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Nowadays, one of the most challenging tasks many young mothers have to face is the necessity of choosing between breastfeeding and formula/bottle-feeding. It is easy to surf the web and find several correlational, cohort, or experimental studies where different authors defend their positions on the chosen topic. On the one hand, breastfeeding is deemed preferable due to its perfect balance of nutrients, protection against allergies and diseases, and easy digestion for babies.
On the other hand, formula-feeding is characterized by certain merits, such as the possibility for another person to feed a baby anytime, a mother’s freedom to be involved in different activities or even start working, and no dependence on the mother-child diet. Although some mothers might still choose to bottle-feed their infants with formula due to practical concerns, research shows that breastfeeding is preferable due to its impact on maternal and child health.
History of breastfeeding
The history of breastfeeding is as long as the existence of life on the planet. In ancient cultures and in modern times women continued to breastfeed children to nourish them. However, some cultures did not focus on breastfeeding as an intimate link between the mother and the child. For example, while most ancient civilizations had mothers feed their children, more structurally segregated Western European countries created the role of a wet nurse – a woman whose job was to breastfeed children of royal and noblewomen.
Advantages of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding
Various cultures assigned different meanings to the process of breastfeeding and followed their sets of rules to determine how, when, and where to feed children. In ancient times, Egyptian and Greek civilizations did not treat breastfeeding as a job fit only for common folk and allowed women of all social statuses to feed their children. Nevertheless, wet nurses still had a place in the culture and were respected for their work. In Japan, breastfeeding was common but declined in popularity in the 20th century due to the interest of mothers in modern medicine and artificial feeding options. However, with a well-thought-out campaign, the government was able to elevate breastfeeding to be the primary choice of mothers in the country.
Western countries faced similar challenges earlier, during the middle ages, and then again at the beginning of the 19th century. Here, the history of breastfeeding was firmly connected to the cultural aspects of these civilizations. Countries with a rigid societal structure viewed breastfeeding as a job for lower classes and the process became plagued with many preconceptions. The combination of men’s opinions on breastfeeding and their lack of medical knowledge pressured women into declining breastfeeding. Later efforts in raising the popularity of breastfeeding emphasized health benefits for mothers and children and an establishment of an emotional connection between the parent and the child.
The breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding dilemma appears as soon as women find out that they are pregnant. They have to evaluate all the pros and cons of their pregnancy outcomes, understand if they want to take sick leave, and recognize the relationship between baby feeding and health. All circumstances have to be taken into consideration to make the best decision. Both methods, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, have their advantages and disadvantages.
Sometimes, it is hard to make a choice, and extensive research is required. This dilemma may be considered through the prism of health, social factors, emotional stability, and personal convenience. In this paper, special attention to the works by Belfort et al. (2013), Boué et al. (2018), Fallon, Komninou, Bennett, Halford, and Harrold (2017), Horta and Victoria (2013) will be made to clarify if the benefits of breastfeeding prevail over the benefits of bottle-feeding in terms of health.
The first months after a baby is born may be defined as the period when it is necessary to choose to breastfeed over bottle-feeding and establish a strong mother-child contact. There are many short- and long-term health benefits for both participants of a process that may be enhanced through its exclusivity and duration (Fallon et al., 2017). The representatives of the World Health Organization admit that exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months can decrease morbidity from allergies and gastrointestinal diseases due to the presence of nutritional benefits in human milk (Horta & Victoria, 2013).
For example, the nutrient n-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in breast milk aims at improving the functions of the brain (Belfort et al., 2013). Therefore, when the advantages of breastfeeding have to be identified, this point plays an important role.
In addition to nutrients, breastfeeding is a method in terms of which infants can control their condition and take as much amount of milk as they may need. They do not take more or less, just the portion they need at that moment. Mothers should take responsibility for the quality of milk they offer to their children and follow simple hygiene rules and schedules.
