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Breast Milk or Formula: A Never-Ending Dilemma

Por Lic. Nina Nazor Robles* -

Breast milk is a food that contains everything a baby needs to grow properly.

The nutrition content of breast milk gives infants the best possible start in life. Breast milk contains exactly the right amount of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Breast milk is also much easier to digest than artificial baby milk (formula).

Various studies have demonstrated that breast-fed children have fewer infections, upset stomachs, cases of anemia (low iron levels), skin problems, and allergies than formula-fed infants. Breast-fed babies are also less likely to suffer from constipation, diarrhea, obesity, or cavities.

Mothers who nurse don’t have to spend time sterilizing bottles and preparing baby formula. Breastfeeding is more economical, and breast-feeding mothers tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly and easily than those who don't. Mothers who breastfeed also establish a close bond with their babies, which helps babies feel more emotionally secure.

For these reasons, the U.S. Department of Health recommends that babies breastfeed during the first six months of their life.

Women who are currently pregnant should start planning for their lactation period. Lactation consultants or other qualified health care professionals can provide women with tips about breast health during pregnancy and lactation, as well as provide helpful tips for successful breastfeeding.

For women who are breastfeeding

The following are tips for successful breastfeeding:

  • Medications can be passed through breast milk and can affect a baby's health. It is important for mothers to inform health care professionals of any medications they are taking.
  • A mother's diet affects the baby's health, and should include a variety of foods and sufficient calories to support her increased energy needs from breastfeeding.
  • Women who are breastfeeding need more liquids than normal. Be sure to drink plenty of water. 
  • Get enough rest. Eight hours of sleep per night is recommended. 
  • Take good care of your nipples and breasts. Keep the nipple area clean. To prevent or heal dry or cracked nipples, use an approved lubricant of some kind. Check with your physician or health care provider for something to put on the nipples to keep them from drying out.
  • Relax and enjoy this unique and wonderful experience. Take time for yourself, and participate in activities that will help decrease levels of stress.

Breast-feeding a baby should not be painful. If the baby is positioned correctly and properly latched onto the nipple and areola, there shouldn’t be any pain. The baby’s mouth needs to be opened such that most of the areola fits inside. This minimizes any pain the mother may experience. The baby should not feed by sucking only on the nipple. If a woman is experiencing pain during breastfeeding, it is likely the baby is not latched on properly.

Newborn babies want to feed on demand, which is usually every 1 to 3 hours per 24 hours (8-12 times in 24 hours) for the first two to four weeks. Frequent feeding stimulates the breasts to produce more milk. Because breast milk is easier to digest than formula, breast-fed babies seem to feed more often than bottle-fed babies
Doctors suggest starting a baby on solid foods sometime between 4 and 7 months of age. Some babies are ready for solids as early as 3 months, but it's not recommended; the earlier a baby gets started on solids, the more likely that it will be prone to food allergies later on. Allow time for the baby's digestive system to mature.

Look for a baby's signs of readiness to eat solids such as:

  • Tongue-thrust reflex is gone or diminished.This prevents infants from choking on foreign objects, and also causes them to push food out of their mouths.

  • Supporting their own head. Even if your baby can't quite sit up on their own yet, they need to be able to hold their head up in order to start eating solids.

  • Interest in food.If they are eyeing the food you're eating, reaching out to grab your food, or licking their lips when they smell new foods, they're probably craving the variety that comes with starting solids.

Sufficient liquids to keep babies hydrated is provided in breast milk. Therefore, while they are being breast-fed, babies don’t need to be given water or other liquids. Also, since water has no nutritional value, giving water to babies during breastfeeding is not recommended. Once babies begin to eat solids, water and other liquids can be introduced in small quantities (~2-4 ounces/day).

Breastfeeding and birth control

Although breastfeeding may temporarily suspend ovulation, it should not be considered a substitute for other methods of birth control. Conventional birth control pills are not the best choice for breastfeeding mothers. There are specific birth control pills that are best for breastfeeding mothers, and can be prescribed by your doctor.

If you are unable to breastfeed

A mother may not be able to breastfeed her baby, even though she wants to. This may happen when problems arise with the baby’s physical condition or the mother's health after the delivery. Some mother’s are not able to nurse their babies because of infection or serious illness. Most women can breastfeed their babies without any problems.

Whatever the reason for not breastfeeding, a woman should solicit support from her health care provider for formula feeding recommendations and guidance. Give your baby all the love you can. When giving a baby a bottle, hold it snugly in your arms so it feels safe and secure in your company and in your warm embrace.

Raising a child is one of life’s most wonderful experiences. Nurture your child with food, love, and education. You'll never regret it.

*Dietitian with the MyDiet™ Team


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