Baby breastfeeding vs formula feeding

Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding (for Parents)

Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed their baby is one of the biggest decisions expectant and new parents will make.

Healt experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants. But breastfeeding may 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 moms who can't breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a healthy alternative. Formula provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

Some mothers worry that if they don't breastfeed, they won't bond with their baby. But the truth is, loving mothers will always create a special bond with their children. And feeding — no matter how — is a great time to strengthen that bond.

The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal one. Weighing the pros and cons of each method can help you decide what is best for you and your baby.

All About Breastfeeding

Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal nourishment and a special bonding experience that many mothers cherish.

A number of health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions.

The AAP recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Beyond that, breastfeeding is encouraged until at least 12 months, and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.

Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding:

Fighting infections and other conditions. Breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants. During breastfeeding, antibodies and other germ-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthen the immune system. This helps lower a baby's chances of getting many infections, including:

  • ear infections
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory infections
  • meningitis

Breastfeeding also may protect babies against:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies.

Nutrition and ease of digestion. Often called the "perfect food" for a human baby's digestive system, breast milk's components — lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat — are easily digested by a newborn.

As a group, breastfed infants have less difficulty with digestion than do formula-fed infants. Breast milk tends to be more easily digested so that breastfed babies have fewer bouts of diarrhea or constipation.

Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires. One exception is vitamin D — the AAP recommends that all breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing until a baby consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (after 1 year of age).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates formula companies to ensure they provide all the necessary nutrients (including vitamin D) in their formulas. Still, commercial formulas can't completely match breast milk's exact composition. Why? Because milk is a living substance made by each mother for her individual infant, a process that can't be duplicated in a factory.

Free. Breast milk doesn't cost a cent, while the cost of formula quickly adds up. And unless you're pumping breast milk and giving it to your baby, there's no need for bottles, nipples, and other supplies that can be costly. Since breastfed babies are less likely to be sick, that may mean they make fewer trips to the doctor's office, so fewer co-pays and less money are paid for prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.

Different tastes. Nursing mothers usually need 300 to 500 extra calories per day, which should come from a wide variety of well-balanced foods. This introduces breastfed babies to different tastes through their mothers' breast milk, which has different flavors depending on what their mothers have eaten. By tasting the foods of their "culture," breastfed infants more easily accept solid foods.

Convenience. With no last-minute runs to the store for more formula, breast milk is always fresh and available whether you're home or out and about. And when women breastfeed, there's no need to wash bottles and nipples or warm up bottles in the middle of the night.

Smarter babies. Some studies suggest that children who were exclusively breastfed have slightly higher IQs than children who were formula fed.

"Skin-to-skin" contact. Many nursing mothers really enjoy the experience of bonding so closely with their babies. And the skin-to-skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between mother and infant.

Beneficial for mom, too. The ability to totally nourish a baby can help a new mother feel confident in her ability to care for her baby. Breastfeeding also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker. Also, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.


Breastfeeding Challenges

Breastfeeding can be easy from the get-go for some mothers, but take a while to get used to for others. Moms and babies need plenty of patience to get used to the routine of breastfeeding.

Common concerns of new moms, especially during the first few weeks and months, may include:

Personal comfort. Initially, many moms feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding. But with proper education, support, and practice, most moms overcome this.

Latch-on pain is normal for the first week to 10 days, and should last less than a minute with each feeding. But if breastfeeding hurts throughout feedings, or if their nipples and/or breasts are sore, it's a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to get help from a lactation consultant or their doctor. Many times, it's just a matter of using the proper technique, but sometimes pain can mean that something else is going on, like an infection.

Time and frequency of feedings. Breastfeeding requires a big time commitment from mothers, especially in the beginning, when babies feed often. A breastfeeding schedule or the need to pump breast milk during the day can make it harder for some moms to work, run errands, or travel.

And breastfed babies do need to eat more often than babies who take formula, because breast milk digests faster than formula. This means mom may find herself in demand every 2 or 3 hours (maybe more, maybe less) in the first few weeks.

Diet. Women who are breastfeeding need to be aware of what they eat and drink, since these can be passed to the baby through the breast milk. Just like during pregnancy, breastfeeding women should not eat fish that are high in mercury and should limit consumption of lower mercury fish.

