Unfortunately, babies do not come with instruction manuals, so parents have to make decisions based on what works for their bodies, daily lives, and family situations. One of those decisions is whether to breastfeed or formula feed or to do a combination of both.
Both breastfeeding and bottle feeding are good choices because they both provide nutrients to babies. Moms often judge moms who choose formula over breastmilk, but neither option is right or wrong. They have both proven to be beneficial.
Health experts regularly tout the health benefits of breastfeeding infants, but not all mothers can successfully breastfeed. They may not physically be able to breastfeed, and they might have reasons related to lifestyle and medical issues. Fortunately, mothers can choose to formula feed when breastfeeding is not an option.
Breastfeeding and bottle feeding both create special moments between mother and baby. Whether feeding with formula or breastmilk, babies and parents still can build strong bonds with each other.
The way you feed your baby is a personal choice. There are pros and cons to each, and the decisions you make will be the best one for your baby and your family.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Breastfeeding has been proven to be a healthy choice, and several expert health groups like the World Health Organization recommend it exclusively for the first six months of life. It is a natural choice that provides practically perfect nutrients for babies. If possible, mothers should begin breastfeeding within 60 minutes of birth.
Breastmilk is free. There is no charge to feed a baby with breastmilk, which makes it an ideal option for any family. But, if you are not always around your baby, you might need a breast pump and the related gear.
Breastfed babies are better prepared to fight disease because it contains naturally occurring antibodies that help build a baby’s immune system. They are less likely to get sick that babies who are fed infant formula. Babies who drink only breastmilk are less likely to have:
Mothers who breastfeed pass the flavors of the foods they have eaten to their babies. These tastes help babies become familiar with the foods their families eat. It helps them adjust to eating solid foods when the time comes.
Breastfeeding is convenient. Mothers who breastfeed do not have to worry about running out of formula or having to carry bottle-feeding gear with them. They have everything they need on their person.
Breastfeeding provides skin-to-skin bonding. While feeding-in-general provides opportunities for bonding, breastfeeding offers slightly more. There is an inherent closeness that develops through skin-to-skin contact.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for moms. It helps new mothers lose baby weight as breastfeeding burns a significant number of calories. Breastfeeding not only helps babies, but it is helpful for mothers, including a lowered risk of developing diseases like
Breastfeeding helps with brain development. Researchers have been following children who were breastfed and have found that they tend to have higher IQs than babies who were formula fed. They are also less likely to have behavioral problems than babies who are formula fed.
Breastmilk is easy to digest. It includes everything that babies need to flourish and grow. Each mother’s milk is produced precisely for her baby and the stage of their life. Nothing is made in a factory. It’s all made by a mom just for her infant.
Breastmilk changes as babies grow. Newborn babies get the benefits of colostrum, the first type of breastmilk that appears shortly after birth. But, as babies grow, breastmilk nutrients change to fit their needs.
Mothers who have done it will agree that the moment of let down is quite relaxing. Both mom and baby find breastfeeding comforting with both often doze off during feedings. It creates this effect because it releases oxytocin, which is also the hormone responsible for mother-child bonding.
Since mothers often have struggled with the first few moments of breastfeeding, most hospitals provide support. Lactation consultants are professionals who know how to help new moms learn how to get babies to latch on so they can successfully breastfeed.
Moms who bottle feed need to be sure the milk or formula is not too hot or too cold. But, with breastfeeding, the temperature is always just right. This time-saving convenience is priceless.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
While some mothers swear by breastfeeding, it is not something that every mother finds pleasant. There are some cons to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be painful. Babies who breastfeed need to latch on to the nipple, and this can be excruciating for some moms. While many breastfeeding moms feel discomfort at first, most moms and babies figure it out, and the pain stops. But, this doesn’t happen for all moms who find that breastfeeding is too uncomfortable to continue.
Breastfeeding requires a time commitment. When moms choose to breastfeed, they become the sole source of food for baby. They could be feeding their babies every two or three hours, which makes it difficult to do many other things throughout the day. Mothers who work find it difficult to breastfeed solely, especially if they work full time.
Fathers and other caregivers cannot breastfeed which takes away some bonding time with new babies. It also limits who can care for the infant, since mom is the sole food source.
Breastmilk does not contain vitamin D. Mothers who breastfeed need to give their babies a supplement. Healthcare providers can recommend the appropriate dosage.
Breastfeeding requires breast pumps. If mothers want to go back to work and they want to involve other caregivers, they have to pump, which can be awkward, uncomfortable, and expensive. Breast milk needs to be packaged and stored. Bottles also become a part of the equation.
Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable. Breastfeeding in public has been controversial in some areas of the country, so many new moms are reluctant to leave their homes with new babies. The awkwardness with breastfeeding does diminish after repeated practice.
Breastfeeding moms need to watch their diets. Whatever moms eat, babies will eat during breastfeeding sessions. Moms should avoid eating high-mercury fish. They should also avoid drinking alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages, too.
Breastfeeding can be unsafe in some situations. Some medical conditions prevent moms from being able to breastfeed. Some medications can pass through breastmilk, so it is imperative to check with your healthcare provider about whether you can breastfeed. That caution applies to some over-the-counter and herbal supplements too.
Breastfeeding moms can have leaks and engorged breasts. These are both awkward and uncomfortable. Leaks and engorgement happen when moms are unable to breastfeed at a regular time. The best way to avoid this is to breastfeed on a schedule.
Breastfeeding mothers do not know how much their babies have consumed. There is no way to measure how many ounces a baby has consumed while breastfeeding. For parents who are worried about their children growing, this can be problematic. Instead of recording ounces, breastfeeding parents record bowel movements and wet diapers.
Moms sometimes worry about supply. The human body is in control of producing enough milk for each baby. Sometimes moms do not make enough milk for their babies and troubles arise. Babies get fussy because they are hungry and there isn’t enough to eat. Because of this, some moms supplement with formula while breastfeeding.
Food allergies can be problematic. On rare occasions, breastfed babies do develop food allergies to something that moms eat. It can create pain and discomfort for babies and moms might not know what the problem is. Moms might have to watch what they eat and record how their babies react to figure out the problem.
Moms who breastfeed need special bras. They give moms quick access to their breasts, so they do not have to take off their bras to feed their babies. These products are often expensive, and they are not the cutest ones on the market.
Because women who breastfeed sometimes have issues with leaking, they often need special pads in their bras. These items are usually quite fluffy, so they do show up under clothes, especially under fitted tops.
And let’s face it. Nursing tops aren’t super cute. There are tops that nursing moms can wear. They are designed to keep you covered when you nurse in public. While it is convenient, they are not cheap, either.
Even though experts recommend breastfeeding for new mothers and their infants, it just isn’t a possibility for everyone. Therefore, formula feeding has become a tried-and-true way to feed babies. There are several benefits to this option.
Infant formula includes necessary ingredients. Even though the mother’s breastmilk is uniquely produced for each baby, infant formula does have what babies need to thrive, despite it not being uniquely formulated. Commercially prepared infant formula is sterile and includes proteins, fats, vitamins, and sugars.
Formula feeding is convenient. Anyone can feed a baby this way, so fathers and other healthcare providers can help take care of the baby. Mothers can quickly return to work because they are not tied to feedings every two or three hours. Bottle feeding can be done anywhere and at any time and by anyone.
Formula feeding is not awkward. Mothers who breastfeed have to consider how to do it in public. With formula feeding, there is no need to worry about covering up and hiding in a private place.
Infant formula is filling. Babies who are formula-fed do not need to eat as often as babies who are breastfed. Babies cannot digest formula as quickly as breastmilk, so formula-fed babies do not need to be fed every two or three hours.
Mothers do not need to worry about their diets. Formula feeding takes the mother’s food and beverage choices out of the equation. That is why mothers who have health issues often formula feed, so they do not pass their medications on to their babies.
Mothers get their bodies back. Moms who formula feed can be themselves. They get to eat what they want, wear what they choose, and do what they prefer without having to worry about how it will affect their babies.
Mothers do not have to worry about mastitis. It is an uncomfortable side effect of breastfeeding that some mothers get. The breast tissue gets inflamed and infected. If you do not breastfeed, then you do not have to worry about it.
Moms know how much baby has eaten. When a mom formula fees, there is no question as to how much formula baby has consumed. You fill a bottle to a certain amount and whatever is left over is deducted from that amount. Moms who breastfeed only know how much time they nursed their babies.
Moms who formula feed know that food is always available. Sometimes, breastfeeding moms are unable to keep up with their baby’s demands. But, a mom who chooses formula never has to worry because infant formula is always available.
And there are no problems if mom gets sick. When a breastfeeding mom gets sick, she still has to feed her baby. While the milk will not make her baby sick, she could. But, if you are formula feeding, another caregiver could take over mealtimes, and you could get a chance to rest and recover.
Formula feeding is an acceptable alternative to breastfeeding. There are plenty of good things involved in feeding babies with formula, but there are some cons that moms and caregivers notice.
