The milk debate: Breastmilk or formula?
Should you feed your baby breast milk or formula? We have some personal insight from different mums and the low-down on this whole milk debate.
The milk debate: Breastmilk or formula?
When you become a mother, there are many important decisions you have to make and it seems that choosing whether your baby will be breastfed or formula fed is one of the biggest decisions of all.
Breast-feeding is highly recommended by doctors for newborns, but depending on the circumstances, some mothers may choose to formula feed their babies instead.
We talk to a few mothers about their personal choices and give you the low-down on this milk debate so that you can choose what’s right for you.
The rise of formula milk
If you are watching a television show where there is a scene showing a mother feeding her baby, it will most likely be milk from a bottle, as opposed to the baby latching on. Granted that it could be expressed breast milk, but it has become the norm in mainstream media to depict such imagery.
Even in the toy stores, baby dolls are sold with milk bottles as part of their accessories and little girls will pretend to feed their little bundles of joys from a bottle.
But when exactly did formula milk make its way to our supermarket shelves? And when did it start becoming the norm and culturally accepted?
You may be surprised to discover that bottle feeding babies is not a relatively modern concept and has possibly been around for centuries.
In fact, there is archaeological evidence of various kinds of ancient bottles and alternative feeding methods for babies, according to Ellie Lee, Director of the Centre for Parenting Cultural Studies at the University of Kent.
For centuries, mothers who were unable to breastfeed or chose not to, would engage the help of a “wet nurse”- a lactating woman who would breastfeed the baby for the mother. This could be a hired nurse, a family member or even a friend.
But as the world industrialised and women were joining the workforce, new mums looked for other alternatives to feed their babies, thus the demand for wet nurses began to decline. Many mothers even tried to make their own formulas – something we do not recommend anyone to attempt now!
It was only in the 1950s that the developed world fully embraced formula milk and it soon became the feeding method of choice.
What about breastfeeding? Is it really a natural instinct between mothers and babies? Read on to find out!
Is breastfeeding really a natural instinct all new mums have? We see other mammals such as monkeys, cows, and cats feeding their young and we all learned in Biology class back in school that mammals – including humans – naturally produce milk to nurse their young.
We are told that once a baby is born, it is just instinctual for the mother to know how to breastfeed, but many women still face challenges when trying to nurse their newborns and find it difficult to get their baby to latch properly.
Tracey Cassels, founder and primary writer for Evolutionary Parenting, believes that breastfeeding is indeed instinctual – not to mothers – but it is actually due to the baby’s desire to stay alive that they are somehow born with the knowledge of how to suckle.
Do you remember seeing your baby suck her thumb when she was still in your womb during an ultrasound test? This is a survival reflex and a lot of a newborn’s activity in her first weeks of life is all automatic responses, such as sucking on your finger if you were to place it in her mouth or the amazing “rooting” reflex that prompts her to turn her head towards your hand if you stroke her cheek or mouth, as this helps her to find the nipple during her feeding time.
So although it is considered natural for a mother to breastfeed her child, it is actually instinctual for the baby to get to the breast!
Why mothers choose formula milk
Every mother only wants what is best for their baby, but not everyone can breastfeed their baby due to different circumstances. From health reasons, having to go back to work, a lack of support from family and just personal decisions, some mothers have to turn to formula milk for their baby.
Neny Salynna, an Aromatherapist who runs postnatal massage classes and is mother of two, breastfed her first child for only three months because she was not producing enough milk as she was under a lot of stress and her baby was quite impatient so would cry until her lips turned purple.
She says, “Being first-time parents, we gave up and took the easy way out - formula! At three months I stopped breastfeeding totally and I regret that decision ever since.”
Breastfeeding is not easy, and some mothers struggle with different personal issues, so they have to turn to formula milk in order to nourish their baby even though it was not their first choice.
Joanne Sandhu, a Customer Relations Manager and mother of one, recalls that her milk flow was not very good, despite drinking all the recommended teas and eating certain foods believed to help boost lactation.
She shares, “I continued to have my little one latch on as often as possible, but it just wasn’t working out. I did not give up and even met with a lactation consultant as I was close to having mastitis.
All these factors just added up so I eventually decided to feed my little one with formula milk instead. If you can produce well, go for it. But if you can’t, don’t pressure yourself and just get a tin.”
Hazelinda Samad, a former Aircraft Engineer and now Stay At Home Mother of four, shares that due to the lack of support from her family as well as suffering from postnatal depression, she was unable to breastfeed her three elder children.
