The downside of formula-feeding

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Monday, December 12, 2011

EXPERTS around the globe agree that breast milk is the best food for the baby for the first 12 months of his life.

However, there are cases wherein the mother is left with no option but to give up the womanly art of breastfeeding such as in cases of mothers who have cardiac or cardiac-related problems and are placed under constant medications by their physician after giving birth.

It may also be due to certain working conditions or just plainly out of the woman’s choice.


Regardless of the cause, may it be by choice or circumstance, there are certain consequences hooked with formula or bottle-feeding.

According to medical literatures, immediately after birth, the infant can already be breastfed compared to bottle feeding which has to be delayed at least four to six hours because the formula milk might get into the lungs instead of the stomach due to certain after-birth adjustments of the baby.

As a matter of fact, obstetricians and pediatricians in the Philippines encourage breastfeeding immediately after delivery of the baby because of its two-way benefits -- the mother will have less blood loss after birth as the baby’s sucking action causes the release of the hormone oxytocin that lets the uterus contract and the colostrum of the breast milk have protective functions for the baby.

A number of health researches have proven that colostrum, the first type of milk that comes out from the mother’s breast, contains antibodies that help fight infections.

On the other hand, formula milk in formula-fed babies may be deprived of colostrum as there is yet no synthetic counterpart of the said substance.

In a 1996 study of the La Leche League international in the Philippines, it was found that babies whose families were living in poverty and had been formula-fed experienced an eight to 10 times higher incidence of infant deaths due to respiratory infections and diarrhea compared to those babies who have been breastfed.

Dr. Adele Pilitterri, an American nurse scientist and a pediatric nurse practitioner, claims that the incidence of infant obesity is more common to formula-fed than to breastfed infants.

Experts support that this may be due to the fact that milk formulas contain more sugar and a heavier type of protein compared to breast milk.

Furthermore, the varying chemical composition of formula milk has its effects on the immature digestive system of the baby.

According to Dr. Pillitterri, the stools of the breastfed babies are generally softer compared to bottle-fed babies. As a matter of fact, constipation may occur more to babies who have been formula-fed.

In a 2000 study by a group of health researchers in the US, it has been found that colic, or the occasional abdominal pain that occurs to infants under three months of age, is most common to babies who have been formula-fed.

Allergies were also a main concern when formula-feeding as babies may be allergic to certain types of milk formulas. However, the breast milk of a healthy mother can never cause any forms of allergy to her baby.

Perhaps the most deplorable scenario that could happen to bottle-fed babies is what is known as the baby-bottle syndrome.

According to literatures, baby-bottle syndrome is the condition wherein there is extensive tooth decay in a toddler who had been formula-fed during infancy.

Dr. Pillitterri explains that this happens when the infant is put to sleep with a bottle on. Over time, the high-sugar content of the formula milk causes decay on the upper and lower posterior teeth of the child which is most evident during teething periods early and mid-childhood.

Dental studies have also shown that for as long as the mother is drinking fluoride-containing water, her breast milk is also rich in the said mineral, which has the capacity to prevent tooth-decay.

Experts claim that vitamins and minerals supplementation for the breastfed baby is unnecessary compared to formula fed babies. Iron, phosphorus, vitamin D and calcium are just enough in breast milk they said.

The La Leche League International claims that while formula milks contain more iron and calcium, they were able to come up with a 1997 study that showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months were not anemic at their first birthday compared to those formula fed babies despite of the latter being iron-fortified.

In terms of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D content, scientific quantification reveals that formula milks contain higher amounts of the said minerals. However, in the early ‘80s, a significant number of children in the US suffered rickets, a disease caused by calcium deficiency and it was found that those children had been exclusively formula-fed early on.

While nutritional studies have proven that there is little Vitamin D content in breast milk, in a 1999 study of the Journal of Pediatrics in the US reported that unsupplemented breast-fed infants had no evidence of vitamin D deficiency during the first six months.

Filipino health professionals believe that babies in the Philippines and the nearby continents do not need vitamin D supplementation due to the geographic location of the country that best harnesses the sun’s natural aid in vitamin D synthesis.

While the choice of breastfeeding or formula-feeding remains an autonomous choice of the mother, no one, not even a single brand of formula milk, can truly challenge the spiel: Breast milk is still best for babies.

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Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 13, 2011.


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