If a mom drinks alcohol, a small amount can pass to the baby through breast milk. She should wait at least 2 hours after a single alcoholic drink to breastfeed to avoid passing any alcohol to the baby. Caffeine intake should be kept to no more than 300 milligrams (about one to three cups of regular coffee) or less per day because it can cause problems like restlessness and irritability in some babies.

Maternal medical conditions, medicines, and breast surgery. Medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS or those that involve chemotherapy or treatment with certain medicines can make breastfeeding unsafe. A woman should check with her doctor or a lactation consultant if she's unsure if she should breastfeed with a specific condition. Women should always check with the doctor about the safety of taking medicines while breastfeeding, including over-the-counter and herbal medicines.

Mothers who've had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with their milk supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this situation, a woman should to talk to her doctor about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.


All About Formula Feeding

Commercially prepared infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk, and even contain some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements.

Manufactured under sterile conditions, commercial formulas attempt to duplicate mother's milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins that aren't possible to create at home. So if you don't breastfeed your baby, it's important to use only commercially prepared formula and not try to make your own.

Besides medical concerns that may prevent breastfeeding, for some women, breastfeeding may be too difficult or stressful. Here are other reasons women may choose to formula feed:

Convenience. Either parent (or another caregiver) can feed the baby a bottle at any time (although this is also true for women who pump their breast milk). This allows mom to share the feeding duties and helps her partner to feel more involved in the crucial feeding process and the bonding that often comes with it.

Flexibility. Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother can leave her baby with a partner or caregiver and know that her little one's feedings are taken care of. There's no need to pump or to schedule work or other obligations and activities around the baby's feeding schedule. And formula-feeding moms don't need to find a private place to nurse in public.

Time and frequency of feedings. Because formula is less digestible than breast milk, formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than breastfed babies.

Diet. Women who opt to formula feed don't have to worry about the things they eat or drink that could affect their babies.

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Formula Feeding Challenges

As with breastfeeding, there are some challenges to consider when deciding whether to formula feed.

Lack of antibodies. None of the antibodies found in breast milk are in manufactured formula. So formula can't provide a baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does.

Can't match the complexity of breast milk. Manufactured formulas have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as the baby's needs change.

Planning and organization. Unlike breast milk — which is always available, unlimited, and served at the right temperature — formula feeding your baby requires planning and organization to make sure that you have what you need when you need it. Parents must buy formula and make sure it's always on hand to avoid late-night runs to the store.

And it's important to always have the necessary supplies (like bottles and nipples) clean, easily accessible, and ready to go — otherwise, you will have a very hungry, very fussy baby to answer to. With 8-10 feedings in a 24-hour period, parents can quickly get overwhelmed if they're not prepared and organized.

Expense. Formula can be costly. Powdered formula is the least expensive, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed being the most expensive. And specialty formulas (such as soy and hypoallergenic) cost more — sometimes far more — than the basic formulas. During the first year of life, the cost of basic formula can run about $1,500.

Possibility of producing gas and constipation. Formula-fed babies may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies.

Making a Choice

Deciding how you will feed your baby can be a hard decision. You'll really only know the right choice for your family when your baby comes.

Many women decide on one method before the birth and then change their minds after their baby is born. And many women decide to breastfeed and supplement with formula because they find that is the best choice for their family and their lifestyle.

While you're weighing the pros and cons, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant. These health care providers can give you more information about your options and help you make the best decision for your family.

Breastfeeding vs.

formula feeding: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

As a new parent, you have many important decisions to make. One is to choose whether to breastfeed your baby or bottle feed using infant formula.

Health experts agree that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both mom and baby. They recommend that babies feed only on breast milk for the first 6 months, and then continue to have breast milk as a main part of their diet until they are at least 1to 2 years old.

There are very few health problems that make breastfeeding not possible. There are other reasons women are unable to breastfeed, but with good support and knowledge, most of these can be overcome.

Here are some things to consider when deciding about breastfeeding. The decision about how to feed your baby is a personal one, and only you can decide what is best for you and your family.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to bond with your little one. Here are some of the many other benefits of breastfeeding:

  • Breast milk naturally has all the nutrients babies need to grow and develop.
  • Breast milk has antibodies that can help prevent your baby from getting sick.
  • Breastfeeding can help prevent health problems in your baby, such as allergies, eczema, ear infections, and stomach problems.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to be hospitalized with breathing infections.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to become obese or have diabetes.
  • Breastfeeding may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Mothers who breastfeed find it easier to lose weight after pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding may help lower the risk for breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, and certain other diseases in mothers.

