Becoming a mother is an exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming experience. Everyone has an opinion on how to manage your pregnancy, birthing experience and raising your new bundle of joy. As an obstetrics and gynecology physician assistant, one of the most frequently asked questions I get from expectant mothers is, “Should I breastfeed or use formula?”.
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, read this first.
Here’s a breakdown of the benefits of both breastfeeding and formula, while considering what research suggests and recommends.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby
The World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many other national and global health organizations consider breastfeeding as the “gold standard.”
What exactly does that mean? It means that based upon the researched benefits of breastfeeding for not only baby growth and development but also for mom, the WHO and CDC consider breastfeeding superior to the use of formula. These organizations, and many medical professionals, strongly recommend it for at least the first six months of a baby’s life.
For baby, the benefits of breastfeeding include better immune protection from conditions like asthma, allergies and viral infections. For mom, breastfeeding helps release the hormone oxytocin, helps the uterus return back to pre-pregnancy size and reduces the length and amount of postpartum bleeding. Breastfeeding has also been shown to help mothers lose their postpartum weight significantly faster and even has lifelong health impacts, such as potentially reducing your risk of breast and ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
When to consider supplementing or using formula
However, breastfeeding is not always a viable option for every family. Certain maternal health and risk factors that would prevent a mom from breastfeeding could include inherent health conditions, certain medications to avoid and infectious diseases.
Medical conditions or infectious diseases that can prevent you from breastfeeding would include current infection with HIV, T cell lymphocytic virus, suspected or confirmed Ebola virus, brucellosis or current HSV infection with lesions on the breast. Most medications are safe for breastfeeding but before you are prescribed a new medication, always make sure your healthcare provider is aware that you are breastfeeding.
Medications that are not safe for use during breastfeeding and warrant consulting with your doctor include certain antidepressants and antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, medications for smoking cessation or treatment of substance abuse and narcotics. It is also important to note that use of alcohol and illicit drugs are not safe during breastfeeding as well.
One of the most important factors to consider as parents and healthcare providers is your baby’s growth and development. Your pediatrician will closely watch your baby’s weight gain as an indicator of healthy growth and development. If your baby is not getting enough nutrients and calories from breastmilk, your physician may suggest supplementing with formula feedings. This can be due to a variety of reasons including inadequate milk production from mom, malabsorption or allergies.
One factor that is out of the parent’s control is if their baby is born premature — the baby’s nutrient and calorie needs are often different from that of full-term infants and often require special formulas. There are other health conditions that can make it more difficult for a newborn infant to breastfeed including certain birth defects such as heart defects, cleft lip or palate, or other developmental or genetic disorders.
Lastly, another important factor is work-life balance. New moms may find it difficult to adequately pump throughout the day at their place of work and therefore may be unable to keep up their supply to feed their baby.
Whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced pro, remember that there is no right answer when it comes to you and your growing family. While breastfeeding offers many health benefits for mom and baby, healthcare professionals understand that this decision is complex and different for each family.
Talk to your doctor about what options you should consider to best fit your lifestyle and support the healthy growth and development of your baby.
Looking for an OB/GYN? Find one at Baylor Scott & White Health.