Formula is often mistaken as being as good as or equal to breastmilk, but this is dangerously untrue. Formula is not only inferior to breastmilk, it poses many risks to bottle-fed infants. Their infant mortality rate is higher, and their average healthcare costs are $1400 more than each breastfed child. The statistics are shocking and yet not nearly as widely known as what we consider the basics about formula and breastmilk to be.
Formula does not have the immunological benefits of breastmilk. Babies that are fed formula have more ear infections than breastfed babies. Breastmilk forms a lining on the intestinal walls of the digestive tract that protect newborns from harmful allergens, making them less likely to develop eallergies. They are also not as likely to become overweight. Formula does not adjust to meet the need’s of a child, nor is it as high in nutrients. Formula does not protect a child from asthma, respiratory illness, gastroenteritis, or atopic disease like breastmilk. It does not delay the occurance of celiac disease or contribute to lower cholesterol levels later in life; breastmilk does. Formula fed babies do not score as high on tests as nurselings. Iron-fortified formula has been shown to decrease iron absorption capabilities, which can lead to anemia.
Infants digest breastmilk faster because it is easier for their stomachs to process. Nursing is very comforting to an upset or insecure child and can help a baby nod off to sleep. There are more ingredients in breastmilk than in formula. Breastmilk is far less expensive and continues to benefit a child for the duration of the nursing period. The stool of breastfed babies does not smell as bad and is softer, which prevents constipation. Breastmilk tastes better than formula. Nursing mothers are less likely to prop bottles, which can cause choking, tooth decay, ear infections, and other complications. They also tend to feel a stronger connection, a bond unique only to breastfeed babes and their mothers. Breastfeeding for four months also lowers a baby’s risk of developing islet cell antibodies before age 4, which is associated with diabetes.
Something not so widely known or acknowledged is the issue of growth. Formula fed infants are not as large as breastfed babies in the early months and then are significantly larger in the later months of infancy, which may not be as healthy. Breastfed babies are plumper in the first few months of life when they do not need to be mobile and then slim down when it comes time for them to start moving. Formula fed infants are usually larger and heavier around this stage, and bigger babies take longer to learn how to sit up, roll over, crawl, walk, and climb stairs. While a formula fed baby may learn to feed himself on his own at an early age, a breastfed baby will gain his independance faster because he becomes mobile sooner.
Formula does not decrease risk of sepsis, miningitis, or necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants like breastmilk. Breastfed preemies are often released from the hospital two weeks earlier than their formula fed counterparts. Breastfed preemies also score higher on developmental tests. Mothers who nurse their preterm babies spent more time touching their infants than formula-feeding moms which was shown to improve developmental test scores. Premature breastmilk is different from term milk, specially tailored to meet the needs of preterm infants. These babes are healthier and, studies suggest, smarter.
Most of this has all been said before many times over, recited along with the benefits to the mother to many a new mom strugglin with the decision. Most of it is common knowledge, though there are still a few souls out there who have not yet realized the superiority of breastmilk. There is, unfortunately, a lot of ignorance circulating around about breastmilk still, though that does not compare to the lack of knowledge most people have about formula. You would be surprised what you don’t know. The WHO states that infant formula is not second-best, but in fourth and last place. The FDA states that some research feel it is “impossible” to duplicate human milk artificially, mainly because it contains living cells, amongst other ingredients, that cannot be included in formula.
From 1982-1994 there were 22 formula recalls classified by the Food and Drug Administration as “Class I,” which designates a potentially life-threatening problem, ranging from contaminated formula to formula severely lacking a specific nutrient. Lab tests have repeatedly found bacterial and elemental contaminents in formula, though the FDA has done nothing. There was a scam in 1995 where formula cans had been mislabelled for resale, and no one knows how many babies were affected. We mistakingly believe that the FDA keeps a close watch on makers of formula, but there are very few standards regarding its production and sale. Its content is frequently modified as developers continue to get it wrong and then must correct their mistake. Brand to brand, the ingredients vary. Only recently do some formulas now contain DHA, but the FDA has yet to catch up to other countries that have mandated its inclusion.
Formula fed infants are 14 times more likely to be hospitalized than breastfed babies. They are 3-4 times more likely to suffer from diarrheal diseases, which is one of the top killers of babies across the globe. Risk of meningitis is four times higher for them. There is an 80% increase in the incidence of lower respiratory ailments. Rotavirus gastroenteritis is five times more likely to occur in formula-fed infants. It increases risk of lymphomas in children by 5-8 times. Even more startling, babies nourished with formula are more likely to be victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They are also much more affected by national disasters like Hurricane Katrina and much more likely to die of dehydration or malnourishment in such an emergency from lack of formula availability than breastfed babies are.
The US government, through the WIC program, spends $600 million every year on formula for low-income families. Unfortunately the children that most need breastmilk are the least likely to get it. Famlies who can afford formula spend up to $2000 every year on it, despite that it is only worth only 16 cents of every dollar it sells for. The formula industry needs that income to fund the $6-8000 they spend per doctor every year to promote their products and encourage women not to chose the healthier alternative of breastfeeding, not to mention the yearly million they donate to the AAP. That is not nearly as appalling as the techniques they use to market formula in third-world countries, which has resulted in a worldwide ban on formula advertising and promotion that the US has yet to enforce despite the adoption of the code during the Clinton administration.
There are times when breastmilk is not available, and formula is the only choice. No mother should be made to feel guilty for having to resort to formula to keep her child nourished. Until donor breastmilk becomes widely available and affordable, that is something we as a society are going to hve to deal with. There are women on certain medications such as antidepressants, with certain illnesses such as HIV, or who smoke or abuse other drugs who should not nursing their babies. Not everyone can breastfeed, but unfortunately not everyone tries. For the sake of you, your child, and the future, please nurse your infant if you can. The evidence is overwhelming and growing in quantity everyday, that not only is breast best, formula is grossly inadequate and even dangerous.
Katie Allison Granju, “What Every Parent Should Know about Infant Formula.” Breastfeeding Dot Com. URL: http://www.breastfeeding.com/reading_room/what_should_know_formula.html
Mary O’Conner, “Breastfeeding Basics.” URL: http://www.breastfeedingbasics.org/
Kelly Bonyata, “Why Delay Solids?” Kellymom. URL: http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/solids/delay-solids.html