Benefits of Formula Feeding
The benefits of breastfeeding are talked about frequently, but what about the benefits of formula feeding?
A large number of moms formula feed their babies, so it only makes sense to talk about the benefits of formula feeding too.
This article will address formula feeding and all of the positives – we’ll also talk about the negatives so you have a full picture of formula feeding your baby.
There’s a huge controversy about formula feeding versus breastfeeding. No matter what, moms should have the right to decide how to feed their baby.
Further than that, moms should feel GOOD about their decision. Their decisions are important and we should recognize that they do the best they can for their children.
The way a mother feeds her baby doesn’t determine her worth.
Breastfeeding can be difficult for a number of reasons including:
- General difficulty
- Low supply
And many more reasons! The benefits of formula should be considered when breastfeeding isn’t going well.
As a lactation counselor, I help moms breastfeed when they encounter struggles. If a mother decides she wants to breastfeed her baby – I help her get there.
But when a mother decides to formula-feed she has my full support. It’s completely her decision. And she isn’t alone, many moms formula-feed. Either way I see mothers that are good moms with babies that love them.
And for those moms that choose to formula-feed, I want them to feel good about that decision. That’s why I’m going to talk all about the benefits of formula feeding in this article.
Nutritional Benefits of Formula Feeding
There are countless nutritional benefits of formula feeding. Formula companies have come a long way with producing a product that nutritionally gives a baby everything they need.
Each person (baby or adult) needs to have beneficial macromolecules in their diet. These are known as protein, carbohydrates and fat. They’re the main component in any food and formula has the right amount of these macromolecules for babies.
Protein is a very important macromolecule. In most formulas, the protein is cow’s milk protein, but there are other options such as goat’s milk protein or soy protein.
In breast milk, protein is made up of two different types: casein and whey. Human breast milk is around 60% whey and 40% casein.
In contrast, cow’s milk is around 20% whey and 80% casein.
Why is this important?
Well, the different types of protein digest at different rates. Whey protein tends to move through the stomach quicker and is digested faster. Casein protein takes longer to digest and stays in the stomach longer.
When babies have sensitivities and allergies to formula, it’s generally because the casein protein is bothering them from taking longer to digest (not always though – my own daughter is allergic to whey). Casein can cause reflux, because it sits in the stomach.
The good news is that formula companies have produced formula to have higher amounts of whey protein compared to casein.
How can you tell?
Take a look at the ingredient list on the formula. You will probably see “cow’s milk protein”. You might see “whey protein” which lets you know that there is added whey to promote better digestion.
Another amazing option for formula now is hydrolyzed protein formula.
Hydrolyzed protein is just a fancy term that means the protein is partially broken down. It helps your baby digest the formula and can prevent many stomach problems.
Breast milk has been extensively studied in order to produce formula, and the amount and type of protein has improved greatly over the years.
Carbohydrates are another important macromolecule. In most formulas, the carbohydrate is lactose.
Interestingly, lactose is also the main carbohydrate in breast milk.
That means that almost always, babies are able to naturally digest lactose. According to the Academy of Pediatrics, lactose intolerance or sensitivity generally doesn’t start until a baby is 2 or 3 years old – much after formula or breastfeeding is usually completed.
So where do sensitivities come from?
They usually come from the protein. There are rare genetic conditions (and I mean rare), such as galactosemia, that require a baby to avoid lactose. In those cases, usually soy formula is recommended.
Soy formulas use other forms of carbohydrates. They include corn syrup, corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, and sugar.
It’s generally accepted that lactose is the BEST option for a carbohydrate in formula. It’s a higher quality carbohydrate than sugar or corn-based carbohydrates.
Corn syrup is composed a bit differently than lactose. It contains a higher amount of the sugar glucose. Glucose can affect the blood, causing different blood sugar responses.
But in cases where lactose, whey or casein cause a baby to not tolerate milk-based formulas, soy is a great alternative. Even though the carbohydrates aren’t as good as milk-based formulas, soy formula offers what babies need as an alternative.
But because of their differences, soy formulas generally aren’t recommended for premature babies.
Fat is an extremely important component in a baby’s diet. One benefit of formula feeding is the amount we know about fats and how to incorporate them into formulas.
All formulas are formed with the right ratios of fats to protein and carbohydrates. They contain the essential fats, and additional fats.
The additional fats that formula contains are ARA and DHA. These added fats are found in breast milk.
DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that helps a baby’s brain and eyes grow and mature.
ARA is an Omega-6 fatty acid that has many benefiticl functions in the human body. It helps reduce inflammation among other things.
4. Other Ingredients
All of the other ingredients are a benefit of formula feeding. Along with added healthy fats, formula contains probiotics and prebiotics to help with digestion.
Probiotics are alive and live within healthy stomachs and intestines. They help our bodies to digest food. Prebiotics are what feed probiotics so they can do the job of helping to digest.
Another benefit of formula is that they’ve included nucleotides. Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA and RNA – they give a baby those building blocks when they eat. Nucleotides are also found in breast milk.
And of course, we have to talk about vitamins and minerals! Some of the most beneficial components of formula – vitamins and minerals have been extensively studied. Vitamins and minerals are so important that they’re regulated by the FDA to ensure that all formulas meet specific quality standards.
