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Breastfeeding Versus Formula Feeding
By Amer Hedow :: Thursday, March 22, 2007 :: 61400 Views :: Article Rating :: Health & Fitness

Tired of hearing Chaldean grandparents fuss over the health differences among American Chaldean and Iraqi Chaldean babies?  Do you find it odd that babies from war torn Iraq tend to be healthier than their Chaldean American counterparts?  In a country with so much freedom and prosperity it wouldn’t seem to make sense.  However, the facts are in and much of the health differences can be attributed to mothers who breastfeed versus moms that don’t.

Chaldean mothers in second and third world countries are have little choice in regards to choosing to nurse their infant or provide commercial formulas.  That may have been a blessing in disguise for Chaldean mothers.  More data continues to prove that breastfeeding is by far the best choice for a baby.  All the while, formula manufactures continue to come under scrutiny over their chemical products and the lack of comparative health benefits.    

Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed their new baby is one of the first decisions expectant Chaldean parents will make. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommend breastfeeding as the very best for babies. The organizations specifically recommend that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months and that breastfeeding should continue beyond 12 months if the mother is able and willing.

Breast milk is the ideal form of nutrition for newborns.   The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal one. But here are some points Chaldean parents may want to consider as they decide which is best for their new miracle.

Breastfeeding: The Advantages

Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides the ideal nourishment and a special bonding experience that many nursing mothers cherish. Below are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding.

Infection-fighting. Antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions, including:

  • ear infections
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory infections
  • meningitis

Other factors help to protect a breastfed baby from infection by contributing to the infant's immune system by increasing the barriers to infection and decreasing the growth of organisms like bacteria and viruses.

Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies and may also protect children against:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • obesity

As a group, formula-fed infants have more infections and more hospitalizations than do breastfed babies.

Nutrition and ease of digestion. Often called the "perfect food" for a human baby's digestive system, breast milk's components - lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat - are easily digested by a newborn's immature system.

As a group, formula-fed infants have more difficulty with digestion than do breastfed infants. Breast milk tends to be more easily digested so that breastfed babies have fewer incidences of diarrhea or constipation.

Breast milk also naturally contains all the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires. Commercial formulas only duplicate the most basic ingredients in breast milk and haven't yet matched the exact combination and composition. Why? Because much of the breast milk's more complex substances are too difficult to manufacture and many of the substances have not yet been identified.

Free. Breast milk doesn't cost a cent. And because of the immunities and antibodies passed onto them through their mothers' breast milk, breastfed infants are sick less often than infants who receive formula. For example, researchers have determined that infants who are exclusively breastfed for 4 or more months have 40% fewer episodes of ear infections. That means they make fewer trips to the doctor's office, which equates to fewer co-pays and less money doled out for prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

Likewise, women who breastfeed are less likely to have to take time off from work to care for their sick babies. In a cost study published by the journal Pediatrics, researchers determined that infants who were never breastfed would incur additional medical costs of $331 to $475 per year.

Different tastes. A nursing Chaldean mother will need 500 extra calories per day to produce breast milk, which means that she should eat a wide variety of well-balanced foods. This introduces breastfed babies to different tastes through their mothers' breast milk, which has different flavors depending on what their mothers have eaten.  This is a fantastic way to introduce the infant to the Chaldean Mediterranean diet of distinctive spices and flavors.

Convenience. With no bottles to mix and sterilize and no last-minute runs to the store for more formula, breast milk is always fresh and available. And because breast milk is always the right temperature, there's no need to warm up bottles in the middle of the night. It's also easy for breastfeeding mothers to be active - and go out and about - with their babies and know that they'll have food available for whenever their little one is hungry.

Obesity prevention. Recent studies indicate that breastfeeding might help prevent childhood and adult obesity. According to the National Women's Health Information Center (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), babies who are breastfed tend to gain less unnecessary weight, which may help them be less overweight later.

Smarter babies. Recent studies suggest that children who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months have IQs 5 to 10 points higher than children who were formula fed.

"Skin-to-skin" contact. Many nursing mothers really enjoy the experience of bonding so closely with their babies. And the skin-to-skin contact has been shown to enhance the emotional well-being and connection between mother and infant.

Beneficial for mom, too. The ability to nourish a baby totally can also help a new Chaldean mother feel confident in her ability to care for her baby. Breastfeeding also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker. In addition, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding: The Challenges

Although it is the best nutritional source for babies, breastfeeding does come with some concerns that many new mothers share. Whereas it's easy from the get-go for some, it can be challenging. Sometimes, both mother and baby need plenty of patience and persistence to get used to the routine of breastfeeding. But all the effort is often worth it in the long run - for both the mother and her baby.

Common concerns of new moms, especially during the first few weeks and months, may include:

Personal comfort. Initially, as with any new skill, many moms feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding. But with adequate education, support, and practice, most Chaldean moms overcome this. Three is also the stigma of breastfeeding in countries like the United States.  A well organized campaign to promote formula consumption and undermine breastfeeding has long been established in the American market.   Unfortunately, such actions have now significantly contributed to the staggering costs of health care and the continuing poor health conditions of American children.

Remember, latch-on pain is normal for the first week to 10 days, and should last less than a minute with each feeding. But if breastfeeding hurts throughout feedings, or if the nipples and/or breasts are sore, it's a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to seek the help of a lactation consultant, their doctor, and/or their child's doctor. Many times, it's just a matter of using the proper technique.

