Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

A big decision new moms must make for their little one’s nutrition is breast vs. formula.

Some people can be uncomfortable around women while they are breastfeeding. However, if you pull out a bottle of formula, there are those who may criticize you for not feeding your baby what they might consider "nature's perfect food" -- breast milk.

Welcome to mommy guilt. No matter what you decide, other people will surely have an opinion. Only one thing really matters: Which choice is right for you and your baby?

Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast milk as the best nutrition for infants. Babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, according to the AAP. After other foods have been introduced, the AAP encourages mothers to continue to breastfeed until baby is at least a year old, and as long after that as both mother and child are willing.

Breast milk is good for your baby in many ways:

  • It contains the proper proportion of nutrients that your baby needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calcium.
  • It provides natural antibodies that help your baby resist illnesses, such as ear infections.
  • It's usually more easily digested than formula. So breastfed babies are often less constipated and gassy.
  • It may lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in the first year of your baby's life.
  • It may raise your child's intelligence. Studies show breastfed babies have higher levels of cognitive function.
  • Breast milk may even help your child in later years, by reducing the risk of being overweight, and of developing asthma, allergies, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, and lymphoma.
  • It’s always available and it’s free.

Breastfeeding is good for moms, too. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer. It can also help you lose your baby weight more easily, and make it less likely you’ll have postpartum depression.

But let's not forget a key reason many new moms want to breastfeed. It's a wonderful bonding experience with your baby.

Breast milk can also be pumped which will allow for public feedings and other family members to participate in feeding.

Continued

Formula Feeding

Formula feeding is also a healthy choice for babies. If you use a formula, your baby will get the best possible alternative to breast milk. (You should not attempt to make your own formula or feed an infant cow's milk or another kind of milk.)

Many moms choose formula for a variety of reasons:

  • It's convenient. Formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time.
  • It's flexible. You don't have to fit pumping into your work schedule. Instead, you can simply leave formula for your babysitter or day care center.
  • Your partner can help out with nighttime feedings and share that bonding experience with your baby.
  • Scheduling feedings may be easier. Formula isn't digested as quickly as breast milk, so formula-fed babies don't need to eat as often, especially in the first few months.
  • You don't have to worry about what you eat. Moms who breastfeed may have to avoid certain foods that their baby can't tolerate.
  • You can have a glass of wine or a cocktail once in a while. Alcohol is a no-no for women who breastfeed because they pass on tiny amounts of it to their babies.

Supplemental Feeding

Your doctor may recommend that you both breastfeed and give your baby formula, or that you add powdered or liquid fortifiers to pumped breast milk. That may be needed if:

  • Your baby was born premature or with a very low birth weight and needs extra calories and nutrients
  • Your baby has trouble latching on to breastfeed
  • Your body isn’t making enough breast milk
  • Your baby is dehydrated, has serious jaundice or low blood sugar

While your baby is getting supplemental feedings, it’s a good idea to pump your breast milk so you can start nursing as soon as baby is ready. Once their growth has caught up, you may be able to switch them exclusively to breast milk if you choose.

Whichever way you choose to feed your baby -- breast milk, formula, or a combination of both -- the most important thing is that your baby is well fed, well cared for, and loved. So ditch the mommy guilt!

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on June 17, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

HealthyChildren.org: "Should I Breastfeed or Bottlefeed?" "Why Formula Instead of Cow's Milk?" ''Bottle Feeding,'' ''Where We Stand: Breastfeeding,” "Caring for a Premature Baby."

KidsHealth from Nemours: "Breast or Bottle?"

Womenshealth.gov: "Common breastfeeding challenges."

USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine: "Understanding breastfeeding supply and demand."

American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Feb. 1, 2005.

LaHood, A. American Family Physician, Oct. 15, 2007.

Pediatric Advisor 2013.3: "Premature Baby: Hospital Care."

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee: Breastfeeding Medicine, November 2009.

Stanford School of Medicine: "ABCs of Breastfeeding."

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