Breast Milk vs Formula

One of the very first decisions new parents make, even before the baby is born, is how to feed their infant. Many health experts agree that breastfeeding is the ideal way, for optimum nutrition. Specifically, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months and then breastfed with complementary foods for at least twelve months. For those women not able to breastfeed or who choose not to, today's infant formulas provide a good, nutritious alternative. Most are manufactured to be easy for babies to digest and to provide all the nutrition an infant needs.

Essential: One advantage to breast milk is the protective substances it contains that help protect the baby from various infections. One such substance, called "colostrum," is a yellowish premilk substance secreted in the first few days after a woman delivers. It is believed to carry even more antibodies to help fight infection and is also rich in protein and zinc.

Advantages of Breastfeeding
Infants who are breastfed until they are satisfied, and infants who are fed a standard formula and whose mothers are in tune to their cues of hunger and satiety, will generally adjust their own intake to meet their calorie needs. There can be many advantages to breastfeeding your newborn baby. Breast milk seems to be the perfect form of nutrition for a human baby's delicate digestive system. All of breast milk's components, including lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat, are easily digested by a newborn's immature system. Commercial formulas attempt to reproduce these ingredients and are coming quite close, though the exact combination cannot be duplicated. Breast milk contains the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires, and breastfed babies supposedly have fewer allergies later in life.

Since breast milk is easily and quickly digested, breastfed babies sometimes tend to eat more often than formula-fed babies. This can be tiring for Mom, but it does not take long for these babies to feed less frequently and to sleep through the night. Breastfeeding can require quite a bit of commitment from a mother, especially for new moms who go back to work outside of the home or who are separated from their babies from time to time for other reasons. In these cases, a breast pump may be used to collect breast milk. Some mothers are able to breastfeed most of the time and use bottle feedings at other times.

Advantages of Formula Feeding
There can also be advantages to formula-feeding your newborn baby. Commercially prepared infant formulas can be a nutritious and more convenient alternative to breastfeeding, and they even contain iron.

Fact: Iron-fortified infant formulas have actually been credited for the declining incidence of anemia in infants. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends that mothers who are not breastfeeding use an iron-fortified infant formula.

Today's commercial formula products are manufactured under strict, sterile conditions, and producers do attempt to duplicate the ingredients found in breast milk. It would be virtually impossible for a mother to create a formula at home with the same complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, vitamins, and minerals that a baby needs and that are present in commercial formulas. If you do not breastfeed your baby, use only a commercially prepared formula.

Some women feel that bottle-feeding their infant gives them a little more freedom and that other members of the family can be more active in the feeding and care of the infant. Just as breastfeeding has its unique demands, so does bottle-feeding. The main demands of bottle-feeding are organization and preparation. You need to make sure you have enough formula on hand, and bottles must be prepared very carefully. The bottles and nipples must be kept sanitary and ready for when you need them.

The baby's bottle should be warmed just slightly before feeding. Never heat a bottle of formula in a microwave! The formula can heat unevenly and leave hot spots, which can burn a baby's mouth. A microwave can also heat the formula too much, making it too hot for an infant's mouth. The best way is to heat water in the microwave, take the water out, and then heat the bottle in the water. Always test the formula to make sure it is not too hot.

Bottle-feeding can be more costly. The decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby should be based on your comfort level with breastfeeding—as well as on your lifestyle.

Essential: If bottles are left out of the refrigerator for longer than one hour, or if the baby doesn't finish a bottle, the contents should be discarded. Prepared formula bottles should be stored in the refrigerator for no longer than twenty-four hours.

Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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