Not many topics polarize the mothering community more than breastfeeding. The merits of natural suckling have been debated by scientists and clinicians for decades.
There are many benefits to both that we will discuss within this article, giving a brief glimpse into the great breastfeeding debate.
Breastfeeding is a natural process that has been the norm for hundreds of thousands of years and there are several benefits to mother and child worth mentioning.
Firstly, natural breastmilk is digested with greater ease by a young infant. This results in significantly less wind, constipation, and all-around discomfort.
Natural feeding is is also said to be the optimal way of transferring valuable nutrients between mother and child.
Breast-milk contains antibodies that reduce the risk of disease in both baby and mother. For new mums, these antibodies reduce stress and lower the risk of depression. Another benefit of natural feeding is the development of a strong bond between mother and child during feeding times.
Skin-on-skin contact is known to be extremely beneficial to a developing infant while families also report massive savings in comparison to buying expensive bottles of formula.
Even though these benefits are proven, only 30% of mothers choose to breastfeed their child as there are definite drawbacks to choosing the natural route.
For instance, feeding times fall exclusively to the mother and ties the woman to her child for long periods of time and new mothers fear the judgment they will receive when feeding in public.
All mothers want the best for their children and this sometimes leads them to be racked with guilt if they are deemed to be making the wrong choice. Some in the mothering community tend to stigmatize formula feeding so let us examine the characteristics of this method. In greater detail.
Bottle feeding is a relatively modern innovation, coming into general use around the dawn of the 1900s. This is a synthetic mixture that closely mimics the ingredients of breast milk.
It is seen as a convenient alternative to those who wish to forego breastfeeding because it allows both parents to share the division of labor as all the work is not left up to the mother.
Formula also offers flexibility as the bottles are pre-prepared. Parents in need of a break have the option of leaving their infant with a babysitter and feeding is taken care of.
Science has advanced exponentially but formula still cannot match millions of years of human evolution. As mentioned, synthetic bottle-formula is much more difficult for an infant to break down and digest so this leads to distress in a young child. Formula lacks some natural antibodies that are present in breastmilk.
Professor Peter Harman is a specialist in breastfeeding and milk production and in an interview with Medela.com, he explains that: “Scientists have shown there are more than 1,000 proteins in breast milk – and the best formula companies are looking at increasing just one or other of them. What’s more, people have only just been able to synthesize some of the many oligosaccharides found in breast milk so copying a couple of proteins and oligosaccharides is not going to get you breast milk!”
Similarly, the cost of formula can be very expensive in the long-run and bottles are not always at hand in the same way that breastmilk is always available.
In conclusion, this fierce debate does not have to be either, or, there should be nuanced shades of grey in which both can be used in tandem. Parenting is difficult and we can all agree that there should be less shame around how you choose to feed your baby.
Formula feeding can act as a helpful substitute in times of need but the majority believe that breastfeeding is the healthiest option. Both methods provide energy, hydration, and nutrients but breastmilk is the clear favorite in terms of antibodies and associated health benefits.
As Professor Hartman puts it: “Look at the bigger picture when deciding whether to give your baby breast milk or formula because breast milk isn’t just food. It has an important protective function, reducing your baby’s likelihood of diarrhea, gastroenteritis, ear infections, colds and flu, and thrush and halves his risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)”.