Breastfeeding is also more convenient. You can breastfeed almost anywhere and anytime your baby is hungry. You do not need to make formula before feeding, worry about clean water, or carry it with you when you go out or travel. And you save money on formula, which can cost $1,000 or more a year.

Breastfeeding is the natural, healthy choice for mom and baby.

It is true that breastfeeding is not always easy and natural for moms and babies.

It can take a little time for you both to get the hang of it. It is important to know this up front, so that you can make sure you have all the support and commitment you need if a problem does come up.

Skin to skin contact at birth will help you and your baby get a good start with breastfeeding. Ask your health care provider to put your baby on your chest, if everyone is healthy and stable after birth.

Being a new parent takes time, and feeding is no exception to this rule.

  • Breastfed babies will sometimes eat every hour for a while, before they take a long nap. Try to nap when your baby does.
  • If you need a longer break, you can also express milk (by hand or pump) and have someone else feed the breast milk to your baby.
  • After a few weeks, a breastfed baby's schedule becomes quite predictable.

You do not need to follow a special diet when you breastfeed. It is rare that a baby will seem sensitive to certain foods, like spicy or gassy foods such as cabbage. Speak with your baby's doctor if you think this could be the case.

It is easier than ever before to work and continue to breastfeed. Allowing women to breastfeed often leads to less missed time due to illness, and decreased turnover.

Hourly workers eligible for overtime pay who work for companies with more than 50 employees are required by law to be given the time and a place to pump. This does not include salaried employees, though most employers will follow these practices. Some states have even broader breastfeeding laws.

But not all mothers are able to pump their breasts on the job so they can continue to breastfeed. Certain jobs, such as driving a bus or waiting tables, may make it hard to stick to a regular pumping schedule. If you have more than one job or if you travel for work, finding a place and time to pump and store milk may be hard. And, while some employers provide a comfortable place for mothers to pump milk, not all do.

Certain problems can get in the way of breastfeeding for some moms:

  • Breast tenderness and nipple soreness. This is normal in the first week. It can also take a couple of weeks for mother and baby to learn how to breastfeed.
  • Breast engorgement or fullness.
  • Plugged milk ducts.
  • Not enough milk for the baby's needs. Though many women worry about this, it is rare that a mother will produce too little milk.

It is well worth doing all you can to overcome breastfeeding challenges. Most mothers find that the early struggles pass quickly, and they settle into a workable and enjoyable feeding routine with their little one.

If you are a smoker, it is still a good idea to breastfeed.

  • Breast milk can help to cancel out some of the risks to your baby from exposure to smoking.
  • If you smoke cigarettes, smoke after breastfeeding, so your baby gets the least amount of nicotine.

It is safe to breastfeed your baby if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C. If your nipples are cracked or bleeding, you should stop nursing. Express your milk and throw it away until your breasts heal.

Mothers who should not breastfeed include those who:

  • Have HIV or AIDS, as they can pass the virus to their baby.
  • Are taking certain medicines needed to treat ongoing health problem. If you take medicines for a health problem, ask your provider if it is still safe to breastfeed.
  • Have an alcohol or drug addiction.

There is no question that it is best to feed your baby breast milk for as long as you possibly can, even if it is just for the first few months or so.

A small number of mothers are not able to breastfeed. This can be hard to accept, but it does not make you a bad mom. Infant formula is still a healthy choice, and your baby will get all the necessary nutrients.

If you choose to feed your baby formula, there are some benefits:

  • Anyone can feed your baby. Grandparents or babysitters can feed your baby while you work or get some well-deserved time with your partner.
  • You can get round-the-clock help. Your partner can help out with nighttime feedings so you can get more sleep. This can be a bonus for your partner, giving them the chance to bond early on with their little one. Keep in mind though, if you breastfeed, you can also pump your breasts so your partner can feed your baby breast milk.
  • You may not have to feed as often. Babies digest formula slower, so you may have fewer feeding times.

Remember that everything you do as a mother, your love, attention, and care, will help give your baby the best start in life.

Johnston M, Landers S, Noble L, Szucs K, Viehmann L; American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-e841. PMID: 22371471

Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA. The breast and the physiology of lactation. In: Resnik R, Lockwood CJ, Moore TR, Greene MF, Copel JA, Silver RM, eds. Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 11.

Parks EP, Shaikhkhalil A, Sainath NA, Mitchell JA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 56.

Newton ER, Stuebe AM. Lactation and breastfeeding. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.

