10 Scientific Facts About Formula Feeding​

Judy Dutton | Dec 5, 2014 Baby
10 Scientific Facts About Formula Feeding​

baby drinking formula

If you feed your baby formula, you've no doubt wondered: Is this really the best choice for my baby? Well, it turns out a lot of scientists have asked themselves that same question, and the results of their research may surprise you. Formula not only plays a role in how fast they grow, but how much they cry, how long they sleep, and far more -- read on for more "who knew?" scientific facts to help you choose between breast and bottle.

Do you think #10 is true for all babies?


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  • Formula-fed Babies Are Happier


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    Here's a huge perk you can mention to make those "breast is best" zealots jealous: by examining the temperaments of more than 300 3-month-old babies, researchers at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge found that formula-fed babies cried less, smiled and laughed more, and were easier to soothe than their breastfed counterparts.

    The supposed reason? For babies, breastfeeding is hard work, and some may not always feel up to the task and will fuss. Formula feeders have an easier time filling their bellies, so no wonder they're more content!

  • Formula Doesn't Actually Help Babies Sleep (Sorry, Mom)


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    Have you heard that formula feeding -- perhaps with a bit of rice cereal in the bottle -- fills baby's stomachs for longer stretches, leading them to sleep longer too? While it's true that formula does take longer to digest and thus stays in a baby's stomach longer, sadly this doesn't translate into more shuteye for the mom. A study by West Virginia University published in Pediatrics found that whether moms fed their babies breast milk, formula, or a combo, all got the same amount of sleep and felt equally pooped.

  • Formula-fed Babies Grow Faster


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    Want a big, strapping baby? Then formula's your ticket, according to a study by UC Davis in the Journal of Proteome Research. By comparing the sizes of five formula-fed baby rhesus monkeys with five breastfed monkeys, researchers found that the former grew faster and larger than the latter.

    One possible reason is that formula contains more protein than breast milk: human milk is 8 percent protein, rhesus monkey milk is 11.6 percent. Formula trumps both at 18 percent.

  • Formula-fed Babies Are at Risk for Obesity


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    This study goes hand-in-hand with the last. While formula is great for helping babies put on the pounds, this tendency can go overboard.

    One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that formula-fed babies are at higher risk for obesity later in life. Researchers surmise it's because bottles are easier to gulp from than breasts, leading to overeating and a larger appetite they carry into adulthood.

    More from The Stir: How to Choose & Use Baby Formula Safely

  • Formula-fed Babies Get Sick More


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    One thing that formula doesn't have that breast milk does? Antibodies from the mom, which can help fight off infections. This may explain why one study found that 86 percent of breastfed babies make it to age 1 without getting sick, while only 14 percent of formula-fed babies can make that same claim.

  • A Little Formula Helps Moms Breastfeed Longer


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    Many moms have heard that if they want to breastfeed, they shouldn't use formula at all, since that means babies nurse less, which decreases mom's milk production. Yet researchers at UC San Francisco have found evidence to the contrary: in their study, they looked at newborns -- some of whom had supplemental formula during their first few days, and others who were strictly breastfed. Surprisingly, 79 percent of babies who'd had formula early on were being breastfed exclusively by the age of 3 months, while just 42 percent of babies who'd never had formula could boast the same.

    Researchers theorize that trying to stick exclusively with the breast can be so stressful, moms are more likely to call it quits, while moms who supplement with formula early on alleviate their stress over whether baby's eating enough -- and therefore have the fortitude to stick with breastfeeding longer as a result. 

  • Formula-fed Babies Have Stronger Bones


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    Here's one thing breast milk's missing that formula has in spades: vitamin D. Since many moms are deficient in this nutrient, their breast milk is also lacking, which means their babies fall short, too. One study found that formula-fed babies had higher bone mineralization (translation: stronger bones) than breastfed infants, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed babies get vitamin D supplements to make up the difference (ideally getting 400 IU per day in the first two months of life). Formula fed babies, on the other hand, aren't in such bad shape: as long as they drink 1 liter of infant formula per day, they're fine.

    More from The Stir: The Pros & Cons of Toddler Formula

  • It's Okay to Switch Brands


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    If your baby starts out on a certain brand-name formula, don't feel bad if you start eyeing the cheapo store-brand alternatives. One study by the University of Virginia found that switching is fine -- babies did not experience any uptick in spit-up, burping, gas, crying, or irritability as a result.

  • Soy Formula Is Safe


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    While cow's milk-based formula is still the norm, about 12 percent of babies drink soy infant formula. Only one ingredient in there that has moms worried is phytoestrogen -- a plant-based estrogen dopplegänger that may bring on early puberty. Yet according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed over 900 adults -- some of whom were fed soy formula as babies -- and found no long-term positive or negative effects. Vegan babies rejoice! 

  • Formula and Breast Milk May Not Be As Different As We Think


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    For all we hear about breast being best, one study at Ohio State University suggests that the differences between breast milk and formula may be overblown. To determine this, researchers compared data on 1,773 pairs of siblings aged 4 to 14 -- one of whom was breastfed, the other given formula -- on 11 measures of health and intellect, from their vocabulary to their rates of asthma and hyperactivity. The researchers found no statistically significant differences between the two sets of babies on 10 of those 11 measures.

    More from The Stir: 'Fearless Formula Feeder' Wants Moms to Know It's Okay Not to Breastfeed


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