To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? This can be a difficult, even controversial, question for new parents. Parents are often told that breastfeeding is best. But not all new moms are able to breastfeed. And others may choose not to for lots of different reasons. Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed with formula, it’s personal. Discuss it with your partner and ask your doctor for advice. And no matter what, be confident that however you feed your baby, they can grow up to be a happy, healthy person!
THE TRUTH ABOUT 5 BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING
1. “Breastfeeding Is Healthier for Your Baby”
It’s true that the combination of hormones and antibodies in breast milk can help support newborns’ health. According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breastfeeding a newborn may help protect them from some childhood conditions ranging from long-term to occasional health issues.1
<>Breastfeeding may also support good health for mothers. The OWH reports that breastfeeding can help prevent certain types of adult conditions and diseases in moms.1
However, some babies are unable to tolerate and digest the carbohydrates and protein in breast milk. And for other newborns, especially those born prematurely or who have trouble gaining weight, your pediatrician may recommend formula.
Some infant formula actually contains higher amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals than breast milk. That can be especially helpful because infants may have lower rates of nutrient absorption with formula than with breast milk. Some infant formulas are also low in iron, which can be beneficial for some babies but others actually may need the iron. If you’re giving your baby formula, ask your pediatrician for advice on the nutrients to look for and the best formula for your own baby’s specific nutritional needs.
2. “Breastfeeding Saves Time”
You may think that breastfeeding will save you time. After all, you only need you and your baby to breastfeed, right? Well, the reality is that for most moms, breastfeeding is more complicated than it seems.
If you work outside the home, you’ll usually need to keep a breast pump with you and carve out time in your day to excuse yourself to a private place to pump (most companies have lactation rooms set aside for nursing mothers). Experts recommend following a consistent pumping schedule. And if you wait too long between pumping or feeding, that can cause a lot of discomfort or even health issues due to the milk backup.
If you save your pumped breast milk to feed to your baby later, you’ll need to follow very specific instructions to store it properly in a fridge or freezer. Ask your pediatrician or a lactation specialist how to properly store breast milk.
If you formula-feed your baby, depending on the type of formula you choose — powder, liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed — you may need to mix it, measuring out just the right ratio of formula to water. You’ll also have to sterilize bottles and nipples. Keep in mind, many women who breastfeed also may bottle-feed their babies. So breastfeeding moms usually have to clean bottles and nipples too.
The verdict: for most moms, when it comes to time-savings and hassle, breastfeeding and formula-feeding are a tie.
3. “Breastfeeding Saves Money”
The OWH estimates that the formula and necessary supplies for formula feeding can cost around $1,500 per year.1 Formula-feeding requires the formula itself, which is often expensive, plus bottles and nipples.
But for most women in the U.S., breastfeeding is rarely free either. Moms who breastfeed usually still buy bottles and rubber nipples as well as a breast pump, which can cost around $200, or more.
Dollar-for-dollar, breast milk may be less expensive overall than formula-feeding. But breastfeeding is very rarely free!
4. “Breastfeeding Boosts Feel-Good Hormones”
Yes, the skin-to-skin contact with your baby during breastfeeding boosts levels of oxytocin1, a “happy” hormone in your brain. This makes you feel more relaxed, according to a study in the journal Cell Metabolism.2 That relaxation boost is definitely a plus for stressed-out new moms!
But most families know that the benefits of skin-to-skin contact go beyond just breastfeeding or any feeding time. Starting right after birth, doctors often encourage dads and partners to hold their newborns against their bare skin. This contact, called “kangaroo care”, has been shown to promote newborns’ wellness and development.
And of course, that goes for new moms too — breastfeeding or not. When moms make skin-to-skin contact with their babies, it not only boosts their oxytocin levels in their own brain, and supports their baby’s health and well-being. But it also helps mom bond with baby and can even improve mom’s mood.
