Breastfeeding vs. Formula: The Pros and Cons


Choosing to breastfeed or bottle-feed is a personal decision. It’s one of the first important decisions you’ll make as a new parent. Both have pros and cons.

Over the years, the issue has been controversial, often leading to parents feeling judged for choosing bottle-fed formula over breast milk. Don’t let the haters get you down either way.

There’s no right or wrong choice, just the healthiest choice for you and your baby. Before settling on one or the other, you’ll want to have all the facts.

If you’re unsure of how you’d like to feed your baby, read on to learn more about each method.

Trusted health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continuing after solid foods are introduced, until at least the age of 1 or longer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until the age of 2 or longerTrusted Source. It may sound like a long time, but there are great reasons for it.

Most experts agree that breastfeeding is the best way for newborns and infants to get nutrition and big health benefits. Starting to breastfeed within 1 hour after giving birth affords even more benefitsTrusted Source.

Pros

Breastfeeding is good for both your health and your baby’s health. Here are some of the benefits for you and your baby.

Availability

  • Breastfeeding is free — barring the cost of any lactation consultants and accessories like nursing bras. Pumps, bottles, formula, and other bottle-feeding products can be costly.
  • Breast milk doesn’t require any prep work. It’s ready when your baby is ready. Aren’t bodies amazing?

Boost for baby

Good for you

If you choose to breastfeed, your healthcare provider will likely recommend that you do it for as long as you’re able and still feel comfortable.

The longer you breastfeed, the greater these health benefits are for you and your baby.

Cons

Although breastfeeding is healthier and more beneficial for you and your baby, it can also come with challenges. Many of them can be overcome with the help of a lactation consultant and some perseverance.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to get it right. Here are some common challenges:

  • You may feel discomfort, particularly during the first few days or weeks.
  • There isn’t a way to measure how much your baby is eating.
  • You’ll need to watch your medication use, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Some substances that go into your body are passed to the baby through your milk.
  • Newborns eat frequently. Keeping up with a feeding schedule may be difficult if you need to return to work or run errands. (Though pumping can help!).

Bottle-feeding can mean either feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle, or using formula in a bottle. Breast milk given from a bottle still has similar nutrients, but can give you more flexibility because the baby isn’t only relying on your body for food.

Freezing breast milk has been shown to reduce a bit of its nutritive and immunologic valueTrusted Source compared to fresh, but it’s still going to retain its antibodies that are oh-so beneficial to your baby (and not found in formula).

Formula is manufactured, and while it’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and does contain lots of nutrients, it’s still not a perfect match for the benefits breast milk provides.

Pros

  • A family member or caretaker can feed your baby when you aren’t able to be there.
  • You can see how much your baby is eating at each feeding.
  • Babies eating formula don’t need to eat as often as breastfed babies.
  • Fathers, siblings, and other family members get the chance to bond with baby during feeding time.

Cons

  • Formula doesn’t provide the same protection against infections, diseases, and conditions as breast milk.
  • You need to mix and prepare formula to make sure it’s the correct temperature.
  • Bottles, formula, rubber nipples, and breast pumps can be expensive.
  • Formula can cause digestive trouble like constipation and gas.
  • Powdered formula requires access to clean water, which may be a health issue depending on where you live.

Whether you decide to breastfeed or bottle-feed, you’ll eventually still need to begin the process of weaning, which means to completely stop breast milk or formula.

This is usually not done until 9 to 12 months or later. The general rule is that babies should have only breast milk or a fortified formula for the first 6 months of life.

Even after introducing other foods, your doctor will likely advise allowing the baby to breastfeed for as long as it feels comfortable for both of you. The WHO recommends continuing breastfeeding as an additional food source, up to age 2 or longerTrusted Source.

If you’re breastfeeding, the weaning process should be done carefully, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

Some parents follow the baby’s lead, letting them decide when to reduce breastfeeding. Other parents begin the weaning process themselves. This method can be more difficult, especially if your baby is still really attached to breastfeeding. (If this is the case, consider if it’s necessary to stop at that point at all.)

Start slowly, gradually reducing the amount you’re feeding over time. Not only will this help baby, it’ll also help your body get used to producing less milk and eventually stopping altogether.

You might eliminate one daytime feeding at first, but continue morning and bedtime feedings. Babies tend to be more attached to the first and last feedings of the day.

There’s no clear medical recommendation regarding which food or foods babies should have first. Starting with whole foods like purĂŠed vegetables, mashed avocado, and mashed sweet potato is recommended.

A traditional starter food, rice cereal, has little nutritional value and has been associated with arsenic contentTrusted Source. The FDA notes that iron-fortified, single grain, white rice cereal shouldn’t be your baby’s only source of food, nor does it need to be the first source. Whole foods are probably your best bet.

After your baby has adjusted to their first food, you can start adding others, including whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, and meats. Make sure there is no added salt, sugar, or seasoning in the foods.

Introduce one food at a time and wait a few days to make sure your baby isn’t having an allergic reaction or trouble digesting it.

Sometimes moms aren’t able to breastfeed for medical reasons. You might also have a demanding schedule that doesn’t allow for flexibility needed to breastfeed.

But the benefits of breastfeeding are pretty huge, so if you can, give it a try. It may just become your favorite part of the day.

Getting the facts ahead of time and coming up with your own plan can help ease any stress and anxiety around feeding baby. Remember that this is your decision. You should do what feels best for your family.

If you’re having trouble making a decision, talking to your doctor, midwife, or lactation professional may help.

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