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Risks of Feeding Breast Milk Substitutes

How to nourish your baby is one of the most important choices you will make as a new mother. Guidance provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics is a good place to start: The academy recommends breastfeeding. If your circumstances require that you consider breast milk substitutes, however, carefully weigh the risks associated with that option.

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Greater Risks of Infection

During the first year of life, a baby who is formula-fed is at greater risk of death resulting from an infection. Breast milk substitutes don’t provide the protective antibodies present in breast milk that boost your baby’s immune system. Substitutes, such as formula, can’t arm your baby’s immune system to wage a war against common respiratory and intestinal infections because they don’t contain plasma cells.

Risk of Chronic Diseases

Feeding breast milk substitutes places a baby at an increased risk for developing childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Substitutes don’t contain adipokines, which may minimize the risk for obesity, or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may protect against insulin resistance and high blood pressure in later life.

Risk of Bacterial Contamination

Powdered breast milk substitutes can be a source of bacteria. Cronobacter bacteria, for example, can enter powdered formula in the factory or after the container is opened. "Cronobacter illness is very rare, but it is often deadly in young infants," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains. "It usually occurs in the first days or weeks of life." The bacteria can survive in dry foods and can cause sepsis and meningitis. Young infants, those born prematurely and those with compromised immune systems are the most vulnerable to this bacteria.

Increased Risk of Otitis Media

It’s not uncommon for infants to experience a painful middle ear infection, also known as otitis media, with 44 percent of infants having at least one diagnosis of the infection before they are 1 year old. Infants fed breast milk substitutes face a doubled risk for otitis media compared to those are fed breast milk exclusively for more than 3 months. Breast milk substitutes can’t provide protection against respiratory pathogens through breast milk’s oligosaccharides and antibodies.

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Tummy Trauma

Infants fed breast milk substitutes are more likely to experience gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea. Unlike the proteins in a your breast milk, the proteins found in substitutes are more difficult for an infant’s digestive system to process.

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