The debate rages on about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. While some are adamant that breastfeeding is the best and only way, there’s something to be said about the toxic nature of the current conversation. The focus on breastfeeding as a superior feeding method is also exclusionary. While research shows that breastfeeding has unarguable benefits for baby and mother, the debate lacks a particular nuance. There’s plenty of gray area to explore and consider, including the importance of empowering parents and mothers to make their own informed decisions.
One of the most important advantages of breastfeeding is that it’s free. It’s also impossible to ignore the scientific evidence that shows that breastfeeding is the ideal diet for infants. As long as the mother is adequately fed, breast milk is a nutritional powerhouse. Through breast milk, antibodies are transferred to the baby, which help shield the child in early life. The sterile nature of breast milk also means that there’s no chance for a child to develop allergies to its food source.
Breast milk is readily available to pump in many cases, and the act of breastfeeding fosters a strong bond between mother and child. In addition, studies show that breastfeeding moms have a lower risk of disease than non-breastfeeding moms.
While breastfeeding has definitive health advantages for mother and baby, there are still essential drawbacks to consider. Breastfeeding may be mechanically difficult for some mother-baby pairs. It takes practice and isn’t second nature to all. The pressure to be immediately successful can be frustrating and emotionally damaging.
The process is sometimes painful and requires time and patience. Those taking certain medications may not be able to breastfeed. In cases where milk is not being adequately passed, the baby may experience rapid and dangerous weight loss.
While formula does not offer the same protective nutrition that breast milk does, it’s a reliable alternative for situations when mechanical extraction isn’t possible or is extremely painful. Formula is a safe option for cases where the parent has an infection that’s transmissible via breast milk (e.g., HIV). Formula also has its place as an additional source of nutrients for breastfeeding mothers experiencing limited supply and is useful for dealing with nutrient deficiencies present in infancy. In addition, any parent or guardian can feed the baby using formula, allowing others to bond with the infant.
Where formula drags behind is notably in its lack of antibodies and its high cost compared to breast milk. Preparing formula also requires time and measuring. There’s also a risk of an allergic reaction to ingredients present in formula.
Which is better?
Both options offer balanced nutrition for baby. In cases where the parent is not able to or does not want to provide breast milk, there’s no reason to shame them.
There is no right and best way to feed a child. The act of breastfeeding does not define motherhood or parenthood. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.
Written by: Steph Coelho