Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding: All You Need to Know
Moms have a lot of important decisions to make when it comes to their babies’ lives, but the choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding seems to be on the top. Sure, breastmilk is simply a powerhouse of important nutrients the baby needs in their earliest months of life. According to health experts, it’s definitely the best source of nutrition for a newborn.
But, things, unfortunately, are a bit more complicated.
Breastfeeding is not always possible for women, and there are numerous reasons for this. It all depends on their lifestyle, medical conditions, their comfort level - all of these factors determine the choice a new mother will make considering breastfeeding vs. formula feeding.
This is when formula enters the picture - whether a new mom is physically obstructed from breastfeeding (from her body or outside circumstances), or she simply chooses not to do it, infant formula comes as the next best thing, a healthy alternative to the mother’s milk. Formulas are designed to provide the little one with the necessary nutrients for healthy early development.
But there is another dimension to this debate or set of choices, besides the nutrition factor. Some mothers feel shame if they consciously choose not to breastfeed and they’re made to feel as less good mothers than the ones that do. Other mothers are worried that if they don’t breastfeed, they’ll also miss on some vital bonding moments they’re supposed to have with their child. Nevertheless, these are thoughts and emotions that need to be overcome - a mother that loves her child will find a way to create that special bond regardless of whether she’s breastfeeding or formula feeding. In any event, any type of feeding is a great opportunity for it.
And even though the natural mother’s milk is favored, the choice is a more complex one. It all comes down to being a personal decision, in the end, but it’s always good to know the good and bad sides of each choice, just to see a little bit more clearly what will work best both for you and your little one.
Which is exactly what we’re going to try to do next: go over the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding and let you, of course, have the final word in the end.
Breastfeeding or also called nursing is a special experience for both baby and mommy. It provides, at the same time, wonderful moments of bonding, while also supplying the little one with all the important nutrients for healthy early growth.
And this is all confirmed and supported by various health organizations, among them the WHO (World Health Organization) and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians), as well as the AMA (American Medical Association). All of them recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for providing infants with food and necessary nutrients. This is also coupled with research that shows how breastfeeding also helps to fight infections, prevent different kinds of allergies, and provide overall protection against various possible chronic conditions, which means that it affects the baby’s immune system in very important ways.
Usually, it’s recommended that babies should be fed exclusively through breastfeeding for the first 6 months of their lives. After that, breastfeeding is still encouraged, up until 12 months of age, and even longer if the mother can still provide quality milk, and if the baby wants it.
A rundown of a number of benefits breastfeeding provides for the little one would be the following (you can also check out our whole article on it here
As we mentioned, breastfeeding is very important for building a strong immune system in baby’s early life. Research says that babies who’ve been breastfed got fewer infections and had a lesser number of hospitalizations than babies that have been formula-fed. This is because breastfeeding allows for various antibodies and other factors that enable a successful fight against microorganisms to pass from the mother to the baby, and thus strengthen the immune system. This means that baby’s chances of developing something of the following, are lowered:
- Respiratory infections
- Ear infections
Breastfeeding also protects babies from:
- Various kinds of allergies
- SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Another important thing about breastfeeding is that it’s especially good for babies born prematurely.
Digestive System and Nutrition
Breastmilk has got practically everything that an infant needs: protein (casein and whey), lactose, and also fat - all of them essential for tissues that are still in development. Breastmilk is also very easily digested by infants - studies have shown that breastfed babies had fewer issues with constipation or diarrhea than formula-fed ones, and this has a lot to do with the components of the breastmilk and how it’s being digested in the baby’s delicate tummy.
Lots of vitamins and minerals that the baby needs are also contained in the breastmilk, with the exception of vitamin D though. That’s why some doctors and health organizations recommend that babies that are breastfed should receive vitamin D supplements in their first 2 months of life, and even after that, until they start consuming other stuff, whether it be formula fortified with vitamin D, milk, or something else (but this is after year 1).
A lot of the important nutrients can be found in baby formulas as well. Governments responsible for food and healthcare make sure to regulate the baby formulas so they include all necessary nutrients in their ingredients list. Nevertheless, the difference between breastmilk and formula is that breastmilk is a substance unique to each mother and baby, which is something that can’t really be reproduced in a factory setting with the same amount of precision.
Breastmilk is Budget Friendly
Yes, this is also one of the main benefits of breastfeeding for new parents. It’s always hard to estimate the costs of having a baby, and using only formula will add up to the expenses. Also, if we take into consideration the immunity factor, then it also makes sense that if babies don’t get as sick, it means fewer trips to the doctor and less money spent on medicine.
Other benefits of breastfeeding include:
- Smarter babies - studies show that infants fed solely on breastmilk had a somewhat higher IQ than babies who were only formula-fed.
- Bonding - the skin to skin contact is an important part of the breastfeeding experience, which allows for moments of enhanced emotional connection between mom and baby.
- Good for the mother - breastfeeding has its own set of benefits for the mother as well. It burns calories, helps in shrinking the uterus thus allowing mothers who nurse to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight in a smaller amount of time. Breastfeeding reportedly also helps in lowering the risk of certain diseases such as breast cancer (as well as ovarian and uterine cancer), diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
The Challenges of Breastfeeding
Okay, besides the plethora of benefits, breastfeeding is also an activity with its own sets of challenges. For some mothers, getting the hang of it may be as light as a breeze, while others might need that extra set of patience to simply get used to the whole routine.
Lots of moms are not sure if they’re doing the job well, but are also worried about their personal comfort. That’s why it’s important to inform yourself well before you start breastfeeding; talk to your doctor, nurse, pediatrician or gynecologist to get more details and tips on how to enter the breastfeeding experience with less pain and more ease. Also, have in mind that it can take a little bit of practice, so don’t think you’re a failure since day one if something goes a little bit wrong.