Time and frequency of feedings. There's no question that breastfeeding does require a substantial time commitment from mothers. Then again, many things in parenting do. Some women may be concerned that nursing will make it hard for them to work, run errands, or travel because of a breastfeeding schedule or a need to pump breast milk during the day.

And breastfed babies do need to eat more often than babies who are fed formula, because breast milk digests faster than formula. This means Mom may find herself in demand every 2 or 3 hours (maybe more, maybe less) in the first few weeks.

This can be tiring, but once breastfeeding has been established (usually in about a month), other family members may be able to help out by giving the baby pumped breast milk if Mom needs a break or has to get back to work outside the home. And it's not long before babies feed less frequently and sleep through the night (usually around 3 months). Also, with a little organization and time management, it becomes easier to work out a schedule to breastfeed and/or pump.

Limiting caffeine. Caffeine intake should be kept to no more than 300 milligrams (about one to three cups of regular chi or coffee) per day for breastfeeding women because it may cause problems such as restlessness and irritability in some babies. But many women should be used to drinking less caffeine anyway because they kept their caffeine consumption to a minimum during pregnancy. Chaldean women who must have their caffeine, however, can still have a little by combining caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks, and some might find they're satisfied just by trying similar-tasting non-caffeinated beverages.

Maternal medical conditions, medicines, and breast surgery. Any Chaldean mother taking medication should consult with her doctor before breastfeeding.   But most moms are able to breastfeed even while on medications. Mothers who've had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this situation, it's a good idea for a woman to talk to her doctor about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.

Formula Feeding: The Advantages

Breastfeeding is considered the best nutritional option for babies by the major medical organizations, but not every mother chooses - or is able - to breastfeed. Commercially prepared chemical based infant formulas can serve as an alternative to breast milk and some even contain iron.

Manufactured under sterile conditions, commercial formulas attempt to duplicate mother's milk using a combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins that would be virtually impossible to create at home. So, if you don't breastfeed your baby, it's important that you use only a commercially prepared formula and that you do not try to create your own.

In addition to medical concerns that may prevent breastfeeding, here are a few other reasons women may choose to formula feed:

Convenience. Either parent (or another caregiver) can feed the baby a bottle at any time (although this is also true for women who pump their breast milk).

Flexibility. Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother can leave her baby with a partner or caregiver and know that her little one's feedings are taken care of. There's no need to pump or to schedule work or other obligations and activities around the baby's feeding schedule.  It is important to note that if Mom is out and about with baby, she will need to bring supplies for making bottles.

Time and frequency of feedings. Because formula digests must slower than breast milk, formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often.  Keep in mind that the babies also tend to have more gas and become much more fussy.

Diet. Women who opt to formula feed don't have to worry about the things they eat or drink affecting their babies.

Formula Feeding: The Challenges

As with breastfeeding, there are some challenges to consider when deciding whether to formula feed.

Organization and preparation. Enough formula must be on hand at all times and bottles must be made. The powdered and condensed formulas must be prepared with sterile water (which needs to be boiled until the baby is at least 6 months old) or bottled sterilized baby water. Ready-to-feed formulas that can be poured directly into a bottle without any mixing or water tend to be expensive.

Bottles and nipples need to be sterilized before the first use and then washed before every use after that (this is also true for breastfeeding women who give their babies bottles of pumped breast milk). Bottles and nipples can transmit bacteria if they aren't cleaned properly, as can formula if it isn't stored in sterile containers.

Bottles left out of the refrigerator longer than 1 hour and any formula that a baby doesn't finish must be thrown out. And prepared bottles of formula should be stored in the refrigerator for no longer than 24 to 48 hours (check the formula's label for complete information).

Bottles also may need to be warmed up before feeding the baby, although some babies actually prefer cold bottles to warm. Some parents pop bottles in the microwave for a few seconds; however, the microwave should never be used to warm a baby's bottle because it can create dangerous "hot spots."

Instead, run refrigerated bottles under warm water for a few minutes if the baby prefers a warm bottle to a cold one. Or the baby's bottles can be put in a pan of hot water (away from the heat of the stove) with the temperature tested by squirting a drop or two of formula on the inside of the wrist.

Lack of antibodies. None of the important antibodies found in breast milk is found in manufactured formula, which means that formula doesn't provide the baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does.

Expense. Formula can be costly. Powdered formula is the least expensive, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed being the most expensive. And specialty formulas (i.e., soy and hypoallergenic) cost more - sometimes far more - than the basic formulas. During the first year of life, the cost of basic formula can run about $1,500.

Possibility of producing gas and constipation. Formula-fed babies may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies.

Can't match the complexity of breast milk. Manufactured formulas have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as the baby's needs change.

A Very Personal Decision
There are always consequences to whatever action we take.  This includes the nutritional options we choose.  Knowledge and information helps provide us with the ability to make the right choices for the health and welfare of our family.  If you still feel unsure as to which nursing method is best for you, be sure to talk to your doctor. 



Dr. Amer Hedow holds a medical degree from University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.   Dr. Hedow serves on the board of California Immigrant Health, a not-for-profit organization that provides medical treatment for immigrant families of southeast California.  When he is not working, Dr. Hedow enjoys spending time with his wife visiting family and Chaldean functions, attending church, and traveling.