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The Debate: Is Breast-Feeding For Babies Always Better Than Formula Milk?

New mothers receive a lot of conflicting information regarding their feeding choices – and a lot of guilt no matter what they do. Formula or breast milk: Which is best?


For women who do prefer to breastfeed, there is no doubt that adequate support and accurate information from medical professionals is vital.

Most of the women The Finder spoke to had no issues with breastfeeding in public in Singapore – covered or uncovered.

However, several mothers did have difficulty maintaining a nursing relationship after returning to work. (Worth noting: There is no legislation in Singapore that requires companies to accommodate nursing mothers.)

“Before I went on maternity leave, I asked about a room to pump in and was told they would ‘sort it out later’,” says Laura, an American expat and technical writer by profession. “I asked the moms at work what they did – all Singaporeans – and the answers I got ranged from pumping in the toilet to quitting breastfeeding entirely, because they had to pre-book the conference room to pump.”

Once she returned to work, Laura says she had an upsetting run-in with colleagues, and went home in tears to feed her daughter. Then, she spent the next six hours crafting emails and sending them to her company’s top management. “The next day, I was given access to an empty room with a chair and no windows – and an apology.”

Laura has since gone full-time freelance as a science journalist, and plans to allow her 10-month-old daughter to self-wean when ready. (Check out this video for helpful ways to make your employer or work environment more breastfeeding-friendly.)

There are also a number of helpful resources for nursing women in Singapore, including the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy Singapore, the Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group and Facebook groups like Breastfeeding Mums and Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (Singapore).

Whether officially or informally, these groups organise meet-ups and share online videos, FAQs and other tips. The BMSG volunteers even run a helpline (6339 3558).

In addition, many hospitals provide free lactation consultations for patients – even after you’ve gone home. Plus, Mother & Child offers breastfeeding specialists, weekly social events and other support services for nursing mums.

Looking for breast pumps, nursing pillows, and other breastfeeding essentials? Try Motherswork, a one-stop shop for mums and babies (maybe even pick up some cute outfits for Junior while you’re there!).


Nadia*, a graphic designer from Bangladesh, had an incredibly traumatic birth experience and her milk supply decreased precipitously 10 days afterwards.

“Months later, I met a lactation consultant who told me I could try to teach my daughter how to latch again.” Her daughter didn’t latch, but Nadia began pumping around the clock and was soon able to produce several ounces of breast milk a day.

“She was largely formula-fed, but I had enough breast milk for one feeding a day. I did this until she was eight-months-old, and switched to formula entirely.”

Nadia now laments that she persevered with pumping because of the perceived benefits of breast milk.

“I found it all very challenging,” she says. American Danie Gitthens, who has a 7-month-old, also struggled with breastfeeding. “After my daughter was born, the hospital nurse latched her incorrectly, bruising one of my nipples,” says Danie. “With the help of my husband, we were able to latch her to my other breast so she could feed, but she wasn’t latching properly.”

Later, Danie discovered that her daughter had a tonguetie and a tight jaw and wasn’t gaining weight.

Ultimately, she and her husband decided to formula feed their little girl.

“I still had terrible mom guilt about not being able to breastfeed her,” says Danie. “There is this attitude that not only should every woman be able to breastfeed successfully and easily, but that, if you can’t, then you are doing something wrong and are a bad parent. I think what really helped me get through it was having a network of other moms who were super supportive.”

There can even be a danger to trying too hard to breastfeed exclusively. As one woman, who identifies herself as an “emergency room physician” on the blog Fed is Best, wrote: “…My child fell victim to newborn jaundice due to insufficient milk intake from delayed milk production in the first days of life. As an expectant mom, I read all the guidelines on breastfeeding my first-born child. Unfortunately, following the guidelines and our pediatrician’s advice resulted in my child going 4 days with absolutely no milk intake requiring ICU care.”

If you’re simply looking to supplement with formula (or expressed milk) during the early days of breastfeeding, consider pump company Medela’s SoftFeeder. It’s made of soft silicone and has a reservoir cup that can hold from 1 to 80 ml. of formula or breast milk – “so the slightest feeding effort is rewarded,” as explained on the site.

Alternatively, try Medela’s SpecialNeeds Feeder, for infants who are unable to suckle because of a neurological condition, cleft palette or other medical reason. (Note: While these two Medela products aren’t currently sold in Singapore, Amazon does sell them online.)

*not subject’s real name

Why both are best

Sure, it’s true that a number of health sources – including the World Health Organization (WHO) – recommend breastfeeding, as it has been shown to improve infant and child health and helps with cognitive development. And while breastfeeding may decrease your infant’s chance of diarrhoea and eczema, it is not, as they say, “liquid gold” – a magical elixir that will give your child perfect health and superior intelligence.

Breastfeeding may just not be possible for all women. For many, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle and specific medical situations. For mothers who are unable to breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Plus, the de facto “choice” for many working mums, who can’t or don’t want to express milk on the job, is to opt for both options.

By Pooja Makhijani, The Finder, September 2016

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