United States Department of Labor website. Wage and Hour Division. Break time for nursing mothers. Accessed July 8, 2021.

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A. D.A.M. Editorial team.

Browse the Encyclopedia

is it possible to refuse breastfeeding

These are comments from readers from the Community. Collected into one material, carefully edited and formatted according to editorial standards.

Julia Konyakhina

studied the opinion of readers

Author profile

According to WHO, only 40% of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. The rest are on artificial or mixed feeding.

We asked readers to tell us which way of feeding they have chosen for their children and why. A discussion unfolded in the comments: there were arguments both in defense of artificial mixtures and in favor of breastfeeding. We carefully studied the opinions of readers and chose arguments for switching to mixtures and against. nine0003

👍 For: mixtures help out when mom is not around

Evgeny Kulakov
experienced father

In October 2020, when the youngest child was six months old, the wife contracted the coronavirus and was admitted to the hospital for 10 days. And the mixture saved me, if not my life, then my nervous system for sure. Although the baby was already given complementary foods, he was not yet weaned from the breast. I had to urgently order a mixture, or rather a lot of a mixture. So he got off his chest.

The eldest himself refused breast milk at six months. The doctor recommended that we switch to a mixture to avoid a lack of vitamins. nine0003


How can a man go on maternity leave

As for the pros and cons of formulas for children, no difference was noticed with breast milk. And the family benefited from not breastfeeding. Despite the restrictions during the pandemic, we became more mobile with the younger one: we were able to travel long distances and walk longer in nature.

👎 Against: breast milk is healthier for the baby

nursed two

She breastfed two daughters, although both times were not easy. The older one could not be properly attached to the chest. It was very painful, the milk stagnated in the ducts, the child did not gain weight well. She called breastfeeding specialists to the house: they helped, showed me how to feed properly. She fed her daughter for up to a year and seven months, then she quite easily refused to breastfeed.

I don't regret choosing to breastfeed. My daughter was a little sick, now she also easily tolerates SARS. Initially, she was anxious, and breastfeeding helped her calm down and fall asleep. nine0003

There was a lot of milk from the youngest, and I again suffered from severe lactostasis. Again she called a specialist: they strained her chest, albeit through tears. But then everything was perfect, fed up to a year and a half. There was a moment when the child tried to refuse the breast, but we managed to overcome it.

It seems inconvenient to me to feed with mixtures: you need to fiddle with jars, sterilize them, and heat them up. You may be allergic to the mixture. Breastfeeding is much easier: I put on a special apron and fed anywhere. I believe that mixtures are an extreme measure that can be taken only out of hopelessness. nine0003

Verunchik Gavrikova
passed the GV course

Initially, she was determined to breastfeed her baby. I read a lot, watched videos on YouTube about the best position to feed, how to properly attach the baby to the breast, what to do in case of lactostasis, mastitis, how to decant in an emergency with your hands. My friends gave me breast pumps, I bought absorbent breast pads.

I chose the GV-friendly maternity hospital, where after giving birth a consultant came to me and showed me how to apply the baby. I also took a special training course: it was not only about feeding, but also about the features of caring for children. nine0003

I can’t say that I am a fan of breastfeeding, but I think that this is the best option for a child. Nature has provided that the composition of milk varies depending on the age and needs of the baby. Through milk, he receives antibodies. That is, if a mother gets sick with SARS, the child will be protected. After all, it's free, it's the bond between mother and child. At night, mom can sleep while the baby eats while sleeping together. As a result, everyone gets enough sleep.


How to solve baby sleep problems

breastfed for 2 years

There was not even a choice how to feed. She knew that there would be only breastfeeding, despite the fact that the child was born prematurely and spent a total of a month on nursing, of which one week was in intensive care.

The neonatologist said that at least a drop, but you need to give breast milk to the child. For several weeks, until it was impossible to go to the ward with him, I pumped every three hours and carried the milk. She did not feed only during the resuscitation period, where the child got two weeks after birth. nine0003

After discharge, already at home, feeding was established, which lasted up to two years without a single problem. I remember this time as the happiest.

