Breastmilk vs. infant formula: Is it about the money?
While breastmilk offers the best source of nutrition for our children, formula milk makes a close substitute. Did you know that parents are paying for their children’s nutrition with more than just dollars and cents?
Raising children in Singapore is a costly investment. With the rising prices of infant formula, parents are hunting for better deals to save where possible.
After all, we learned in university that basic necessities like bread and regular groceries should be priced affordably. Local authorities have also decided that all formula milk in Singapore meet the minimum nutritional requirements and guidelines. As parents, we understand that this means all brands are safe and nutritionally similar, save for those variants with extra ingredients or a higher composition of certain ingredients which contribute to their higher prices.
There are also situations when feeding baby with infant formula milk powder becomes necessary, or when breastfeeding is not possible due to certain reasons. Medical reasons could include baby’s weight as a concern, where baby’s weight decreases by more than 10% of his weight at birth. For example: Baby’s birth weight is 3kg, but his weight falls to 2.7kg or less within the first few days. Let’s not beat ourselves up when this happens mums, because our baby’s health is always our priority 😊
How do parents choose formula milk powder for their babies?
With more than seven formula milk brands in Singapore, choosing a particular brand of milk powder involves research, word-of-mouth and plenty of questions from savvy parents. Perceived brand value and prices come into play too. Well, a baby can't tell you if that bottle of milk was yummy or not. As long as baby seemed to take it well (no frequent regurgitation, no major change in stool patterns or consistency, no allergy symptoms), and for us, we continue with the same brand of milk powder for their nutrients.
During our newborn days with Vera, since we didn't know which brand of infant formula to choose, price was the immediate yardstick for a flustered daddy at the point of urgency! Because, a heftier price tag indicates that the product must be good or better, yes? Quality ingredients don't come cheap; but cheap doesn't equate to being inferior. AH! It's one of those mind teasers parents face, and a similar analogy can be drawn to how parents choose childcare and preschools :p
What about breastmilk? It's full of natural goodness and is the best for babies!
Thanks to the au natural goodness of breastmilk, the unique composition of human milk makes it a goal for formula manufacturers to create something that is as close to it as possible. In fact, I've heard mums and doctors recommend certain infant formula milk brands because "they are closest to breastmilk". I remembered this tip, and told K about it when we were thinking about formula milk too.
Since attending prenatal classes and parenting workshops, I’ve learned from medical experts share that formula has its limitations of fully replicating breastmilk. A very essential “ingredient” would be antibodies which are naturally produced and present only in human milk. During a breastfeeding session, baby passes germs through contact, and the nursing mum's immune system gets ready to "fight" them by synthesising antibodies. Our immune system is pretty much triggered to protect our own body, as well as our baby's as we nurse them. When Vera and Leroy were sick, I would also nurse them when I could, so that they would receive these natural antibodies plus mummy’s comfort. Theoretically, we have free access to these quality stuff for our babies!
So, which is the best infant formula milk?
Breastmilk comes from a natural source, has no preservatives and does not need to be treated unlike formula milk. Its wealth of wholesome nutrients ensures genuine optimal quality, in the perfect composition for your baby at different points of growth or health conditions.
But when we needed to buy infant formula, it was essential for baby Vera. When choosing our very first tin of formula milk powder, it would have helped if K and I had done a little more research on the different infant formula available in Singapore, as well as understand the nutrients in them. Now that we know that all formula milk brands available in Singapore are nutritionally adequate, it’s more of understanding our child’s diet, and how formula milk plays a supplementary role to provide nutrients after she started on solids. Over-consumption of certain nutrients causes the child’s body to work harder, may not be absorbed, and be passed out. Food sources of nutrients are always a better bet when it comes to freshness, and may be friendlier on the pockets too!
When Vera was 3 months old, she had her first bout of eczema, and that worried us too since it could have been triggered by her diet – mixed feeds of breastmilk and formula milk. Besides trial and error by cutting out certain food in my own diet, we were also monitoring if it could have been the infant formula that she was on, and if she was experiencing any constipation or diarrhoea too. After all, absorption of nutrients is important. Most importantly, a certain brand of milk powder may be good for another child, but may not go down well with your own baby. Understanding your child’s body makes it easier!
New mummy on an emotional rollercoaster
I kid you not - there have been tears, frustration, self-doubts, physical pain, uncertainties and more. If you're pregnant and planning to breastfeed, I hope this offers a real experience on what may come, but I seriously hope not! Because when I was pregnant, most of the things I read about breastfeeding was rosy and smooth. So when curveballs came my way, it threw me off-course and I got frightened.
Giving up was ALWAYS on the cards - yes, I said it!
It's easier to wave the white flag, and I could have saved plenty of time and money spent to breastfeed. After all, one could argue that time IS money too, right?
But it was hard. So hard for me to do that. I'm a mother, and I need to shoulder on.
Through the tough times, I've actually earned and learned so much more which goes beyond measure.
The physical closeness with each of my baby in my arms or on my laps as they latched on is something really special. I’ll not be able to replicate those scenes ever again when time passes.
There may be frustrations and impatience, yet breastfeeding allows us to take a moment to stare at our babies and realise how small they are, or how fast they have grown. Those opportunities are like gentle nudges to remind us that our babies will be little only for today. Because one day, the little one may suddenly decide to wean, and our chance to look at them that close might be a fleeting dream, and possibly be a heart-breaking one. Well, it was for me with Vera…
I learned that every breastfeeding relationship (mother and child) is different - so there's no need to compare or be envious of another.
I learned that if I'm the weakest link in the breastfeeding relationship, I would find ways to work around the situations.
I learned that feeding my child infant formula milk does not mean she was short-changed, and that formula milk has nutrients she needed.
I learned that I had to take better care of myself to nourish my children.
I learned that a balanced and nutritious diet is important, especially for my kids and we should start early.
I learned that breastmilk and formula milk are part of a child’s diet, and no mother should be judged for her choice and decision.
I learned that all infant formula brands in Singapore meets the nutritional needs of babies, toddlers and young child, so we don’t necessarily have to go for the most expensive one.
I learned that the “best” infant formula milk powder, is the one that’s most suitable for my baby.
I learned that when I set my heart to try something, my patience and tolerance are sharpened.
I learned that my threshold can be pretty flexible - or, maybe I'm just a pushover.
I learned to shut out the naysayers and to believe in my decisions to breastfeed and/or offer formula milk.
I learned to go with the flow (or lack of!) and work with different situations.
Best of all, I learned that my lessons on strength and unconditional love came from that list above, with each drop of breastmilk that I nourish my children with, and each bottle of formula that's been offered.
Love is the currency.
For expert advice on baby nutrition and breastfeeding tips, visit https://www.healthhub.sg/earlynutrition for more information.
How do you decide which infant formula milk powder brand to buy? Do share with us your thoughts!