The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Plum Organics. Because Plum is a team of parents who get it, they created an organic, non-GMO formula you can feel good about to nourish your baby with quality carbohydrates, proteins, and nutrients.
You’ve heard it before: when it comes to feeding your baby, “breast is best.” The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months, and it’s been the gold standard since people started having kids. But what if your wife is one of the many women who can’t produce enough milk, or you’re a single dad? These and other circumstances can get you wondering whether formula might be the best choice for your family.
Here to help you answer that question are Doctors Smita Malhotra and Gilberto Bultron, the pediatrician couple behind Mindful Pediatric Gastroenterology, members of Plum Organics’ Wellness Advisory Panel, and parents of 2 kids, a 3-year-old and a newborn. They’re dedicated to keeping little guts healthy, but also have some hands-on experience with this topic. Heeding the the time-tested mantra, Dr. Malhotra encouraged many parents to breastfeed. Until she wasn’t able to herself. After multiple lactation consultant visits and even more guilt, the couple realized it was time to have the formula conversation — and invite other parents to join.
When To Consider Formula Over Breastfeeding
In many instances, women can’t produce enough breast milk. In other cases, if babies aren’t gaining weight, supplementing breast milk with formula can help. And of course, single fathers and two-dad households don’t have the option.
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There are also the undeniable lifestyle factors. Some women return to demanding or unaccommodating jobs shortly after giving birth and lack the time, energy, (or a decent-sized storage closet) for breastfeeding or pumping. Switching to formula is less stressful than moving to a country with a more progressive national parental leave policy, which would be most of them.
And the last, perfectly valid reason: some women just don’t wanna and don’t owe anyone an explanation, says Dr. Malhotra. “I had a lot of issues and put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed. Once I let go of the guilt, I realized one isn’t better than the other. There are benefits to both and the bottom line is a happy mom, and happy parents are what’s best for a healthy baby.”
The Nutritional Difference Between Formula And Breastmilk
The Food And Drug Administration regulates and reviews the ingredients that go into all formula and make sure each meets certain nutritional requirements. Dr. Bultron can get into the details (it’s kind of his thing), but the bottom line is formula contains the same 3 critical macronutrients as breastmilk that support babies’ growth and development: carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
The main difference is breastmilk contains antibodies that defend against things like ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, and respiratory infections. Iron-fortified formulas are best if your baby is partially breastfed or not at all. And some formulas contain additives like DHA and ARA, omega-3 fatty acids that support eye and brain development. Perhaps they’ll even grow smart enough to decipher Dr. Bultron’s scientific breakdown of formula micronutrients versus breast milk.
Formula Options (And The Difference Between Them)
This part is pretty simple: 2 different protein sources, 3 preparations. Remember, they’re all required by the FDA to meet the same nutritional guidelines.
Your options are cow’s milk or soy protein, and one gram of either equals 4 calories for Junior. Soy is only recommended if your baby has a true cow milk protein allergy or congenital disability to digest lactose, which is relatively rare.
Types Of Preparation
- Powdered. The least expensive, light and easy to travel with.
- Concentrate. Liquid, not powder, and more expensive.
- Ready-To-Use. It’s ready to go, but Dr. Malhotra notes while it’s convenient for nighttime feedings, it’s also more expensive. “Quite a bit more.”
The Cost Of Formula Vs. Breastfeeding
“Neither one is entirely free,” says Dr. Malhotra. Parents who choose to breastfeed, especially if they work outside the home, have to pay for bottles, pumps, and other supplies. And formula? That also costs money (as noted above). But there’s also the emotional cost, which the couple experienced firsthand. “As with any big decision in life, you have to weigh risks versus benefits. The most cost-effective option is the one that leads to the happiest environment for the family.”
Formula Feeding Tips & Common Mistakes
Dr. Malhotra won’t shame you for choosing formula over breastfeeding, but she will shoot you a stern look and possibly wag a finger if you mess up any of the following:
- Don’t microwave it. This heats the milk unevenly and creates hot spots. She says the best way is to put the bottle in a bowl of warm water and test the milk temperature on the back of your wrist.
- Check the flow. Prop your baby at an angle and make sure they’re not getting too little or too much. The former results in air bubbles. The latter results in an unwanted milk mustache. And choking.
- Take burp breaks. Stop for a burp halfway, then continue to the end, then burp again. According to the doctors, bottle-fed babies tend to eat faster and swallow more air, which contributes to gas, crying, and frustration. Surely your wife can relate.
- Make them work for it. If your baby is also breastfeeding, don’t put the bottle into their mouth immediately when switching. Rub the bottle nipple on their nose or above their mouth to mimic the effort required in breastfeeding. Smile proudly when they finally get it. Standing ovation optional.
- Don’t force them to finish. Instead, watch for your baby’s cues and let them be done if they seem done. This isn’t Baby Vs. Food.
The Part About Poop!
You may have heard that formula poops are darker and stinkier (maybe from other parents, or maybe just around the watercooler). That’s true, but wouldn’t you rather hear it from a gastroenterologist in graphic detail? Dr. Bultron notes that breastmilk poops will be a greenish mustard yellow, slightly runny, and occur multiple times a day. Formula poops tend to be yellow-brown with a thicker, almost peanut butter-like consistency. “It’s all normal. Poop is poop.”
Of course, breastfeeding will always be considered the gold standard, but formula is a great alternative — and not just because it’s the only one. In some cases, the greatest benefit of formula is the relief and rest it offers the mother and the opportunity it affords other family members (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) to get involved and enjoy quality time during the feeding process. As the good doctor says, “It’s not that it’s better, but it might just be best for you.”