Is Breast the Absolute Best? What Science Has to Say

Breastfeeding seems to be one of those hot-button topics when it comes to babies and parenting. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

During my pregnancy, and after my daughter was born, I had the phrase “Breast is Best” shoved in my face more times than I could count.

Luckily my little one breastfed like a champ, but that slogan only added to the pressure to make it happen.

So, is breast the best?

Maybe the correct phrase should be: “Fed is best. Breast is better.”

Caring for children should be all about doing what is best within our capabilities.

That being said, here is some information about why breast is better – but not necessarily the absolute best:

Is Breast Milk Really Better Than Formula?

It is. It really is.

But that’s not to say that a lack of breastmilk in a baby’s diet is going to lead to issues down the road. Breast milk simply gives your little one a good start to life.

Human Milk Immunity

One thing that breast milk provides that formula really can’t is something called “Human Milk Immunity”.

This refers to the protection provided by the mother to the infant via breast milk – it regulates the infant’s immune development and growth as well as protects the infant from illness.

Science has discovered the present of immune-modulating components in breast milk such as cytokines, proteins, microbes and human milk oligosaccharides.

Try to say that 10 times fast.

Human milk oligosaccharides are the third most abundant component of breast milk, next to lactose and lipids. This biomolecule plays an important part in immune system development.

However, some infant formulas are supplemented with 2 oligosaccharides found in human milk and have been found safe and well-tolerated.

Keep in mind that breast milk contains around 200 oligosaccharides.

Breastfeeding and Bonding

One of the strongest proponents of breastfeeding, apart from physical benefits, are the emotional benefits experienced between mother and child.

In a study conducted by Developmental Psychology, results showed that the longer a mother breastfeeds her child, the more maternal sensitivity she shows up to 10 years later.

So there’s no doubt that breastfeeding creates a strong connection between mom and baby.

This is due to the increase in skin-to-skin contact when mothers breastfeed their children. This type of contact increases levels of oxytocin which increases positive hormonal interactions.

That’s not to say that formula-feeding mothers can’t or won’t bond with their children – they are just likely to on a hormonal level.

Is a Little Breast Milk Better Than None?

Absolutely!

Giving your child the best care means doing what you can. If you struggle with breastfeeding and milk supply, yet can give your child some breast milk, it’s definitely better than none.

Apart from common breastfeeding issues, breastfeeding your infant can be exhausting – especially if your little one cluster feeds.

Being a good mom is more than feeding your kid. Having good mental health is crucial as well and, if you’re wearing yourself out by breastfeeding, you’ll have nothing left for those other precious moments.

If supplementing your little one with formula helps to keep you nursing longer, then go for it.

Be sure to alternate between breastfeeding and formula feeding – this will help keep up your milk supply.

As long as you’re able to consistently nurse 2-4 times a day, you should be able to continue breastfeeding until it’s time to wean.

Is Formula Harmful?

Even if “breast is best”, that doesn’t mean formula feeding your child is bad.

No mother should ever feel guilty or ashamed for feeding their baby formula. Nowadays, modern formulas are far more wholesome than they used to be – they just have a bad rep from misinformed myths.

Here are some common myths about formula feeding that aren’t true:

  • Formula leads to obesity. While formula feeding can lead to obesity in your child, this is due to overfeeding and has nothing to do with the formula. While breastfeeding provides natural cues as to when a baby needs to be fed and when they are full, parents who formula feed need to be more mindful of this.
  • Formula fed babies don’t bond with their mothers. Although breastfeeding does provide skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, you can still provide this contact while formula feeding.
  • Formula isn’t as nutritious. Modern formulas provide all the essential nutrients to promote health and growth in babies. The only difference is the immunity-boosting components that breast milk provides.
  • Formula is a poor parenting choice. Formula feeding is important if a mother is unable to produce enough breast milk. Feeding your child, whether it be from the breast or bottle, is always a good parenting choice.

Overall, there is no scientific data to suggest that formula feeding your child is unsafe or detrimental to their health and development.

A Parent’s Choice

Parenting is all about making the right choices for your child.

At the end of the day, as long as your child is happy and healthy, you should never feel bad for those choices that you make.

Now it’s your turn! Tell us about your feeding experiences with your baby, whether you chose to breastfeed or formula, in the comments below!

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