In this episode of Parentalogic, hosts Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft dive into the wonderful and mysterious world of the human body’s best-catered food: Breastmilk. It’s got fats, proteins, carbohydrates, water- and fat-soluble vitamins, and antibodies to help your baby fight off infections. It helps promote good gut bacteria growth and prevent bad bacteria growth, and it tastes delicious (to your baby, at least). And almost magically, every mom’s body produces a different recipe of breastmilk specially for every baby.
The benefits of breastmilk may even be two-way: Countless studies have investigated the benefits that breastfeeding might confer to moms, such as potentially decreasing the risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes. But for moms who choose not or aren’t able to breastfeed, a question lingers. How does a bottle of formula stack up to the original?
To answer this, Bethany and Alok explore the nutrition of formula milk. They explain how formula milk is designed to help your baby grow—just in a slightly different way than breastmilk—and touch on the guilty feelings that some moms might feel using formula. If you’re a new parent or guardian who’s gotten deluged with headlines about the so-called right and wrong ways to feed your children, worry no longer: The bottom line, Bethany and Alok say, is that both breastmilk and formula are great options. What matters most is you’re comfortable and your child is getting fed.
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The Science of Breastmilk and Formula
Published: September 1, 2020
Bethany: It was time to pump. I try to do it discreetly. But the sound…
<Bethany making sounds.>
Bethany: I have something I want to talk about.
Alok: Kinda like a DJ.
Bethany: I have something I want to talk about. I have breasts. That's not it. And no, they make milk. I breastfed my baby. Awesome. And I make the milk, but I don't know what's in the milk. You must know. You must know what's in the milk.
Alok: You can probably guess what's in milk.
Bethany: Oh, how about fat?
Bethany: Um… riboflavin? The flavin!
Alok: Did you just make that up?
Alok: Actually… I actually think riboflavin is vitamin B2… I actually think it might be in breast milk.
Bethany: Ding, ding, ding!
Alok: You’re most of the way there, right? Breast milk has fats in it, has protein in it. The right ratio to really help with baby digestion, also has carbohydrates in it. Has some fat- and water-soluble vitamins for your growing baby. Has antibodies, which are really cool because it helps your baby fight off infections, especially in that early period when baby immune systems aren't fully developed. And there's also some other really cool features in breast milk to really promote good brain and eye development, to help promote the right type of gut bacteria growth, prevent other bacteria from growing. And this is why we say, you know, breast milk is a catered food because every mom makes a specific composition for her baby and it changes over time.
Breastmilk is dynamic, meaning its nutrient composition varies between people and even changes within the same person, between feeds, from day to day, and month to month.
Bethany: All right. Here's a test now. And you better get this right. Our friendship is on the line. I'm a mom and I am not able to produce breast milk or I choose not to breastfeed. Is formula a good option?
Bethany: Of course it is!
Alok: Friendship still on?
Alok: The most important thing is that you're feeding your baby. And your baby's getting nutrition.
Bethany: So, what’s in.. what’s in formula?
Alok: Formula manufacturers are essentially trying to replicate breast milk.
Alok: Now, they're not going to be able to cater it specifically for every baby. It's not going to be dynamic. And there may not be antibodies in it, but there are so many different types of formulas. Some of them have specifically broken-down proteins - easier for digestion.
Alok: Some that are not cow’s milk based.
Bethany: That sounds like a catering company. You can have impossible milk…you can have...
Alok: Beyond milk.
Bethany: Beyond milk. You can have barrel-aged formula.
Alok: So when I work in a newborn nursery, I talk to 15-20 new parents each day.
Bethany: I thought you were gonna say newborns. But you say it in baby…
Alok & Bethany: <Baby noises.>
Alok: They just sit there and go erhhh. But, I talk to moms! And some of them will tell me their specific reasons for not either wanting to or being able to breastfeed. And they almost feel bad for looking at formula.
Bethany: Oh, they feel bad.
Alok: They feel bad.
Bethany: They don’t almost feel bad… moms feel really bad about it.
Alok: Here’s the thing… we dive into what we know about the benefits of breastfeeding, right. I mean we’ve looked at studies. We know children who breastfeed have a lower chance of getting things like ear infections and meningitis. And it promotes healthy brain development. It helps promote healthy eye development. And all of these things for your growing child. And it’s easy to digest.
There are also studies that show that breastfeeding may confer some benefits to moms as well. Lower chance of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes. It helps with uterine contraction. However, it doesn’t mean that formula fed kids cannot grow up to live a healthy, successful life. And I think there’s a little bit of a stereotype there.
Bethany: There’s a lot of a stereotype there. It’s stressful. You’re looking for answers. And there are all these insane headlines. I mean, how do you interpret all of the information that you find on the Internet?
Alok: If you look at some of those studies, and I’m only saying this because people are going to google this topic.
Alok: People are going to look this up. Bottom line is – there’s some evidence that breastmilk can have health benefits for your baby, so if you CAN breastfeed your baby – even some of the time – that’s great. Doctors recommend that you do. But if you need to supplement breastfeeding with formula – OR – for whatever reason, you cannot breastfeed – that’s okay. Formula-fed babies can also be healthy babies. You have to look at what you’re able to do, what you’re comfortable doing, your situation, your child.
You’ll see a lot of things out there that say like: “Experts recommend that every single mother exclusively breastfeeds her child for the first six months,” but we’re saying if you can’t exclusively breastfeed...
Bethany: It’s fine. Your baby is going to be fine.
Bethany: So what’s in formula is mostly the same things as in breastmilk, except not... the breast isn’t there. But who knows, I mean, any day now… What’s in formula?
Alok: Any day now like an artificial breast any day now??
Bethany: Yeah like they’ll be on the shelves like.. ok that’s a different.. Let’s do that for the outtakes.
Hosted by: Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Camera: Emily Zendt
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Production Assistance: Diego Arenas, Grace Berg, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez, Drew Powell, Madeline Weir
Science Editor: Robin Kazmier
Digital Editor: Sukee Bennett
Rights Manager: Hannah Gotwals
Business Manager: Elisabeth Frele
Managing Producer: Kristine Allington
Coordinating Producer: Elizabeth Benjes
Director of Audience Development: Dante Graves
Director of Public Relations: Jennifer Welsh
Legal and Business Affairs: Susan Rosen and Eric Brass
Director, Business Operations and Finance: Laurie Cahalane
Executive Producers: Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt
Lauren Keenan-Devlin, PhD, MPH
Kathleen M. Rasmussen, ScD
NoiseCollector / CC BY 3.0
Vilkas_Sound / CC BY 3.0
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2020