Breast milk or formula? This debate is as old as…formula. In some hospitals, just before delivery, they make you indicate on a form which feeding philosophy you’ve chosen. Will you bottle-feed or breast-feed? Will you do both?
For many women in our mothers’ generation, it was a no-brainer. They had seen their own mothers (our grandmothers) have no choice but to breastfeed and they were excited to have options. Many opted for formula. Many of us were brought up on formula. And nobody died.
Our generation however, has seen an upsurge in breastfeeding advocates. WHO and many doctors strongly urge “baby-friendly”. The list of benefits is seemingly endless and you’re like, “Hmm, maybe I should.”
Dads aren’t left out of the debate. Having been informed that breast is best for baby’s brains, many Dads are suddenly, strongly pro-breast. Nobody wants their own pikin to carry last. But are they really carrying last?
We did the research so you wouldn’t have to. Presenting the one-stop comparison of Formula and Breast Milk:
Breast Milk: The Pros
- Breast Milk is made by nature. All-organic.
- It’s free and you save money on formula. It also saves time associated with washing and sterilizing bottles but this might not really count for working moms who have to pump when they’re away.
- Breast milk contains active infection-fighting white blood cells that give increased protection against infections in the first months, when these can be serious. Especially for babies that haven’t gotten all their vaccinations yet.
- It contains the perfect proportion of nutrients your baby needs including protein, carbohydrates, fats and calcium.
- Breast milk is customized. Research shows that the composition of breast milk changes according to baby’s needs. For instance, when baby is sick, the concentration of antibodies specific to that illness increases in breast milk.
- It may contain fatty acids that are important for brain development. Higher IQs, anyone?
- Breast milk is always available (as long as mama and baby are together).
- Breastfeeding helps mama lose weight. Exclusively breastfeeding moms can burn as much as 500 calories per day (the same as much as playing one hour of tennis daily). However, beware the Nigerian, carb-rich “breastfeeding diet”.
- Breastfeeding helps shrink the uterus, increasing the chances of pre-baby abs returning.
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mamas. It also lowers the risk of osteoporosis.
- The physical closeness, eye contact and skin-to-skin touching between mama and baby when breastfeeding help build strong bonds between the two.
Breast Milk: The Cons
- Breastfeeding cannot be easily done in public, if you’re more conservative. You need to pack breastfeeding covers and identify locations where you can nurse in advance. Some mamas don’t mind, though. Bet you’ve seen a number breastfeed on danfos, in church, in the market…
- You may lose the flexibility of having Papa or another caregiver able to feed the baby when necessary. Some babies become boob addicts and just refuse bottles.
- Breast milk digests faster than formula and so that means more frequent feeding. You have to always be on call.
- And that means less sleeping. Breastfed babies are less likely to sleep through the night. And some of them become so accustomed to nighttime feedings that they keep waking up to nurse even when they’re much older. They can’t resist the warmth and cuddling of mama.
- Breastfeeding can be physically uncomfortable especially for new moms who are inexperienced. Sore, peeling nipples, clogged milk ducts, engorgement, mastitis, uncontrollable leaking in public.
- There are dietary restrictions on what breastfeeding mothers can consume. Everything a breastfeeding mother eats or drinks ends up in her milk. So alcohol, caffeine and many medications are off-limits or severely limited. Some babies get heartburn if mama’s food is too spicy. Many babies get gas if mama eats citrus fruits, dairy or vegetables like broccoli. When in doubt, please consult a doctor.
- Breast milk does not contain Vitamin D and so breast-fed babies may need to take supplements. It’s also very low in iron but the good news is that full-term babies (babies born after 37 weeks) have enough iron in their liver to last them 6 months. After then, they should get their iron from their solids. Ask your doctor to check baby’s iron, if in doubt.
- Traditionally, the Nigerian diet for breastfeeding mother involves eating for two, and consuming large quantities of yam, pap and milk. This means that many mothers gain weight while breastfeeding instead of losing. Science shows that you don’t need a special diet. Eat for one.
- Sometimes, demand far outstrips supply of breast milk. Unfortunately, we don’t have milk banks yet in Nigeria. To avoid starving baby, please give formula.
Next week, we’ll share our thoughts on the pros and cons of formula! Stay subscribed so you don’t miss out 🙂