The debate between breast milk and formula has been going on for a long time. There is actually no right or wrong choice when it comes to the decision between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Though most believe that breastfeeding is by far the best nutrition for babies, bottle-feeding can also be beneficial and nutritious.
Pros and Cons of Bottle-Feeding
Under some circumstances mothers may be unable to breastfeed. Possible reasons for this could be:
- Breast infection
- HIV infection
- Previous surgery or radioactive treatment
- Inadequate milk supply
- Baby’s inability to suck
- Baby suffering from galactosemia in which breast milk cannot be digested
- Conflicts with lifestyle, family support or work situations
In cases where it is not possible to breastfeed, the best alternative is infant formula, a product made specifically to contain all of the nutrients required for baby’s development. Most babies can be fed breastmilk, formula, or water in a bottle during their first six months. Cow’s milk and sweetened juices should not be fed during the first year.
Benefits of Bottle-Feeding:
- Anyone can feed the baby with the bottle at any time. This may also give your partner chance to be more involved in the feeding process.
- Formula usually takes longer to digest than breast milk, so the time gap between feeding is longer and babies need to eat less often.
- The mother can go about her daily chores, or to work without frequent feeding intervals or pumping. She can also leave the child under the care of her partner, or other caretaker. In public, bottle-feeding is much more convenient.
- With bottle-feeding, you know how much milk your baby is drinking.
- With breastfeeding the mother has to take precautions regarding her diet, fluid intake, medications, clothes etc. With baby formula, those restrictions do not exist and she can resume normal life much sooner.
Disadvantages of Bottle-Feeding:
- The formula available in the market needs to be mixed with the proper quantity of water each time and bottles and nipples need to be sterilised. There are ready-to-feed formulas available, but they tend to be expensive.
- If the bottles or nipples are not properly cleaned there is a risk of transmitting bacterial infections. Formula left in the bottle for more than one hour must be thrown out.
- Breast milk contains antibodies, which protect the baby from viral and bacterial infections such as ear infections, respiratory problems and meningitis. Antibodies are not found in formula making the baby more susceptible to illness.
- Formula is a constant expense while mother’s milk is free.
- Babies taking formula have more problems with gas and constipation and have firmer bowel movements
- Breast milk changes its properties with the baby’s needs. During the first few days the milk is thicker and yellowish and contains compounds that are essential for the health of the baby. Formula cannot match the complex nature of breast milk, though it has all the required nutrients.
Combining Bottle-Feeding and Breastfeeding
Some mothers may feel that they can provide their baby the best nutrition by giving both breastmilk and formula at the same time. Though this may seem like a good idea, it is important to remember that during the early months of a child’s life, having formula may make her less willing to take mother’s milk because her stomach may be too full.
If you are nursing infrequently, your milk supply may begin to dry up, or your breasts may become engorged with milk. Researchers have also found out that when babies are fed formula early in life, they are at a greater risk of diseases such as diabetes and asthma, and illnesses such as diarrhoea, as formula can inhibit the development of the immune system.
The best time to start bottle-feeding is after around six months. If you want to start earlier, do so after 6-10 weeks of breastfeeding. By this time, your baby has received much of the antibodies in your milk and should be comfortable with sucking.
More About Formula
There are a variety of formulas available in the market; ready-to-use or powder. Ready to use is more expensive than powdered formula, which is prepared by adding water. If you are planning to give your baby formula during the first year, most doctors recommend an iron-fortified variety.
Formula must be very carefully prepared in a specific way. Adding too much or not enough water may be harmful. Please read the instruction carefully prior to using any particular brand or variety.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, to prevent infection
- Wash the bottle, caps and nipples with detergent and warm water.
- Check the bottles to see if they need to be boiled before they are used for the first time.
- For powder formula use fresh cold water, or distilled water and be careful not to make the formula too thick or too watery.
- Never use a microwave to warm the bottle as it may create hot spots.
- Check the temperature before feeding.
- Feed the prepared formula within 30 minutes. If the formula is left for more than 1 hour, throw it away and prepare a fresh bottle.
- Do not keep a half finished bottle as bacteria may form inside. It is always better to prepare a fresh bottle for every use.
- Opened cans of liquid formula can be refrigerated for 48 hours. Prepared powdered formula can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
- Hold your baby in a semi-upright position, with the head a little higher than the rest of the body
- Never feed her lying down, formula may flow into the ear, causing an infection
- Hold the bottle in such a way that the nipple and the neck are filled with the formula
- Touch the nipple to the baby’s mouth until she starts sucking. Hold the bottle at a right angle with her mouth
- Check the nipple’s hole to make sure that the milk is flowing uniformly. The baby should not be gulping.
- Air bubbles should be entering the bottle as the baby drinks. If you don’t see any, check for clogs.
- Note how much your baby is eating each time. Usually the infant feeding schedule is around 2 to 4 ounces per feeding for the first few weeks
- Feed the baby on demand and do not force her to finish the entire bottle if she is full.
- Burp your baby by draping her over your shoulder, or lying her on her back. This will help remove the air that the baby has taken in while drinking.
Whether you decide breast of bottle, make sure that you consult your paediatrician and use the best method for your circumstances.