I declare, by the power vested in me by absolutely nobody, that breastfeeding has officially been normalized. Hooray!
A big thanks to all the #lactivitists out there, especially the celebrities out there who took #brelfies to help us reach this goal.
(Also, I believe that the best way to make something seem normal is for everyone to just act like it is normal, without making a big deal of it. If it worked for me when I accidentally came to school in my slippers in 7th grade, why can’t it work for breastfeeding, too?)
What Does It Take To Be Considered Normal?
Humans have only been nourishing their growing infants with breastmilk for hundreds of thousands of years, though. The entire existence of all mammalian species depends on, and is a result of, breastfeeding.
Formula, on the other hand, began to grow in popularity around 60 or so years ago. And as the prevalence of formula feeding grew in the United States, we have decreased our healthcare spending, reduced obesity, reduced rates of learning disabilities and Autism, reduced rates of cancer and other chronic diseases, and our country’s overall mental health has dramatically improved.
What Does the Research Actually Say?
Fortunately, as a country we’ve invested a lot of time and money studying the effects of breastfeeding. Because, you know, sustaining our species throughout the history of time wasn’t enough evidence by itself. Most of us are aware of the results of these studies.
In researching this article, however, I could find shockingly little in the way of scientific studies that looked at the effects of formula.
Luckily there are only these two options when it comes to feeding your new baby, and it was easy enough for me to use the research on breastfeeding to deduce the effects of feeding infants formula.
Here’s a brief summary research done on the effects of infant feeding. Remember, I’m assuming that breastfeeding is now #normalized and formula feeding is an alternative option you might want to consider:
- The earlier infant formula is introduced, the lower the child’s I.Q. in early adulthood (source).
- Formula feeding leads to decreased cognitive ability and educational achievement into adulthood (source).
- Formula feeding leads to more inner ear infections (source).
- Formula fed babies have a significantly higher risk of respiratory illness throughout childhood (source).
- Formula fed babies have a higher incidence of SIDS (source).
- Formula feeding leads to obesity (source).
- Formula feeding may contribute to certain forms of childhood leukemia (source).
- Formula feeding increases the likelihood that mothers will abuse their children (source).
- Formula fed babies are more likely to be abandoned (source).
- Formula feeding increases risk of sleep apnea (source).
- Formula fed babies have an increased risk of diabetes (source).
- Formula feeding leads to an increased risk of cancer for the mother (source).
When the results of these studies are worded with the assumption that breastfeeding is already the normal choice, they look a lot different, don’t they? It’s a lot easier to hear “breast is best,” and think, “eh, that means formula is good enough.”
What the research on infant feeding really shows us is that nature, or God, or Chuck Norris, or whoever you believe designed the universe, did so perfectly. Infant’s dependence on breastmilk was not an accident, nor is choosing to breastfeed some sort of life extra credit (hey! here’s an optional assignment that will earn you and your baby extra life points). When infant formula is substituted for breastmilk, it leads to some pretty serious negative health effects.
What About Mothers Who Can’t Breastfeed?
There is more support now for breastfeeding mothers than perhaps there has ever been, with La Leche League meetings in almost every city and lactation consultants in most hospitals. You can find the answer to almost every breastfeeding question on the internet (kellymom is a great resource). Breast pumps are even fully covered by insurance!
Even so, despite all the support and advice and trying, some mothers and babies are just not able to make breastfeeding work. My heart aches for those mothers, as breastfeeding has been such a hugely positive piece of my motherhood journey. Thankfully in these situations there are breast milk banks and, if all else fails, infant formula that these mothers can fall back on.
My goal here is not to offend, but to offer a different viewpoint on the issue of infant feeding that is not often provided. If our goal is to truly normalize breastfeeding, let’s just stop talking about it. Breastmilk is just how babies are fed.
Now, if scientific data isn’t your thing, let’s see how infant feeding affects the time and money you’ll spend during your baby’s first year.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure statement here.
Breastfeeding is the clear winner in the money category. If, like me, you’re going to be able to stay at home with your baby for the duration and breastfeed on demand, then you don’t need to buy anything. You already have everything you need: your baby and your breasts. Of course, there are many things you can choose to buy to make breastfeeding easier or more comfortable. I loved having nursing bras, nursing pads, and nipple cream, especially in the beginning. Although you could get away with spending nothing to breastfeed, if you want a good bra and some nipple cream, you’ll spend around $45 in your baby’s first year.
