There are few conversations about motherhood more passionate than the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. We’ll take a closer look at the health risks and benefits of each to explain why the right choice in this very personal decision can vary from family to family.
There’s no arguing the power of breast milk. It’s referred to as “liquid gold” for a reason: according to the Office of Women’s Health, “the cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. This protection of the immune system is unique and changes every day to meet your baby’s growing needs.” It literally adjusts itself based on an infant’s nutritional needs – interestingly, that's why the color and consistency of breast milk can vary.
Further, research shows that breastfed babies have many health benefits, including a lower risk of a whole host of illnesses and diseases throughout their life. It can also play a role in the mother’s health by helping her heal from birth and prevent diabetes and certain types of cancer. Ultimately, medical costs can be lower for both the baby and the mother over time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ breastfeeding recommendation is the “first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
The cons of breastfeeding can be plentiful, however, depending on the situation. For many women it is a challenge to nurse; whether it is an anatomical issue, a latching issue or a baby’s tongue tie, these problems can cause a great deal of physical and emotional anguish. A lactation consultant – a professional breastfeeding specialist – can help immensely in teaching mothers how to breastfeed their babies. Ultimately, fed is best. Regardless of breast milk or formula, a baby needs to eat. And when baby and mother are struggling, it’s important to utilize formula without shame or judgment.
Sometimes, even with the help and support of a professional, breastfeeding just isn’t a long-term option. Fortunately, there are plenty of happy, healthy babies who thrive on formula. Some mothers appreciate that they can gauge exactly how much their baby is eating and ensure they’re getting enough. Babies have become very sick – some have even died – because they simply weren’t able to take in enough breast milk.
It can also be helpful for babies with food sensitivities - sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the cause, and formula can ease their discomfort. Using bottles allows other family members to participate in and bond through the eating process, and it also gives the mother some freedom and flexibility. If a mother is going to return to work, it allows her to do this without dealing with a breast pump.
The cons of formula, of course, are mostly related to the unique properties that can only be found in breast milk. Breast milk can't be duplicated exactly, but that doesn't make formula feeding a bad choice. The entire scenario must be considered in order to make the best decision.
One of the most up-to-date resources for breastfeeding vs formula statistics is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their data can track national and state-level breastfeeding rates, maternity care best practices, public opinion about breastfeeding, as well as breastfeeding and infant feeding practices. Current statistics show that about 82% of children start with exclusive breastfeeding at birth, while the numbers steadily decline to 33% at age one.
By six months, more than half of those children are no longer exclusively breastfed – typically that means some other form of nutrition, likely formula or the beginnings of solid foods, has been introduced to supplement
There are several ways a surrogate-born baby can have the benefits of breast milk. The new parents can utilize a milk bank – there are now options available across the United States – or the surrogate can choose to pump. It’s an important conversation for surrogates and intended parents to have.
Believe it or not, breastfeeding is even possible for new moms who haven't given birth. With the right resources and preparation, it is possible for a woman to breastfeed her surrogate-born baby. The hospital can help with the preparation through hormones, supplements, and using a pump to stimulate production. Learn all about how it works in our previous blog post.
If you have additional questions about the surrogacy process we are here to help – from the very beginning to bringing your baby home.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.