I don’t know anyone that would argue that breast feeding hasn’t been proven the healthiest feeding option for infants, but I was surprised when someone suggested that formula feeding actually had health risks. Even being a mother who breastfeeds, I found this implication rude as many mothers are left without the option to breastfeed for one reason or another. It didn’t seem right to me that advocates of breastfeeding are guilting those that bottle feed into feeling they are sub-par mothers. In reaction, I set out, much like in my recent article on the health risks of diapers to find unbiased, fact supported details on the subject. A full list of any studies, verifiable sources, or other information used in this article can be found in source.
This article will not include the benefits of breastfeeding. The logic that breast feeding has a certain benefit, for example, that breast feeding increases a child’s IQ, and formula feeding does not, does not equate to formula feeding lowering IQ. It simply does not offer that benefit. You will find many unsupported websites online that use such logic. Only actual health risk claims against untainted formula feeding will be covered. Note, that the water used to mix formula can pose health risks, and its always important to be sure the seal on your formula is not broken when purchased.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding increases the risk of type 1 diabetes.
There have been a wealth of studies done on this subject some of which show an increased chance of diabetes in milk-based formula fed babies and babies that were introduced to cow’s milk at an early age. Others found no relation or even found that milk-based formula not only didn’t increase the risk of diabetes, but reduced it at a later age. Some studies also found only children pre-disposed to diabetes or becoming pre-diabetic already were affected. Based on current studies and facts as of March, 2018 I must then leave this health claim in inconclusive or unknown status.
Studies that did find an increased chance for type 1 diabetes in formula fed infants suggest the reason behind the increase is that cow’s milk contains bovine insulin, which can cause an immunity to insulin in turn causing diabetes. This could be avoided by using non-cow’s milk based formulas.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding increases the rate of ear and respiratory infections.
This formula health risk claim is one of the many that have been misinterpreted. Studies have shown that breast feeding significantly reduces the occurrence of ear and respiratory infections, however no studies have shown formula actually causes either. Its suggested breast milk reduces the risk due to its immune-boasting properties. Positioning of the baby while bottle feeding may increase the risk of ear infections. You should never prop a baby with a formula bottle for this reason. As a result of this information, this health claim is found to be false.
Formula health risk: Formula feeding causes cancer.
This health claim is counted among the “breast feeding reduces the risk so formula must increase it” logic claims. It is included here simply because this claim is so often made. There are no studies that support formula increases the risk of cancer. This health claim is found to be false.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding increases the risk of SIDS. (Sudden infant death syndrome.)
Studies done on this subject are conflicting, but suggest that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. However, they have also found that bottle or formula feeding itself does not increase the risk of SIDS. Rather parents that formula feed are more likely to present other SIDS risks such as smoking and allowing tummy sleeping than breast feeding mothers. Many formula-fed infants also have pre-existing health issues which may have even been the reason for being formula fed in the first place. When all other factors are considered subtracted this health claim is found to be false.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding negatively affects social development.
This health risk is based on the assumption that formula fed babies have less skin-to-skin contact, interaction, and bonding time with their parents than breast fed babies. While all of the above have been proven to improve social skills and overall psychological health, this claim is based on a usually false assumption. No studies have been done to support this claim. As long as a formula fed baby is held while being fed this health claim is found to be false.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding increases the risk of gastrointestinal disease and upset.
Studies have shown that breast feeding decreases the occurrence of gastrointestinal disease and upset including diarrhea, constipation, and even diaper rash. Formula is more prone to cause allergic reactions which can cause digestional upset. This chance is also present, though lower, in breast feeding infants due to the mother’s diet. Choosing the proper formula for your infant can reduce this risk. This health claim is found to be true but avoidable.
Formula health risk claim: Formula feeding causes obesity later in life.
Studies have found that formula fed babies are at a higher risk for obesity later in life. It’s suggested this may be simply a result of over feeding on the parents part as bottle fed babies have less control over the feeding. Other studies suggest the way the body develops to use energy from breast feeding differs than that of formula fed babies causing the increased chance of obesity. It’s recommended any bottle-feeding parents learn the cues of hunger and satisfaction (fullness) that infants exhibit. This health claim is found to be true, but dependent on other variables as well.
Citation and study links:
Overall Summary of studies done on type 1 diabetes and formula fed infants or cow’s milk
Study: Early exposure to cow’s milk not a risk for diabetes but may reduce risk at later date
Study: Early exposure to cow’s milk is a risk factor for diabetes
Study list: Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear and respiratory infections
Google book result on breast and formula feeding and ear infections: Pediatric Otolaryngology: Volume 2 By Charles D. Bluestone, Sylvan E. Stool, Cuneyt M. Alper, Ellis M. Arjmand, Margaretha L. Casselbrant, Joseph E. Dohar, Robert F. Yellon pg. 495-496
Study: Formula feeding does not increase the risk of SIDS
Benefits of skin to skin contact for infants
Google book result: Breast feeding reduces rate of gastrointestinal disease and upset
Pediatric gastrointestinal disease Volume 1: pg 876
AAF on choosing the right formula for your baby:
Studies: Formula feeding and obesity
Suggestions of the reason behind the obesity-formula link