If you plan to go back to work while you’re still breastfeeding, then your investment will be a little higher. Breast pumps are now covered by your health insurance, but you’ll have to invest in some bottles and some milk storage bags to save your milk in. If you’re money-conscious, you’ll certainly be able to spend under $200 on breastfeeding supplies throughout the first year of your child’s life.
Contrast that with formula. A package of Similac containing a one-month supply costs $106.26 on Amazon. That is over $1,200 in your baby’s first year. If you’re a sale-watcher and coupon-clipper you may spend less than this amount, though if your baby has a dairy intolerance you’ll be spending much more. We’ll use $1,200 as a middle-of-the-road estimate. But that’s just for the formula. You’ll still have to purchase bottles and other accessories.
Cost Savings: Over $1,000
As usual, time is a little tougher than money to quantify. No matter how you break it down, you’re going to spend a lot of time feeding your child in their first year of life. Many advocates of baby schedules suggest babies eat around every 3 hours and feed for 20-30 minutes at a time, so we’ll let these numbers be our guide. When you do the math, it works out to be around 1,100 hours of baby feeding during their first year of life.
This 1,100 hours spent feeding your baby is pleasurable for both you and your child. This is quality bonding time, a time for you and your baby to relax and enjoy each other’s company. We shouldn’t try to rush through baby feeding to get on to the next thing. It’s the other aspects of feeding that become drudgery: mixing formula, warming bottles, pumping, cleaning pump parts. These chores are what we’re looking to minimize.
If you’re able to stay home with your baby full-time throughout the first year of life, you will not have to spend any time doing the chores that go along with infant feeding. Seeking out breastfeeding support can sometimes feel like a chore, though. You may need to consult with a lactation consultant or attend a La Leche League meeting. If this is the case, you’ll probably spend less than 5 hours on baby feeding “chores” in your first year as a mom.
If you have to return to work full-time, however, you’re looking at spending around an hour a day pumping and cleaning your pump. A mom who works five days a week, 50 weeks out of the year will spend roughly 250 hours throughout baby’s first year on feeding chores.
Lastly, if you choose to feed formula, you’ll only spend around 5 minutes per feeding preparing and warming bottles of formula (though when you have a screaming, hungry baby it will seem like a lot longer). For a baby who eats every every 3 hours, that is 8 feedings a day, or around 40 minutes a day. I rounded up to 45 minutes/day to account for cleaning the bottles. You’ll have to do this every day, not just on days you work, throughout your baby’s first year. You will spend around 275 hours on feeding chores in your baby’s first year.
Time Savings: 270 hours
The Convenience Factor
The other component to consider here is not just the time commitment, but the convenience of breastfeeding. As long as mothers and babies travel together, you’ll have everything you need to feed.
Breastfeeding on the go is simple. Once I mastered the art of nursing while babywearing, I could breastfeed anywhere. I’ve breastfed at restaurants while eating with family, while wandering the aisles in Target, at baseball games, and on hikes. I always got to eat a hot meal as a new mom, because I nursed Baby Bear while I ate. No one ever knew what I was doing unless I told them.
If you choose to cloth diaper, breastfeeding makes it easier during the first six months. You can throw all soiled diapers in the wash without spraying as long as your baby is exclusively breastfed.
And, finally, it is because of breastfeeding that I can happily say that I did not lose any sleep in the middle of the night after my daughter was 6 weeks old. Breastfeeding is one of the requirements for safe cosleeping, and once I mastered nursing in the side-lying position at around six weeks postpartum I’ve been able to feed Baby Bear in my sleep. That’s right – I’ve never had to wake up and go in another room or warm up a bottle to feed my daughter. Just a quick turn to my side and we’re both right back to sleep.
There are so many things about breastfeeding that make our lives as mothers easier. It is one of the few things in life where there are almost only positive effects: saving time, saving money, better health and intelligence outcomes, less stress. The only negative side effects of breastfeeding I see come from dealing with the United States’ lack of quality maternal leave legislation. Oh, and putting up with the opinions of vocal naysayers.
But, since breastfeeding is now normal, I don’t think they’ll stick around for too long.