Benefits of Formula Feeding Scholarly Articles
I’ve selected a few scholarly articles to talk about the benefits of formula feeding. Formula feeding is common throughout the world today. However there really seems to be a stigma against it.
This first article talks about that exact issue. It explains that mothers who formula feed generally feel ashamed. They also don’t have the information they need to feel good about their decision to formula feed.
Formula feeding is often viewed negatively compared to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is considered the best way to feed babies, but providers don’t have a good way of promoting breastfeeding without making formula-feeding moms feel alienated.
Moms generally aren’t taught about the benefits of formula – and that it’s the BEST alternative to breastfeeding.
Another article highlights this fact. In this study, women were questioned about their choices of feeding their baby.
Many breastfeeding moms explained the benefit of breastfeeding, but gave short answers.
When formula-feeding moms were questioned, they became very defensive. They had a difficult time articulating the benefits of formula and overall voiced that they felt inadequate for their feeding method.
But let’s be honest.
You don’t need studies to tell you this.
Moms feel a lot of shame and judgement for many of their parenting decisions. One of the biggest is how they choose to feed their baby.
But moms are just doing their best! Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. When it doesn’t, formula is a great option. There are many benefits to formula feeding – the biggest is that babies are getting everything they need nutritionally!
There’s no reason to feel ashamed for being a formula-feeding mother. In fact, you join more mothers than exclusively breastfeed. So hold your head high and let’s talk some more about the benefits, positives and negatives of formula-feeding.
Are Formula-Fed Babies Healthy?
Yes. A resounding yes. Formula-fed babies are healthy! And many of them are actually more healthy than if they were struggling to breastfeed.
Formula provides everything a baby needs to grow – and thrive. It’s been extensively studied and gives a baby everything they need for their nutrition.
Some babies don’t gain weight well with breastfeeding. Other babies can have galactosemia (it’s rare) and won’t be able to breastfeed. But thankfully they have an option to feel good about – formula.
Formula contains all of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folic Acid
- Pantothenic Acid
These ingredients are all closely regulated by the FDA at the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This article explains that before infant formula, the alternatives to breastfeeding used to be extremely dangerous. Babies were given animal milk in unsanitary containers. Harmful bacteria caused the deaths of nearly 30% of babies before formula was safely created. The benefits of formula vastly outweigh these dangerous methods of the past.
Another option people had before formula was wet nursing. Women were employed primarily to breastfeed other babies.
Wet nursing was looked down upon by society – not to mention by the mothers that needed an alternative to breastfeeding. It carried with it not only a social stigma, but als health risks.
Babies were exposed to anything the wet nurse was exposed to.
Formula has the added benefit of not having to find someone else to breastfeed your baby – something to be thankful for.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, things started getting better. Pediatricians used to recommend evaporated milk. Some formula brands were in their initial stages, but didn’t have the added vitamins and minerals we see today.
So when someone criticizes a mother about formula feeding – they need to only think about how far we’ve come. When you compare the benefits of formula feeding to previous alternative feeding methods, it’s easy to see that formula is a fantastic option for babies.
Positives of Formula Feeding
In addition to the nutritional benefits of formula feeding, there are also many other benefits. Some of the positives of formula feeding include that formula:
- Is nutritionally everything a baby needs to grow and be healthy.
- Is extensively researched and regulated to meet quality standards.
- Gives peace of mind about how much the baby is eating (ability to measure specific amounts).
- Offers a good option for working moms.
- Allows others (like dad) to be involved with feedings.
- Is a good option for moms with difficulty breastfeeding.
- Is convenient for mom to eat what she wants and not worry about medication use.
Negatives of Formula Feeding
If you are curious about the negatives of formula feeding, here are some. If you need help breastfeeding, I am a lactation counselor and offer virtual consultations here.
Some of the negatives of formula feeding are:
- Breast milk is still recognized as the optimal source of a baby’s nutrition if possible.
- Formula can be difficult to digest causing gas and discomfort.
- Formula doesn’t contain antibodies.
- You need to mix it, prepare it, and wash bottles.
- It requires clean water which isn’t always readily available.
- It can be expensive.
Common Questions About the Benefits of Formula Feeding
Do Formula Fed Babies Get Sick More?
According to this study, breastfed babies have fewer sicknesses than formula-fed babies. Breast milk contains antibodies that formula doesn’t have. But breastfed babies aren’t without sickness – they get sick too.
Are Formula Fed Babies Fatter?
At age 1, formula-fed babies statistically weigh more than breastfed babies. However by the age of 2, there is virtually no difference between breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Is Formula Really That Bad For Babies?
No, formula isn’t that bad for babies. There are many benefits to formula feeding – just read the article above!
Formula can improved significantly over history and what we have now is a fantastic option for babies’ nutrition.
No matter what, your baby will love you. A fed baby is the most important thing. And in the end, it won’t matter how your baby is fed. They will grow into healthy adults with a whole life ahead of them. Hold your head high and remember all the positives of formula feeding.
Is Formula Just As Good As Breast Milk?
Unfortunately, formula isn’t as good as breast milk – but it’s close! Formula companies try to mimic breast milk which indicates that breast milk is the gold standard.
But the reality is that not every baby can have breast milk.
And when a baby can’t have breast milk, formula is the next best thing. It’s everything they nutritionally need, it’s safe, and it will give them food to grow and thrive.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.