For example, latching is sometimes hard to maneuver in the beginning and latch-on pain is rather common in the first 10 days of nursing (it should less no more than a minute with each feeding). It’s not good, though, if breastfeeding causes continuing pain throughout the feedings, or if your breasts and nipples are continually sore (for more info on how to deal with sore nipples, go here
). Then it might just be time to talk with a lactation consultant or a doctor again. Oftentimes it gets down to mastering the technique of breastfeeding - you can check our article
on some tips and tricks. But you know your body best - if you think there might be something else under the surface, because consistent pain may indicate some kind of infection, for example, make sure you do a checkup before it gets more serious.
Feedings can cause a bit of havoc in the usual daily schedule of new moms, and this can be tough on some women, especially in the earliest months, when babies need frequent feedings. Moms that before the pregnancy have been very active and up and about will have to do some rearrangements in their daily lives. And for some, understandably, this is not always possible. Also, babies that are breastfed digest the breastmilk faster, which means that they will need food more often than formula-fed babies.
Because mothers, through breastfeeding, pass on the stuff that they themselves eat and drink, they need to take special care of their diet. Similarly to the months of pregnancy, women who breastfeed should watch out for certain foods, such as fish, for example, because oftentimes it can be high in mercury.
They will also need to limit or completely cut out their alcohol consumption because it also can be transferred through breast milk. If you happen to have a glass, you should wait at least 2 hours before you breastfeed, so you can avoid passing any alcohol content to your baby. Caffeine should also be limited to a maximum of 300 milligrams a day (1-3 cups of coffee a day) because it might cause irritability and restlessness in some babies.
Existing Medical Conditions of the Mother
Breastfeeding can sometimes be downright unsafe. Women who face conditions such as HIV or AIDS, or ones that are undergoing chemotherapy, or treatment with other medicines should refrain from breastfeeding. Mothers who happen to have one of these serious conditions, or take whatever kinds of medicines (even over the counter ones, or herbal medicines) should always consult with a doctor or lactation consultant about the breastfeeding process.
Also, some mothers with breast surgery may experience difficulty in supplying breastmilk, if their milk ducts have somehow been affected.
Okay, now we finally get to talk a bit about baby formula as well.
Baby formulas are the best alternative option you could have for breastmilk. As we mentioned earlier, some baby formulas even contain nutrients (such as vitamin D for example) that are not present in the breastmilk and that babies need to take as supplements.
It’s important to remember that when you opt out for a breastfeeding alternative, you should reach out for a commercially prepared formula, and not attempt to make one at home. The manufactured formulas use special, sterile conditions of production, as they try to come as close as possible to the mother’s milk. They use a combination of fats, proteins, sugars, and vitamins which cannot be produced or created in a home environment.
The Pros of Using Baby Formula
As we saw earlier, although more preferable, breastfeeding is not always possible or even healthy for the baby. In turn, these are the good sides of using a formula that make it a viable alternative option. For best baby formulas on the market, check out our guide here
Babies can be fed at any time from either parent (or caregiver). This is an important asset in a family dynamic since it allows both partners to share their duties and responsibilities, and it also makes the other partner more involved in the early parenting experience. It also gives parents more control of their time, personal and work schedules. Mother’s won’t need to rearrange their day to breastfeed and to set aside separate times for pumping breastmilk. They also won’t have to worry about any privacy issues they may have about nursing in public, or issues with a spontaneous milk letdown at a workplace, which can be rather inconvenient in some cases.
Formula is also more slowly digested by babies, which means that they will eat less frequently than babies who are breastfeeding.
If you’re formula feeding, you won’t need to worry about passing anything from your own diet habits to your little one, which means you won’t have to be worried about any food restrictions (you should, in any case, take care of your health through good diet habits).
The Challenges of Formula Feeding
Formula feeding comes with its own sets of challenges.
Baby formula doesn’t contain the antibodies found in the mother’s milk which are important for the baby’s immunity. Manufactured formulas can’t reproduce the mother’s antibodies, which means that the baby formula can’t help with this kind of protection against infections.
It also can’t keep up with the complex features of breastmilk. Each mother has variations in her breastmilk which correspond to her organism and the one of her baby, and which answer to their needs in parallel to the baby’s development.
Cost and Organization
Baby formula will require extra money on the side on top of all other baby expenses that you will have. The least expensive formula is the powdered one, which is followed by concentrated formula, while ready-to-feed one is the most expensive. The prices vary and differ from manufacturer to manufacturer - it depends on the brand, the organic quality, whether it’s hypoallergenic or not, or whether it’s soy-based. This can all add up on the price. In the first year of the baby’s life, baby formula will cost you around 1,500$.
You will also have to plan to always have enough formula supplies at hand - we know nobody wants to suddenly realize they’ve run out of it and are now left with a very hungry and annoyed baby!
Formula-fed babies can be more prone to constipation or firmer bowel movements, as well as gas and similar digestive discomforts, than breastfed babies.
What it All Comes Down To?
As we said at the beginning, we’ll let you bring the final verdict. Making a choice between breastfeeding vs. formula feeding is a personal decision based on several important factors and lifestyles. Breastfeeding is still the most preferred option by doctors and medical professionals when it comes to advising new mothers. But it’s also not a viable option for some mothers, from reasons we saw above. Some mothers use both breastfeeding and formula interchangeably, or sometimes begin with breastfeeding and then gradually change to formula. You yourself know best what’s right for both you and your baby, and we hope that we’ve made some things clearer with this article. We also recommend that you should always consult with a doctor or lactation consultant for a better-informed decision.