Anyone who has fed formula to a baby notices that it smells unpleasant, especially when compared to the sweet flavors of breastmilk. Babies who are formula fed have stinky bowel movements when compared to breastfed babies.
Breastmilk contains natural antibodies that help babies fight disease and infection. A formula does not. Manufacturers have not figured out how to replicate antibodies, so formula-fed babies are more likely to get sick when compared to breastfed babies.
The formula does not adjust to baby’s needs. Breastmilk changes as babies grow. What is in the can, bottle, or jar stays the same no matter how old the baby is.
One of the most compelling downsides of feeding with formula involves planning. If you are going out and taking the baby with you, you have to prepare for feedings and bring bottles ready to go.
Bottles need to be heated. If your baby is young, you have to not only bring enough formula, but you have to find a way to warm it, and a microwave oven will not cut it.
It doesn’t matter if you are using formula or frozen breast milk. When both are heated this way, caregivers run the risk of the liquid heating unevenly, which can burn a baby. And, it also damages the nutrients within it too.
Instead, you should heat the bottles in warm water so that the liquid heats evenly and safely. That takes time and is one of the downfalls of choosing to bottle feed newborns. Eventually, babies will drink cold formula, but not until they are six months or older.
Formula feeding comes with a stigma. Since the “Breast is best” campaign, moms who choose to feed their babies with formulas have been looked down upon by mothers who do not formula feed. It can be emotionally painful as moms are just trying to do their best for their babies.
Since babies drink a lot of bottles through the day, moms who formula feed have lots of dirty dishes to do. While some bottles can go through the dishwasher, many need to be washed by hand and some need to be sterilized. They all need to be stored somewhere, too.
Babies can develop lactose intolerance because of problems digesting this sugar which comes from cow’s milk in most commercially manufactured formula. Fortunately, if this happens, there are soy-based options available, but they do cost more than milk-based formula. The soy version smells worse than milk one too.
When formula runs out, parents have to buy more. And, it always seems to happen at the least convenient moment—in the middle of a snowstorm or the middle of the night. Baby needs to eat, so one of the parents will go to the store at any time of the day or night.
Then, there’s the cost. There is no doubt that feeding a baby with formula is the most expensive option, even when considering the cost of breast pumps. If your baby needs a special one, the price goes up even more. Expect to spend at least $1500 in the first 12 months.
Formula-fed babies get more ear infections. Because formula does not contain the same antibodies that breastmilk has, babies who are formula fed get more illnesses, especially ear infections. While this is not the case with all formula-fed babies, more of them do develop ear infections than babies who only drink breastmilk.
Some formulas have product recalls. Since the baby formula is made in factories, there are real issues with human error. A few years ago, some products from China had melamine in them. And, in 2018, the FDA recalled another one made in France for salmonella contamination.
Whatever choice you make is a personal one. The most important thing that you can do for your baby is to feed it. Of course, experts highly recommend breastfeeding for any mother who is physically able and any period of breastfeeding is good for the baby.
Since breastmilk passes some immunity to newborn babies, breastfeeding in the first few weeks of life can give your baby a health advantage over babies who are not breastfed at all.
If breastfeeding is not an option, then commercially manufactured infant formula is an excellent choice. Manufacturers are continually studying new recipes and ingredients while tweaking them to get as close to it as possible to the real thing. Many of them include brain-building fats like DHA and ARA. Many are also fortified with iron or other essential minerals.
They may not be the exact formulation as breastmilk, but they cover a lot of the basic needs for optimal nutrition with the essential macronutrients to give your baby an excellent start in life. That is, of course, the primary goal for any new mother.
There are other options if your situation calls for something unique. That’s where a manufacture product can help. Some formulas are made to meet the individual needs of babies.
There are mixtures for babies with food allergies. There are also ones for babies who have lactose intolerance and are unable to digest dairy products. And, most manufacturers offer coupons to help new parents better control their expenses. Big-box stores also sell large quantities at discounted prices, too.
Keeping your baby fed, happy, and healthy should be your priorities. Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed should not be about pleasing people in your social circle or fitting in with a trend. It should all be about your body and your baby’s body. No matter what choice you make, you should make it with the best intentions and with love of your baby in mind.
Your decision is yours alone. If people judge you, that is their problem. You take care of your baby the best way you can. If the decision is tough to make, it can be helpful to discuss it with your healthcare provider to make an informed choice. Your baby’s health is the deciding factor.
And, remember, many babies drink both breastmilk and formula throughout their infancy. It doesn’t have to be one or the other exclusively. You and your little can have the advantages of both.