This kangaroo care by mom or dad can happen any time. It can be during bottle-feeding or breast-feeding, or at bedtime, playtime or naptime. Breastfeeding moms do not have the jump over non-lactating moms when it comes to feel-good bonding time with their baby!
5. “Breastfeeding Burns Calories”
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, moms who breastfeed or do a combination of breast-and-formula-feeding, consume about 550 more calories than non-lactating moms. But according to this study, breastfeeding moms also may have more weight loss, especially around 3-6 months after birth.3
That said, every mother is different. Some moms consume a lot of extra food when they breastfeed. Others may naturally have less of an appetite, or they may be trying extra hard to make very thoughtful food choices that are lower in fat or calories.
Some moms return to an exercise routine very soon after birth (with their doctor’s permission, of course!). And other mothers just have to be more physically active for other reasons. They may have other, older kids at home that keep them busy and active. Or they may need to return to jobs that keep them active and on their feet all day, like jobs in food service or retail.
In other words, yes, there is some evidence that breastfeeding moms may lose more weight than non-lactating moms. But like most things, every situation and every person is different, and every new mom’s weight loss outcomes are going to vary.
NUTRITION GUIDE: WHAT TO EAT WHEN YOU’RE BREASTFEEDING
If you do breastfeed your baby, of course your diet will affect your breast milk. So if you lack certain nutrients in your diet, there may be lower concentrations of those nutrients in your breast milk too.
According to a study published in Advances in Nutrition, women with low levels of certain nutrients in their diet were found to have lower amounts of those nutrients in their breast milk. Those nutrients include thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium, and iodine.4
So what foods would you need to get more of these particular nutrients?
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) – Fish, seeds and beans
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) – Eggs, lean meats, green vegetables and fortified grain products
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – Fish, potatoes and fruits such as citrus fruits, avocados and bananas
Vitamin B12 – Fish, meat, poultry, eggs and fortified grain products
Choline – Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds
Vitamin A – Salmon, green leafy vegetables, carrots, squash and dairy products
Vitamin D – Salmon, tuna, fortified dairy products and mushrooms
Selenium – Brazil nuts, tuna, shellfish, poultry and eggs
Iodine – Seaweed, cod, yogurt, iodized salt and milk
However, other nutrients are usually naturally present in most women’s breast milk, regardless of what you eat. These other nutrients include folate, iron, calcium and zinc.4 However, every woman’s milk is different so it’s important to make sure that you eat plenty of these nutrients too.
Here are some good food sources for this second group of nutrients:
Folate – Spinach, brussels sprouts, liver, black-eyed peas, fortified cereals and asparagus
Calcium – Yogurt, cheese, sardines, milk, soy milk and tofu
Iron – Fortified cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate and beef liver
Zinc – Oysters, beef, fortified cereals, pork and chicken
OK, we know what you’re thinking. That’s all good advice, but as a new mom, I’m so busy I hardly have a chance to eat real meals at all. Much less buy and cook this huge variety of fruits, veggies, fish, nuts, you name it. We get it! If you’re concerned about getting the nutrition you need, ask your doctor if you can take a supplement while breastfeeding. vitafusion Women’s Multivitamin gummies have vitamin A, vitamin D, a variety of B vitamins, zinc, iodine and other important nutrients that you may need right now. Plus, they taste great so they’re more like a treat than an ordinary vitamin!
Remember, whether or not you breastfeed your baby, there are many good options out there to get them the nutrition they need to grow into a happy, healthy person! Talk to your doctor and discuss it with your partner. But most of all, don’t worry! This is a personal decision with more than one “right” answer. You got this!
We love sharing our insights about vitamins and health. But that doesn’t mean they should be a substitute for professional medical advice. For that, you should talk to your doctor!
1 Making the Decision to Breastfeed. Office on Women’s Health (OWH). www.womenshealth.gov
2Neumann, I; Cell Metab, 2007.
3Brewer, MM, et al; Am J Clin Nutr, 1989.
4Allen, L; Adv. Nutr, 2012.