Breast is best
There is little doubt breast milk is the healthiest choice for babies.
Reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Surgeon General, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and many others all point to widespread benefits for baby, mother and society at large.
People who were exclusively breast-fed as infants are less likely to experience a host of ailments than their formula-fed counterparts, including ear infections, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity, allergies, diabetes and asthma.
Mothers who breast-feed for more than 12 months are at decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and more.
There are economic effects, too. Mothers who favor breast-feeding over formula can save up to $1,500 a year, according to a report from the surgeon general. The United States could save $13 billion a year in health care costs if 90 percent of mothers breast-fed their babies exclusively for six months, according to a 2010 article in Pediatrics. The same practice would save more than 900 lives a year, mostly infants.
Pinette said there are several reasons why some mothers choose formula over breast milk.
Babies born prematurely may lack the ability to suckle, or they may be separated from their mothers during extended medical care. Older babies are generally extra hungry during growth spurts and can make mothers feel "like they don't get a moment's break," Pinette said.
Sleep is also a factor. Breast-feeding babies nurse every two to three hours, while formula-fed babies eat less often -- every four or five hours -- which can lead to longer periods of uninterrupted sleep.
Returning to work after maternity leave causes many mothers to switch to formula. Breast-feeding also can be embarrassing for some, Pinette said.
The early days of breastfeeding can be especially difficult. Latching can be painful for the mother. There's a possibility of infections, blisters and bites. Also, milk production doesn't begin in earnest for about five days after delivery, so dehydration and weight loss are common in newborns. Babies also may cry a lot during this period, which can drive some mothers to try formula, Pinette said.
"Breast-feeding takes tremendous emotional maturity and commitment by the mom," Pinette said. "If you get past the first six to eight weeks, most moms are really successful."