Although some formula recipes have improved over time for mothers who must rely on formula to feed their new baby, many products are still loaded with unhealthy and even dangerous ingredients, making breastfeeding the best way to go for new mothers who have the option.
In Massachusetts, public health authorities have taken steps to encourage breastfeeding by restricting the marketing of baby formula in the state's hospital maternity wards.
In many hospitals across the country, new mothers are given complimentary gift baskets during their stay that often contain free samples of infant formula, supplied by formula companies. This is a practice Massachusetts health authorities see as a clever marketing trick, since it implies that the hospital's healthcare providers, in giving new mothers this gift, endorse the use of formula.
To combat the practice, the state has decided that while free formula may be made available to mothers who need it, it will no longer be added to gift baskets for all new mothers. The restrictions are part of a larger state initiative to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding, reports The Boston Globe.
So, what are some of those benefits? For starters, there is the special infant-mother bond forged through breastfeeding that may not be achieved when a child is fed formula, but, beyond that, there are important health reasons why breast milk is best.
Infants are designed to drink their mother's milk. They are not meant to have cow's milk or anything other than their mother's milk in their early lives. Only breast milk contains the nutrients a healthy baby needs, including 160 fatty acids that are not found in baby formula.
The nutrition a child is given at infancy makes a lasting impression, too. Research shows babies who are breastfed have lower incidences, later in life, of chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes and even cancer, as well as a reduced risk for severe communicable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea and ear infections.
A mother's own health can benefit from breastfeeding her child, as well. In addition to having a happy and healthy baby, moms who breastfeed often have less bleeding after the birth, lose their pregnancy weight faster and experience better bone strength, with fewer hip fractures later in life. They may also have reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
Although there is some concern that breast milk itself has become contaminated in our modern world, it is still the superior choice, according to research. An analysis of breastfeeding conducted by the Environmental Working Group shows that chemicals like PCBs and PBDEs that accumulate in a woman's body fat are often found in trace amounts in breast milk, since breast milk is made up of fat from a mother's body. However, the levels of chemicals typically found in breast milk pose less of a threat than the risks associated with feeding a new baby formula.
That's because, as mentioned earlier, babies are not designed to drink formula or juice or any other liquids besides mom's milk when they are born, and if they do, poor health consequences can result.
Have you ever looked at the ingredients label on a container of baby formula? Oftentimes, there are things in there that we, as adults, shouldn't even be eating -- hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and cow's milk, just to name a few. These are ingredients that promote chronic disease, and yet we are feeding them to our very youngest consumers, who have no say in the matter.
Of particular concern in formula is the ingredient manganese, a neurotoxic chemical found in much higher concentrations in baby formula, particularly soy-based formulas, than in breast milk. According to the EWG, soy-based formulas contain about 80 times as much manganese as mother's milk, while animal-based formulas contain about 30 times more. Elevated manganese levels have been linked to behavioral problems, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later in life. Babies are not able to absorb and excrete excess manganese during the first year of life, according to the EWG.
Besides the harmful ingredients we know are in baby formula, there are other, less certain risk factors involved with formula feeding, as well.
For example, chemical and bacterial contaminants can come into play when bottle feeding infants. Mixing powdered infant formula with water from the tap, or even bottled drinking water, can open the door to numerous water contaminants, including chlorine byproducts, pesticides, lead, solvents, arsenic or nitrates from fertilizer runoff. Similar contaminants may also be found on bottles, nipples or even in the formula itself.
Some formulas may contain excessive levels of metals like aluminum, cadmium, lead or worse. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports the following: "In the past, (baby formula) recalls have been ordered because of contamination with substances such as broken glass, fragments of metal and salmonella and other bacteria. The fungal toxin aflatoxin has also been detected in some commercial formulas. Although detected levels were very low, this toxin is known to cause cancer and is not present in breast milk."
Infant formula is so unhealthy for babies, the Natural Resources Defense Council directly blames aggressive marketing of infant formula in underdeveloped countries for "an epidemic of infant death from malnutrition and diarrheal illness, a result of the contaminated water used to dilute or reconstitute formula."
The formula industry is an $8 billion a year business, but the price of using infant formula in place of breast milk may reach much higher than that, as it may mean harming young and innocent lives.
Many mothers are choosing not to breastfeed, simply because they see formula as a more convenient option. But are you really willing to sacrifice the health of your new baby for the sake of convenience?
If you are medically unable to breastfeed for any reason, do your homework and find a formula you can trust to be the next best thing for your baby. If you can breastfeed, do. Not only will it forge a special connection between you and your child, but the natural choice is also the best choice for you and your baby's health.