Every mother wants to do what’s best for her baby, so mothers often wonder if breastfeeding is really better than formula. There are actually several benefits of breastfeeding vs formula, both for the child and the mother.
Breastfeeding gives young babies all the nutrition they need for the first six months. Breast milk contains whey and casein proteins that are easy for babies to digest. It also has lactoferrin, which keeps harmful bacteria out of the intestines, and bifidus factor, which promotes the growth of helpful bacteria.
Breastfeeding also helps boost a baby’s immune system by providing secretory immunoglobulin A, which coats the mucus membranes and keeps disease germs from growing there. IgA is designed to fight off any harmful viruses or bacteria it encounters. Breast milk also contains antibodies that boost a child’s immune system after breastfeeding is discontinued.
Another one of the benefits of breastfeeding vs formula is that breast milk can help babies avoid allergies. This is thought to be due to the IgA in breast milk. The protective barrier it provides keeps undigested proteins from entering the bloodstream, where they can trigger the autoimmune system and result in allergies or asthma.
There are health advantages for mothers who breastfeed, as well as for their babies. A National Institutes of Health study showed that women who breastfeed have a lower occurrence of post-partum depression. Breastfeeding is calming because it releases the hormone oxytocin. It also helps mothers recover more quickly from childbirth. Breastfeeding may also reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancers by lowering the production of estrogen.
Formula feeding, on the other hand, lacks the protective advantages of breast milk. Babies who are bottle fed are more likely to develop infections, allergies, and other illnesses. Studies have shown that babies who are fed formula are more likely to become obese as children. And the World Health Organization points out that formula doesn’t contain enough fatty acids for brain development, or enough calcium and iron, and these nutrients are not as easily absorbed as they are from breast milk.
How long should mothers breastfeed their babies to get the maximum benefit? Studies have shown that feeding babies breast milk exclusively for the first six months has the best protective effect. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that even when babies begin eating solid food, breastfeeding should continue until the age of 1.
In the contest of breastfeeding vs formula, breastfeeding comes out ahead, for the many nutritional and protective benefits it provides, and for the health advantages it gives to mom, too. It’s also a pleasant and rewarding way for mothers and babies to bond.