She says, “If the mother is able to breastfeed as long as possible, with support from her family, it would be ideal. But if it is otherwise, then the mother is in for a tough job. It isn’t easy to handle a colicky baby and negative family members. I always felt like I was being cornered every single second. Even though I was working at the time, I pumped my milk but it was just thrown away by my mother in law and she gave formula to my three children. So I gave up.”
Why do some mothers choose to breastfeed? Keep reading for more personal stories about the milk debate.
Why mothers choose to breastfeed
Hospitals in Singapore encourage new mums to breastfeed their baby because of the many benefits for both mother and child, and the World Health Organisation also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and to continue up to two years and beyond.
With Neny’s second baby, she was determined to exclusively breastfeed him and asked for tips and recipes to boost milk supply from friends who breastfed their babies.
She shares, “This time I made sure breastfeeding was the only choice my baby was going to have. Hard work paid off as I was producing enough to pump and feed him on demand. I was lucky that he was a calmer baby compared to his sister, so breastfeeding him was easier".
Neny also notices that her son does not fall sick as easily as his sister does, and feels that the best part about breastfeeding is that in the middle of the night, she does not have to get up and go to the kitchen to make a bottle - as she can just pick him up and breastfeed him even with her eyes closed.
Hazelinda also preserved with her fourth child, who is now 20 months old, and has managed to exclusively breastfeed him until now. Even though she is currently 15 weeks pregnant, she is still breastfeeding her son, much to the concern of other mothers she encounters during her prenatal check-ups at the hospital.
Her reply is, “My gynae is super supportive of breastfeeding. He even says, ‘Don’t stop breastfeeding ok? It’s good for you and baby’. I can see the difference between my youngest son who is breastfed and his three older siblings who were formula fed - he is super chubby!”.
Weighing out the pros and cons
Whether you have chosen to feed your baby breast milk or formula, let’s see the comparison between the two to help weigh out the pros and cons of this milk debate.
Formula milk is still a healthy choice for babies and is the best possible alternative to breast milk. Many mothers choose formula milk for several reasons, so what are the advantages and disadvantages?
Advantages of formula milk:
1. Babies need to be fed less frequently since the milk is not quickly digested.
2. You will know exactly how much milk your baby has had.
3. Fathers or other family members can help feed the baby as well.
4. Mothers do not have to restrict their diets as it won’t affect the baby.
5. Less stress on the mother.
6. Bottle feeding in public is more socially acceptable.
7. Contains added Vitamin K which helps blood to clot.
Disadvantages of formula milk:
1. Not as nutritionally complete as breast milk.
2. Quite expensive to buy tins of formula, bottles, teats and sterilising equipment.
3. You need to prepare a bottle which can be quite time-consuming.
4. Babies might not tolerate formula milk well.
5. Hassle of bringing bottles, formula and mixing items when you go out.
6. Causes babies to have more gas formed brown stools which have noticeable odour.
7. None of the same antibodies found in breast milk.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of breastmilk? Read on to find out.
Advantages of breast milk:
1. Always available and requires no preparation time
2. It is free!
3. Strengthens your baby’s immune system to increase protection against infections
4. Helps prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
5. Easily digestible
6. Promotes brain development and increases I.Q
7. Reduces the risk of childhood obesity
Disadvantages of breast milk:
1. Some mothers are not comfortable breastfeeding in public, so may feel quite restricted when it is time to feed their baby
2. Breastfeeding mothers have to watch their diet and lifestyle as it can affect their baby
3. Expressed breast milk cannot be stored for too long
4. Babies need to be fed more frequently as the milk is easily digested
5. Some medications can be passed through breast milk
6. You don’t know exactly how much milk your baby is fed
7. Nursing can cause sore nipples, engorged breasts and other breastfeeding problems
It’s your choice
It doesn’t matter if you have chosen to feed your baby breast milk or formula, or even a combination of both, as long as your baby is just being fed!
Motherhood is stressful enough as it is and we are all doing the best we can, so there is no need to feel guilty or second guess your decision.
If another mother does something differently from what you normally do, this does not mean that she is “doing it wrong” – she is just doing what’s right for her baby and her circumstances.
As parents, we should support one another and respect each other’s parenting choices, even if it is different from ours.
Just trust your instincts and do what is best for you and your baby.
What’s your personal take on this whole milk debate? Do you breastfeed your baby or have chosen formula? Share your comments below!