, there is very little support in the workplace for breastfeeding.

Mothers who are no longer able to follow their regular breastfeeding schedule need to pump daily not only to have breast milk for later but to maintain their milk supply and to alleviate pressure in the breast that builds when they don’t nurse at regular times.

One of the biggest issues is that in many work settings there tend to be very few clean, comfortable and private places for mothers to pump. The stall in the company women’s restroom doesn’t count.

Most doctors recommend breastfeeding for the first 6 months but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 11% of private-sector workers in the U.S. get paid family leave through their employers. (when they do it is typically only for up to 6 weeks.)

2. Emotional & Hormonal Challenges

After delivery, mothers go through immense hormonal changes which can result in varying degrees of anxiety and postpartum depression.

In an article on, Kate Kripa explains the same hormonal shifts in progesterone, estrogen, oxytocin, thyroid and cortisol that can trigger these mood shifts can also impact a mother’s ability to produce breastmilk.

3. Medical Conditions

  • HIV and Aids- babies born to HIV-positive mothers can contract the virus through breast milk
  • HTLV-1 (human T-cell leukemia virus type 1)- a virus that infects white blood cells and can be passed through breastmilk
  • Many Types of surgery including breast surgery- mothers who have had breast reduction or augmentation may have difficulty with milk supply
  • Other medical conditions that can cause a decrease in milk supply include: hypothyroidism, pituitary dysfunction, untreated tuberculosis, excessive postpartum bleeding, hepatitis B and C, active herpes lesions

4. Nutritional Needs

Some babies born with nutrient deficiencies, very premature or with abnormalities may require the added vitamins and nutrients contained in some formulas.

What are the Advantages of Formula Feeding?

1. Vitamins and nutrients

Infant formula contains many nutrients that newborns need. Including Vitamin D, an essential vitamin for babies that breastmilk does not contain

2. Less concern about feeding the baby enough

“Is my baby eating enough” is a constant concern of mother’s who breastfeed. When bottle feeding with formula it is easy to exactly how much your baby is consuming.

3. More sleep for mothers

Formula is not digested as quickly as breastmilk so it tends to keep babies fuller for longer. This can mean longer sleeps for the baby and more time between feedings. The need to feed less means more sleep for mom!

4. Shared feeding duties

Formula feeding makes it much easier for Dads, family members, or nannies to help with feeding the baby. This takes a lot of pressure and stress off mom.

5. Stronger bond with dad

Sharing the feeding duties with spouses helps them feel more involved and creates an early and crucial bond with the baby.

6. Flexibility and/or return to Work

A formula-feeding mother can more easily leave her baby with a spouse or caregiver without worrying about the feeding needs of the baby.

Because there is no need to pump or to schedule work or social events around the baby’s feeding schedule formula feeding mothers have much more freedom to return to work, run errands and attend social events.

7. No Dietary Concerns

Mother’s who chose to formula feed don’t have to conscious of the how the things they intake affect their babies. The intake of medications, caffeine, alcohol and even certain foods by breastfeeding mothers can have negative effects on their babies.

Breastfeeding Combined with Formula Feeding

The milk debate doesn’t have to be a “this or that” conversation. Many mothers choose to use both breast milk and formula.

Dr. Dyan Hes also mentioned the benefits of using both…

“Not all mothers feel breastfeeding is right for them… some moms breastfeed during the day and they give formula at night. Some moms alternate… The formula that is available on the market now provides a baby with all the vitamins and nutrients as comparable to human breast milk.”

What Works For You?

While many experts believe breastfeeding is the logical or healthier option, there will be instances where it isn’t practical.

Mothers who are unable to breastfeed or make the choice not to due to comfort, medical condition or lifestyle should not feel guilty and should know that formula does provide babies with the nutrients they need.

Mothers have to do what is best for their situation in addition to consulting a trusted physician.

A More Important Discussion?

Instead of so much focus on the breastfeeding vs formula debate perhaps a more important discussion should be around improving the way we treat mothers regardless of how they choose to feed their babies.

Shouldn’t we pay more attention to making the workplace a more accepting environment for working mothers and at the same time not ostracizing mothers who, for whatever reason, decide not to breastfeed?

What do you think?

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