The great debate: Breast or Bottle?

Your choice

As a new parent, one of the first decision you will start to think about is whether or not you will breastfeed your baby. The decision to bottle feed may happen out of necessity due to problems with breastfeeding or simply by choice. There is a lot of support available should you wish to breastfeed and this is widely supported not only by the healthcare profession but by wider organisations across the world. That said, if you need to feed your baby using formula, you can rest assured that with today’s technology, the formula adapted from cows milk in most cases, is of good nutritional standard.

Breastfeeding is recommended to help fight off infection, protect against a range of chronic diseases and may also help to prevent allergies. Currently it is recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and up to a year or longer if both the mother and baby are willing to continue on. If however, you decide not to breastfeed for medical, lifestyle or other reasons, cow’s milk formula is the next step. If however, your baby has a lactose intolerance, allergy or other consideration that means normal formula is not possible, your healthcare professional will advise you accordingly.

Some mothers may feel guilty for not breastfeeding whether by choice or necessity, worrying about whether they will be able to bond with their baby, the bonding process will happen in spite of this and it cannot be attributed to breastfeeding alone as the feeding process is a special one to one time with your baby, regardless of the mechanism of feeding, allowing your to bond and spend some quite, nurturing time with your baby. Ultimately, the decision to formula feed or breastfeed is very personal. This guide looks at the information you may want to consider before you decide which option is best for you and your baby. Both breast and bottle feeding have their advantages and disadvantages in the modern world we live in today. Regardless of your choice, sleep deprivation comes as part of the package for new parents, bottle feeding may allow one parent to tend to night feeds while the other gets some rest, swapping roles so that each is then able to get some much needed rest throughout the night.

Breastfeeding does not offer this luxury, however the advantage being that there are no late night bottles to prepare and no sterilising or waiting for feeds to be at room temperature, your body makes the perfect feed, instantly.

Breastfeeding facts

Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience once you have established your milk supply and overcome any initial challenges. It is an amazing experience for both baby and mother, providing the nutritional feed and the time to bond with your baby throughout the day. There are many benefits associated with breastfeeding including increased ability to fight infection, mothers antibodies are passed on to baby helping to increase baby’s immune system, building up barriers to help fight off harmful viruses and bacteria that may cause ear infections, diarrhoea, meningitis, SIDS, allergies, diabetes, respiratory infection, asthma and obesity.

Premature babies are at higher risk of infection and therefore breastfeeding a premature baby can be of significant benefit. Studies have shown that as a group, breastfed babies have fewer hospital admissions than those who are formula fed.

Another issue is the cost. For some families, the cost of formula feeding may place undue pressure on already tight finances. For this reason, breastfeeding may be even more essential from a cost saving point of view. There is a lot of support on offer both through your NHS healthcare provider or on a private basis. Mothers who are struggling with attachment, milk supply or possible medical conditions may still be able to continue breastfeeding with the right advice and support in place.

Mothers milk is the ideal source of nutrition for newborn babies, it is ideal for human digestion as the fats, protein and lactose contained within breast milk are readily digested meaning that there are less issues with diarrhoea and constipation. Breastfed babies as a group, have less issues with digestion than bottle fed babies overall.

A healthy mother should not need to take additional vitamins or minerals to meet her baby’s nutritional requirements as breast milk contains all of the essential components that a newborn baby needs. Vitamin D is the only exception, breast milk does contain some vitamin D however, not necessarily enough to meet your baby’s requirements. Your health care provider will advise you on the current information regarding vitamin D supplements. Formula fed babies will be given this additional requirement as infant formula is fortified with additional vitamin D.

Nursing mothers will need around an extra five hundred calories a day, so a varied and well balanced diet and water intake are essential to milk production. Mothers’ breast milk can also take on the flavours of some food that is eaten which will introduce baby to a variety of different flavours. The convenience of breastfeeding is another huge plus when compared to bottle feeding. There is no late night trapesing to and from the kitchen, waiting for water to boil, bottles to cool down nor is there any sterilising or bottles to wash. This can be particularly useful if you are out and about or running late with a hungry baby.

Baby is not the only one to benefit from breastfeeding. Mums who breastfeed have all the convenience they needs as discussed above in addition to the satisfaction and confidence that successful breastfeeding can bring. The skin to skin contact promotes bonding between mother and baby, it helps to shrink the uterus and can also promote post-baby weight loss. Some studies have also shown a link to a reduction in breast cancer for those who breastfeed, this can also lower the risk of diabetes, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Breastfeeding also has its challenges. Some mothers may really struggle to establish breastfeeding, there may be some difficult weeks in the beginning and you may feel inadequate, sore from poor attachment or over tired with a baby who is very hungry. There are also the practical considerations to consider down the line, you may need to think about what will happen when you return to work, is pumping an option and do you have the time and space available to do so?

In the beginning, breastfeeding can be uncomfortable and in some cases very painful, requiring medical intervention and aides such as nipple shields or breast pumps. Poor latch is normal at the beginning while you and your baby find the most comfortable position while your milk supply is being established. With the right support however, breastfeeding should not be painful in the long run.

Other considerations such as engorgement, mastitis or other infections may also hinder breastfeeding and in some cases the infection may be severe enough to cause a mother to move on from breastfeeding to formula feeding. With the right support however, most common issues can be addressed by your GP or Health Visitor and there are walk-in clinics, home visits or private lactation consultants available to support you at all stages.

Formula feeding

Some mothers may choose to formula feed, whatever the reason there are again, advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Commercially available formulas are of a very high standard, they are nutritionally well balanced providing all the basic vitamin and mineral requirements your baby will need for healthy growth and development. Most formulas are now also fortified with the nutrients that breastfed babies may miss out on such as vitamin D.

Formula is manufactured within a sterile environment as they attempting to replicate the content of mothers’ milk. The process is complex, modifying cow’s milk so that it is fit for ingestion by human newborn babies while still ensuring the integrity of the nutrition within the formula once in its powdered form.

There is also the argument that formula can offer convenience too but in a different way to the convenience offered by breastfeeding. Parents or carer’s are able to share the feeding duties, allowing tired Mums an opportunity to get some sleep at night or during the day while someone else give the baby a bottle. This can have positive implications for a partner too as they are able to feel more involved and have the opportunity to bond with baby too.

There is also a degree of flexibility involved as a formula fed babies tend to take to a routine more readily than a breastfed baby who may require smaller, more frequent feeds as breast milk is more easily digested meaning shorter periods between feeds. This means that for formula fed babies, a schedule will allow a mother to plan her day, trips away from baby or see to the needs of other children more easily if there is a fixed feeding schedule in place. Mum will need to remember to have enough feeds to cover any trip out of the house and some back up feeds in case there are any delays in getting home in time for the next feed.

Whichever option you choose, do you knowing what feels right for you as a parent and what you believe will be best for your baby based on that reason. Breast milk is designed as the perfect human food however as we have already discussed, formula is now so advanced that there is little nutritional deficit in terms of mineral and vitamin content. You have the added advantage of not having to supplement vitamin D and you can share the care with a partner or other carer. If you do decide to breastfeed, you will be very well supported.

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