Another important aspect that underlines the necessity of breastfeeding is the protection of children against diseases and other health threats. Probiotics and prebiotics, also known as important live microorganisms, protect the body and establish a gut microbiota that promotes positive health outcomes through the creation of barriers to pathogens, improvement of metabolic function, and energy salvation (Boué et al., 2018). Stomach viruses and other conditions that may cause discomfort are also significantly reduced with breastfeeding.
Allergies pose another serious threat to infants. It is hard for a mother to comprehend what product is safe for a child and what ingredients should be avoided. Breast milk is characterized by appropriate natural filters and the possibility to avoid ingesting real food until the body is properly developed. It helps babies digest food and uses the enzymes in a mother’s milk to speed up digestion and avoid complications.
Advantages of bottle-feeding over breastfeeding
Finally, breastfeeding is preferable because of the promotion of the bond between a mother and a child, and its price. This process of feeding is a unique chance for mothers to be relieved from anxiety and develop an emotional attachment to their children. Sometimes, it is not enough for mothers to talk to their children, observe their smile, and touch them. Breastfeeding is an exclusive type of contact that is not available to other people, including even the closest family members. This relationship is priceless. Indeed, when talking about the price, it is also necessary to admit that compared to bottle-feeding, which requires buying special ingredients, bottles, and hygienic goods, breastfeeding is a cheap process with no additional products except a mother and a child being present in it.
However, despite all the benefits of breastfeeding, it is wrong to believe that formula-feeding is solely negative or does not have important characteristics that breast-feeding cannot offer. Many significant aspects should be considered by mothers who still have some doubts about their choice. For example, some mothers may be challenged by poor health or inappropriate health status for breastfeeding.
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Mothers may suffer from the inability to breastfeed as they are unable to produce milk or the milk is of poor quality. In these cases, mothers still want to find new ways to be close to their children and support them and formula-feeding is one option that they can rely on on under any condition. No connection between the health problems of a mother and a child is observed. Bottle-feeding creates several good opportunities for mothers to stabilize their personal and professional lives. Fallon et al. (2017) admit that the choice of the formula is usually explained by breastfeeding management, not biological issues. Therefore, the advantages of bottle-feeding over breastfeeding in terms of health care are based on the emotional aspects and mental health of mothers.
Importance of research
An understanding of the differences between breastfeeding and formula-feeding should be based on thorough research. For example, a study developed by Horta and Victoria (2013) asserts that formula-fed children may have serious hormonal and insulin responses to feeding and an increased number of adipocytes compared to breast-fed children. Bottles have to be cleaned and properly stored to avoid the growth of bacteria that may harm a child (Boué et al., 2018). Finally, the study by Fallon et al. (2017) shows that mothers may feel guilt and stigma in case they choose formula as the main method of feeding. All these studies prove that research is a crucial step to comprehend the benefits of breastfeeding nowadays.
In general, it is hard to neglect the existing dilemma of breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding. Mothers have to weigh all the pros and cons of both processes and understand what method is more appropriate to them. Regarding the chosen cohort and experimental studies and past research, it is concluded that despite several positive socio-cultural and emotional outcomes of formula-feeding, breastfeeding remains the preferred method due to its effects on health, the establishment of mother-child relations, and the promotion of the cognitive development of children.
Belfort, M. B., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Kleinman, K. P., Guthrie, L. B., Bellinger, D. C., Taveras, E. M.,… Oken, E. (2013). Infant feeding and childhood cognition at ages 3 and 7 years: Effects of breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(9), 836-844.
Boué, G., Cummins, E., Guillou, S., Antignac, J. P., Le Bizec, B., & Membré, J. M. (2018). Public health risks and benefits associated with breast milk and infant formula consumption. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 58(1), 126-145.
Fallon, V., Komninou, S., Bennett, K. M., Halford, J. C., & Harrold, J. A. (2017). The emotional and practical experiences of formula‐feeding mothers. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 13(4), 1-14.
Horta, B. L., & Victoria, C. G. (2013). Long-term effects of breastfeeding: A systematic review. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press.