Babies start on milk, but if they aren’t able to breastfeed, they’ll need to switching baby formula. And while it’s clear that breastfeeding is the healthier option, there are still many benefits associated with using formula.
The following points outline some of the most commonly-accepted arguments for and against breastfeeding and infant formula.
Arguments for Formula:
- Formula is economical: While there is no arguing that formula can be very expensive, a breastfed baby uses about 7 times less formula than a bottle-fed baby. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that babies get just 1 oz. of formula per day, which works out to be $7.56 per week or $2.12 per pound. Compare this to the cost of breast milk, which runs around $35 to $75 per month depending on quality.
- Formula is easier to digest: While breast milk and formula both contain protein, fat, carbohydrates, and minerals, breast milk contains antibodies that protect against infections. Babies that aren’t vaccinated against common illnesses have a much higher risk of developing them.
- Formula is better for babies’ health: An article in the May/June 2007 issue of “The Journal of Human Lactation” included data that showed smaller amounts of formula-fed babies were less likely to suffer obesity later on in life as well as infection-related deaths. Formula also contains fewer calories and less sugar than human milk, so it’s also good for parents’ health (as long as they don’t put too much into the bottle).
- Formula is less likely to make the baby sick: While breast milk itself isn’t likely to make the baby sick, other factors could play a role. For example, if a woman has an infection, her body might have a hard time producing enough milk for her infant. Breastfeeding mothers in this situation may have to start supplementing with formula as well.
- Formula is safer in certain situations: If a breastfeeding mother used illegal drugs or smokes cigarettes, her body won’t be able to pass these substances on to the child through her milk. Parents that are worried about their diet may choose to use formula when they’re pregnant so their child will get nutrients from both natural and artificial sources.
- Formula’s convenience can be a positive: If a baby is in an unstable situation, such as being cared for by a caregiver that doesn’t have the time or energy to breastfeed, formula can be more convenient than supplementing with milk. Babies also tend to sleep better when they’re fed formula since it digests more quickly and doesn’t need to be consumed as often.
- Formula is more climate-friendly: Breast milk for a single child requires about 526 gallons of water and 2,000 pounds of food to produce. Formula, on the other hand, doesn’t have any nutritional needs since it’s processed from natural ingredients.
Overall, infant formula is as safe and healthy for babies as breast milk, but it does have some risks. These include some health issues that can affect the immune system, an increased risk of obesity later in life, and a lower chance of receiving needed vaccines.
It should also be noted that many formula companies are trying to reformulate their products to make them more nutritious while using fewer ingredients. When they succeed, they may be able to replace some of the nutrients lost in processing with new ones.