👍 For: when there is not enough milk, with a formula the child is more satisfying, and the mother is calmer

Lera Kotova
for the child to be full

In my family, all the women had little milk. Therefore, I prepared for the fact that I would have the same. She breastfed the eldest for up to five months, squeezing some miserable drops out of herself, and at the same time supplemented her with formula. I fed the younger one for a month and a half, but then I got tired of lying for hours with a breast in my mouth and no visible effect, so I switched him to a mixture in a week, and everyone felt good and satisfying. nine0003

Elena Goncharova
switched to the mixture and has no regrets

I fed my son formula. It didn't work out for me with breastfeeding. I don’t know how it really is, but it felt like there wasn’t enough milk in the first week. I drank and lactation pills, and tea with milk, and ate often, but my chest quickly became empty, my son hung on it for an hour and a half and, as it seemed to me, did not eat enough.

I expressed some crumbs, got nervous, cried that I couldn't feed my son. It still hurt. Although it seemed like she tried to apply, as they taught in the maternity hospital. In the end, looking at my suffering, my sister said a very correct phrase: “Your task is to feed the child. And what is a secondary question. So we switched to a mixture. I don't regret. nine0003

We fed our son together with her husband: sometimes he, sometimes me. Walked longer, slept better. Until almost two years old, the child did not get sick with anything, constipation, and did not suffer from allergies. The only negative was only the price of the mixture. It turned out that a good one is not cheap.


Calculator: How much will you spend per child in the first year

Perhaps with the second child I will immediately begin to feed the mixture, or maybe I will try breastfeeding again. But this will be my personal decision, I will not listen to anyone else on this issue. nine0003

👎 Against: contact with a child is priceless

Olga Rulich
had no problems with breastfeeding

It turned out to be difficult for me to wean the children from the breast. With the first child, this happened at two years and two months, with the second - at one year and eight months.

The process of establishing feeding and feeding itself was problem-free. I did not take medicines, there were no force majeure. Contact with the baby during feeding is invaluable.

👍 Pros: formula feeding is more convenient

Polina Kalmykova
weighed all the pros and cons and chose the mixture

Both children spent the first weeks after birth in the hospital. In order not to lose breastfeeding, I had to work hard: first, around the clock every three hours, go to the intensive care unit and express into the syringe, then sit in the hospital in the breast pumping room with ten more of the same mothers and prepare food. All this was bleak: they don’t even give a child in their arms, after giving birth emotions rage, and here you are sitting - either you cry, or a neighbor. nine0003

After the hospital, my son did not want to breastfeed, she still suffered with breastplates: I remember, to be honest, all this with a shudder. As a result, I breastfed him for up to a year, and my daughter refused at four months: I was forced to switch to treatment that was incompatible with breastfeeding, and after a bottle, my daughter stopped breastfeeding. Probably, it was possible to find a consultant, try to fix something, but I had no particular desire.

A month before, a gastroenterologist from a polyclinic put me on the most rigid diet literally without anything, because my daughter had reflux. I decided it would be best for everyone to switch to a special blend. Later, however, it turned out that reflux absolutely fit into the physiological norm and there was no need to torment me like that. nine0003

Community 06/22/21

How to eat properly while breastfeeding?

Now my daughter is already a year old and I can compare breastfeeding and formula. Brief conclusion: the mixture is much more convenient. My daughter very quickly switched to a full night's sleep. Sometimes, of course, he wakes up at night, but this cannot be compared with how his son slept on GV: he woke up three to five times during the night. It is also easier to put to bed: the daughter easily falls asleep with a bottle, and the son's connection "HV - sleep" quickly ceased. nine0003

Weaning our son from GV was also stressful for us: I tried to turn it all over for more than a month. With my daughter, there are no problems with weaning from the bottle. My children and I often go to different public places, and, of course, bottle feeding there is much easier than breastfeeding: you don’t have to look for feeding rooms, wrap yourself in snoods, or prepare for public censure. I am no longer ready to pump into a bottle after weeks in the hospital. Well, in general, it’s more comfortable for me to live when there is no milk in my breast: nothing presses, nothing swells, nothing leaks. nine0003

True, I also noticed the disadvantages. It seems that breastfeeding really has a better effect on the child's immunity: the son did not get sick at all in the first year, the daughter fell ill several times, once she even ended up in the hospital with bronchitis. Another point is cost. We used a can of 600 g of not the most expensive mixture in a few days, a month it turned out from 10,000 R and more. GV, of course, is much more economical.

👎 Against: breastfeeding is more physiological and cheaper0003

She breastfed both daughters. At first there were difficulties, but I struggled with them. Thanks to perseverance, she overcame all problems.

Feed each for over a year. I believe that this process is inherent in us by nature, and it is better not to interfere in the affairs of nature.

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