I was a formula-fed baby myself, which is not surprising considering the year that I was born. In the late 50’s two “modern” baby formulas were introduced, Similac and Enfamil, both of which were aggressively advertised with exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims of health benefits for babies. These ads even subtly insinuated that breast feeding was less healthy and even “unclean”. Who wouldn’t have chosen to use formula in the early 60s?
The invention that had once been viewed as only emergency food for babies who could not be breastfed (for any number of reasons) was now a mass-produced product that was intended and expected to make money, and boy has it ever turned into a big industry!
Today, we know much more about the benefits of breastfeeding, which come from both the breast milk itself as well as the very act of breastfeeding. This information comes from a vast amount of research that consistently shows the significant benefits of breast feeding over formula for both baby and mom.
Breast milk is rich in certain fatty acids and proteins that are very important in brain and eye development. It also contains living white blood cells, millions per feeding, as well as immunoglobulins which are vital to providing baby with good immune function. Breast milk is also rich in digestive enzymes and multiple hormones which are helpful to baby. Another important difference is that the taste of breast milk varies depending on what mom is eating. This is important in helping baby to appreciate the taste of different foods, and develop a more varied diet as table foods are introduced.
Why are all of these things important? Here are some of the benefits breastfed babies enjoy….
- Decreased risk of many common infections, including bacterial, viral, and yeast infections.
- Decreased risk of many chronic health problems, including asthma, autoimmune diseases, allergies, celiac disease (gluten allergy), diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, some mental health conditions, and many others.
- Improved biome (beneficial bacteria) in the gut. You may not realize this, but your body’s normal function relies significantly on having a really good balance of bacteria in your gut. This affects many aspects of health. Breastfeeding helps to establish this biome early in baby’s life.
- Better hormonal balance.
- Better immune system development and function, including improved effectiveness of vaccines
- Improved development of motor skills, language skills, and intellectual function.
- Improved vision
- Decreased risk of developing obesity
- Decreased risk of certain types of cancer.
- Decreased risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Closer bond with mom.
I am not trying to demonize formula. There are instances when it is life saving for babies whose mothers cannot breast feed. However, I do not believe that it should be considered an equal choice for feeding baby. It is not even on the same playing field. I chose to breastfeed both of my children, and it was the best decision I could have made!
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip