Breast Milk or Formula: Which is Best?

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How you want to feed your baby really depends on you and your baby’s needs and lifestyle. Take the route that makes you and your baby happy!

The big question arises — will you breastfeed or formula feed? Maybe you had your mind set on one way — and just like that, Baby arrived and changed everything — and that’s OK.. Which is best? That all depends on you and your baby’s lifestyle and needs. Deciding what is “best” is difficult because there is no wrong way, as long as your baby is fed and nourished, and YOU are happy. Weigh out the benefits and decide which is best for you and Baby!

“You’re going to nurture your baby in so many other ways by hugging, and singing, and being present and smiling at them [your baby],” says Maria Greene, RN, BSN, IBCLC Premier Health lactation consultant at Miami Valley Hospital. “You want to really find out what the best way or situation is for mom and baby.”

BREASTFEEDING VS. FORMULA

There are many health benefits to breastfeeding, and these days, formula is more nourishing than it used to be. Breast milk has tons of health benefits for you and your baby, even if you feed for only a short time.

“Any amount is better than none,” says Barbara Chaney MSN, RN, IBCLC at St. Elizabeth Healthcare Edgewood. “Giving a little bit of [breast] milk in the beginning helps coat the [baby’s] intestines and gives some protection there. Look at the glass half full if you gave your baby some breast milk.”

Breast milk helps protect baby’s gut, prevents allergies, reduces the chances of breast cancer for mom, provides many of the vitamins and minerals needed for Baby, and according to Greene, some studies have shown that babies who were exclusively breastfed have a slightly higher IQ.

LIFESTYLE BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING

– It’s Free: A nice thing about breastfeeding is it’s completely free! No juggling formula, no research, just free, natural milk from mama.
-Convenience: No warming bottles, no juggling formula. Breast milk is available around the clock.
-Skin-to-Skin Contact: Many nursing mothers enjoy the experience of bonding closely with their babies, and the skin-to-skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between mother and infant.
-Benefits Mom: Breastfeeding and pumping burns calories, and shrinks down Mom’s uterus faster.

If formula feeding better fits your lifestyle, it too has its benefits. Although formula does not completely match up to the nutrients found in breast milk because of the natural antibodies it can’t provide that Mom’s milk does, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate for formula companies to ensure they provide all the necessary nutrients (including Vitamin D) in their formulas.

“If mothers need formula or it [breastfeeding] becomes too difficult for them, we [lactation consultants] will support them in making their choice in every situation,” says Greene.

LIFESTYLE BENEFITS OF FORMULA FEEDING

-Flexibility: If you have to leave your baby when you return to work, for example, your partner, a family member or caregiver can take over without you worrying about having to pump enough milk while you’re away.
-Diet: You don’t have to worry about what you drink or eat and it going to your baby.
-Time and Frequency of Feedings: Formula fed babies tend to stay fuller longer since it is less digestible.

CAN YOU DO BOTH?

It’s very possible and common to switch between breast milk and formula. In fact, supplementing formula can reap big lifestyle benefits for you and your “hangry” baby. By supplementing the milk supply with formula — especially for nervous or new mamas who would have instead given up entirely — may help give them that “break” or relief they may be lacking. That way, they don’t have to give up completely.

Using formula can also assist working mothers who have a tough time pumping during busy work hours. They can supplement some formula, and then continue to breastfeed once they get home to baby.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” says Greene.

If you decide to pump, breastfeed and formula feed, it is very possible as long you go about it carefully.

“Wait at least three weeks to introduce a bottle,” suggests Greene. “And then use a slow flow nipple, hold baby in an upright position and pace the feeding so that they’re not just sucking it down in five minutes.”

If your work schedule is stressful, pumping and building a milk supply while also communicating with your caregiver on how much formula to supplement, is one way of taking away any stresses from pumping at work or on-the-go.

“Feel good about the milk you are able to provide for baby,” assures Chaney. “We don’t live in a perfect world. We can’t give every baby 100 percent breast milk which would be the healthiest.”

Another way to give formula without the “what if they don’t take the bottle” worry, is to use a spoon or syringe.

WEANING TO FORMULA OR BOTTLE

Maybe breastfeeding was on your agenda, and you’ve done everything you can do to make it work — you talked with your doctor and lactation consultant, or waited patiently for your milk to come in — and it’s just. Not. Working. Or, if you are going back to work, breastfeeding may not be the best thing to coincide with your crazy schedule. If you are miserable, stressed or nervous with breastfeeding, it may be time to start weighing out other options. It’s important not to get frustrated or disappointed with yourself — you’ve done everything you can like a good mother would do, and in the end, you are feeding your baby.

Weaning should be done very carefully, that way you don’t feel or get sick; and Baby doesn’t get impatient, fussy or frustrated. It’s important to know, that stopping cold turkey is not the best way to go.

“You need to drop a feeding every five days, or a lot of people get really sick,” says Greene. “Because that really leads to mastitis and all kinds of problems.”

If you’re weaning to a bottle with expressed breast milk, according the Greene, getting the right pump and bottles for the job can work wonders. Introducing fresh, warm breast milk helps, too.

“The important thing is to pace the feeding,” says Greene. “You want the baby to work a little harder to work their mouth and their muscles. Get the advice of lactation consultant if you are going back to work [with help on choosing the right formula and bottle for baby].”

No matter what bottle you choose, offering it at least a couple times per week will also help baby get used to being fed by their caregiver or your spouse. Offering it a week or two before
you return to work will also help the process go a bit smoother.

Talk to your doctor or pediatrician for advice when deciding which formula best fits your baby’s needs.

BREASTFEEDING CHALLENGES AND SUPPORT

“Breastfeeding is the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” said No One Ever. It’s hard, so be patient with yourself if breastfeeding is the route you want to take. Know that there are plenty of resources out there to help your decision. Also know that the beginning of Baby’s life is the hardest, and you should try not to get discouraged too quickly just because you aren’t producing enough milk in the beginning, or it’s “just not working.” How you’re feeling is completely normal, and never wait too long to reach out for help.

“It’s a lot easier to fix a problem before it spirals out of control,” says Chaney.

There are, however, some rare medical situations where a mom can’t breastfeed — these include polycystic ovarian (PCOS), if a mom is going through chemotherapy and any kind of radioactive therapy. In these cases, talking with your doctor, finding support groups and resources geared toward your individual problem can help.

Breastfeeding Support

Utilize your support groups and lactation follow-ups, and check out these resources to help you along your journey!

PREMIER HEALTH Women. Wisdom. Wellness.
premierhealth.com

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICIANS Families Resource Guide
aap.org

WOMEN’S HEALTH Going Back to Work
womenshealth.gov

KELLY MOM Breastfeeding and Parenting
kellymom.com

LA LECHE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL
llli.org

BREASTFEEDING USA
breastfeedingusa.org

CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL & MEDICAL CENTER
cincinnatichildrens.org

STANFORD UNIVERSITY
med.stanford.edu

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of two. If you don't see her writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.

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