Of all breastfeeding myths, the one that probably hurts breastfeeding mothers the most is the one that states baby formula is as good as breast milk.
Now, before I get flamed, I understand that baby formula has improved much in recent years and provides an excellent source of nutrition for infants whose mothers cannot breastfeed for various reasons. I also know a baby can thrive on an infant formula – and some will be sick on breast milk.
What Formula Lacks
Today’s infant formulas contain a delicately balanced level of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats designed to mimic the same qualities found in breast milk. However, even if the baby formula is exactly equal to breast milk in terms of nutritional content, it still contains no antibodies, living cells, growth factors, enzymes or hormones. But even if formula manufacturers are someday able to include these vital ingredients in infant formulas, nothing could replace the perfect blend a mother’s body creates to meet the needs of her child.
Human milk also contains a protein called secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA). This protein binds to foreign substances and eliminates them from the body, helping to protect a baby’s sensitive gut. The infant formula does have some sIgA as well, but not as much, and they’re cow’s immunoglobulins. So, they do a terrific job of recognizing bovine diseases, and instead of working in the gut, like human immunoglobulins, they work in the blood stream. Now, again, this doesn’t mean a formula fed baby will be sickly or fail to develop an immune system, but they are obviously short in long-term benefits.
What Formula Adds
Formula does contain a few ingredients that breast milk does not. They contain more protein than breast milk. There are higher levels of aluminum, manganese, cadmium, lead, and iron.
Formula (except soy formula) is made from cow’s milk. Since cow’s milk isn’t appropriate for human babies, formula manufacturers need to alter the milk, reducing the amount of protein, remove all fat, and add new fats, vitamins, and minerals. Sometimes, the baby formula includes ingredients to extend the shelf life or to thicken the formula.
You bond with your child through feedings, either bottle or breastfeeding. But the close, skin-to-skin contact that occurs with every nursing sessions is nearly impossible to replicate with a bottle. Breastfeeding meets not only a child’s nutritional needs but also their emotional needs as well.
Infant formula continues to improve, but it will never be able to replicate the milk a mother can provide her baby perfectly. New deficiencies are found all the time, and formula companies are eager to meet the ones they can.
The infant formula will meet your baby’s nutritional needs and if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed your child will, more than likely, be healthy. But, to say that baby formula is an equal substitute undermines many of the actual benefits breastfeeding’s provides.