According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 40 per cent of infants who are 0-6 months old are exclusively breastfed. The rest are given either homemade complementary foods or infant formula.
Formula food is a choice that many new mothers make for various reasons. Some mothers may not produce adequate breast milk for their little one or may not be able to breastfeed because of an illness. Sometimes, babies may be allergic to breast milk protein; so they may have to depend on formula food for their nourishment.
While it is understandable that mothers who do not produce adequate breast milk are left with no choice but to opt for formula food, it is important to note that many mothers in the modern era are going for formula food as a personal choice. They often do so without any specific reason, mainly in order to make their lives convenient, although they produce enough breast milk. We urge all those mothers to breastfeed their child as there is nothing like mother's milk.
Also read: 10 Breastfeeding Tips for New Mothers
Mothers, it is always better to make a well-informed decision, especially when it is related to your precious little bundle of joy. If you've decided to feed your infant formula, here are some important facts you need to know.
10 worrying facts about formula food
- Formula feed should never be used as a substitute for breast milk. They do not contain the nutrients that breast milk has nor do they give similar benefits. Also, they lack the antibodies that help the baby fight diseases easily. So, formula-fed babies are more vulnerable to diseases.
- Formula-fed babies may suffer from gas and constipation. Most formula are made of cow milk protein, especially casein (which accounts for a majority of the protein in milk), which takes longer to digest and may also be heavy for some infants.
- Formula milk contains a high percentage of artificial sugar, which is not only unhealthy but can damage the milk teeth, if proper oral hygiene is not maintained.
- Babies who are fed formula are at high risk of obesity. According to a study titled, 'Infant feeding and obesity risk in the child', published in the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) site, breastfeeding is associated with a modest reduction in the risk of obesity for children. This is because formula is usually fed through a bottle, which is easier for babies to gulp; on the other hand, drinking from the breast takes some effort. This can lead to overeating and an infant may develop a large appetite, which can carry into adulthood.
- Many formula foods contain high fructose corn syrup, which may increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes in children and adults.
- Most formula companies add DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is a polyunsaturated fatty acid and ARA (arachidonic acid), which is an essential fatty acid, to some formulas. These are extracted from fungi and algae. According to a report, 'Replacing Mother – Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory', published by the Cornucopia Institute, DHA and ARA can cause flatulence, jaundice and apnoea in babies, and even lead to sudden death.
- Formula-fed babies may be at risk of ear infection as compared to babies who have been breastfed. Research from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio, United States has revealed that bottles can create a negative pressure during feeding, which can cause ear infection.
- Formula is prepared by adding water. Drinking water usually contains high amounts of chlorine and fluoride, which can pose a risk to the baby's health. It's worse if the water used is contaminated.
- Babies who are formula-fed can be at risk of gastroenteritis and diarrhoea. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, breastfed babies are four times less likely to develop diarrhoea associated with gastroenteritis than formula-fed babies.
- Unlike breast milk, formula does not contain enzymes like lipase, which help in the digestion of fat. Lipase also helps in the absorption of lactoferrin, which is a protein that helps bind iron and protects against infection.
Today, mothers must make a choice whether to breastfeed or formula-feed their baby. It can be a difficult decision. There are many mothers, who avoid formula feed while there are others who may opt for a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding. It is always advisable to talk to your paediatrician or a lactation consultant before going for formula feeding. This will ensure you choose the best for the health of your baby.
The author is a nutritionist and founder at Nutrify.
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