It's a debate that has been waged since the introduction of manufactured milk for babies. Are our little ones better off being given a concentrated formula of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, or the more natural product of our own bodies? Of course, the answer varies, and the truth very much depends on what you put inside yourself - a healthy, well-balanced diet should provide all the goodness a newborn needs. Nevertheless, this is a deeply personal choice that has many factors, all of which must be taken into account in order to make an informed decision. First then, let's start with the obvious disadvantages of breast feeding. Blood-borne viruses, and certain medications such as anticonvulsants, can be passed on through breast milk, putting your baby at risk even if you eat well and avoid non-prescribed toxins. In rare cases (around 2%, according to NHS figures), it's also possible for a mother to be unable to produce enough milk to feed her baby effectively, another factor that can result in the decision to bottle feed. With so many stories in the newspapers, there's no denying that some women feel a certain stigma when it comes to breast feeding, and other lifestyle factors such as employment can also play a part in making it more difficult to breast feed.
Despite the awkwardness or embarrassment that can be (unfairly) felt, though, it's worth noting that doctors recommend breast milk as the ideal way to keep babies full of everything they require to grow into healthy, strong toddlers. In contrast, it has to be said that there are far more disadvantages when it comes to bottle feeding. These range from health concerns such as the potential for weaker immune systems and greater risk of childhood obesity, to more practical aspects such as the sterilisation of equipment and the danger of milk being served too strong, too weak or too hot. However this isn't to say that, as a necessary replacement, formula doesn't serve a real purpose and help many parents ensure their little ones receive the best possible start in life. The uses for bought milk go well beyond those who either choose or are forced to use it on their brand-new arrivals. Although there's no recommended maximum length of time a baby should be breastfed, many medical professionals recommend breastfeeding, where possible, as the exclusive source of nutrition for a child during their first six months, before other options are phased in, whether that's solids or supplementary milk, and it's also vital to remember that, as with anything biological, there are many variables, so consulting your GP or midwife is essential before making any decision.