For expectant mothers, the choice of breastfeeding vs formula feeding can weigh heavy on their minds. Which one is right for you and your child?
Is there a difference between breastmilk and formula? Are there benefits of formula feeding over breastfeeding?
Our goal with this article is to take an in-depth look at both formula feeding and breastfeeding so that you can confidently make an informed choice about what is best for you and your little one.
It is important to remember that there is no “right” answer when it comes to breastfeeding or formula. The best choice depends on a variety of factors and it is the option that keeps both you and your baby happy and healthy.
When your baby is born their first food will be milk. And not just any milk, breast milk, or formula. This diet will continue through at least the first six months of their life. And usually longer as the WHO recommends breastfeeding until two years of age and the CDC recommends formula until one year of age.
The CDC recommends breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition for infants. They advise that babies should receive breastmilk exclusively until six months of age.
At this point, solid foods can be introduced but breastfeeding should continue until at least the child’s first birthday. They strongly encourage breastfeeding exclusively as well and then continue breastfeeding with solid foods until two years of age.
Many doctors, the AAP, and other medical experts encourage breastfeeding for as long as possible during your baby’s first year of life. However, there are certain medical situations in which breastfeeding may not be encouraged.
For example, if your child is diagnosed with a medical condition that could make breastfeeding a health concern, like galactosemia. Or, if the mother is using certain medications, such as during chemotherapy.
Additionally, if the mother has a drug or alcohol dependency she should not breastfeed. Certain illnesses can impact the encouragement of breastfeeding as well, like active tuberculosis or an HIV infection.
However, your obstetrician will likely be able to advise you and will tell you if breastfeeding is not recommended. In general, most mothers are encouraged to breastfeed.
If breastfeeding is not possible, your baby will need to be formula-fed. Infant formula is specially designed to mimic breastmilk. However, it cannot provide all of the same benefits. Infant formula commonly comes as a powder that must be mixed with water and then bottle fed to your baby.
If you cannot breastfeed, formula feeding is another option. Like breastfeeding, it is advised that your baby is fed only formula for the first six months of life.
After six months, you can do a combination of formula and solid foods as recommended by your doctor. Typically, at one year of age, formula can be replaced with a standard form of milk, like cow’s milk.
The topic of breastmilk vs formula is often one of concern for moms. Breastfeeding is often touted as being the best for babies.
However, while there are numerous benefits to breastfeeding, some factors can be overlooked when deciding on whether to breastfeed vs formula feed. Both breastfeeding and formula feeding have their advantages and drawbacks.
Breast Is Best?
Breastfeeding, while being the perfect food for your baby, demands a lot of the mother.
In the first few weeks, your baby will seem to want to nurse constantly. If you choose to exclusively breastfeed, you will be the only one able to feed your child. This can make it difficult to take care of your other children, manage tasks at home and work, and feel like you have a life outside of nursing your child.
Some moms love the bonding experience they have when breastfeeding. Other moms don’t enjoy breastfeeding. Sometimes, those that suffer from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety find breastfeeding especially trying. As a mom, your feelings and mental health are valid considerations when deciding whether you want to do bottle feeding vs breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a large commitment even if you decide to pump instead of solely nurse. You must buy all the pump parts and maintain a strict schedule to keep your milk supply. Exclusively breastfeeding is often cheaper than formula feeding, but this isn’t always the case for pumping moms.
Unlike pumping, breastfeeding is usually very convenient if you are traveling or away from home. Still, some women may not feel comfortable nursing in public.
Formula, A Great Substitute?
Though formula has come a long way, it isn’t one hundred percent identical to breastmilk in terms of nutritional content and benefits. Nevertheless, it is a perfectly acceptable option.
Some families prefer formula because it gives someone other than the mother a chance to feed the baby. This makes it easier to split responsibilities among family members. The division of work can often be more equal. Additionally, not only does it allow someone else to bond with the baby, but it gives the mom a chance to take a break.
Some women find breastfeeding particularly trying, either physically, mentally, or both. Also, some mothers don’t like nursing in public, and giving a bottle is much easier. Formula feeding can be a wonderful option for these moms.
Additionally, some women have a very hard time pumping when they are away from their children. As a result, their supply diminishes and formula becomes a necessity.
Some babies may have dietary restrictions. Things like lactose can be passed through breastmilk and in some cases, the mom may need to give up certain foods to breastfeed. If the mother isn’t satisfied with this option, she may wish to use formula vs breast milk.
When it comes to breastfeeding vs pumping, breastfeeding is cheaper. But pumping is generally still cheaper than buying formula. Especially if your child requires a special kind of formula because formula is known for producing gas and constipation. This is an important factor to consider when evaluating breastfeeding vs bottle feeding.
There are notable differences between breast milk vs formula.
There are different nutrients in breastmilk vs formula. Breastmilk is considered complex, meaning it adapts and changes to a nursing child’s needs. Through a bio-feedback loop between the mom and the child, the breastmilk can become fattier, more hydrating, and contain different nutrients depending on what the baby needs.
Formula is not as complex and even modern science has not been able to create a formula that is as nutritious as breastmilk. But is formula bad for babies? No.
Formula also lacks the antibodies of breastmilk. This is why most moms wonder, is breast milk better than formula? The same bio loop transfers antibodies to the nursing baby, depending on what infections or illnesses the mom has been exposed to. This can help increase the baby’s immunity.
Breastmilk is believed to help protect babies against allergies, asthma, diarrhea, respiratory infections, ear infections, and more. Formula-fed babies are less protected.
Did you know breastmilk can contain the flavors of the mom’s diet? This is actually a great thing. It exposes the baby to different tastes and prepares them for solid foods. Manufactured formula does not have this same benefit. However, for moms with high lipase breastmilk, that can have an off-putting taste after being expressed, formula is likely better tasting to the baby.
Breastfeeding is quite convenient, however, the mom must be near her child. For mothers that work outside of the home, or don’t like nursing in public, formula can be more convenient.
Breastmilk is thought of as the best first food because it is designed to be easily digestible by a baby’s underdeveloped digestive system. Formula can lead to constipation and gas, however, there are specially designed types that reduce these side effects.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful skin-to-skin bonding experience for both the baby and the mother. However, it doesn’t provide an opportunity for other members of the family to bond through feeding. Formula feeding can give your partner or even grandparents a chance to experience this if pumping a bottle is not an option.
Breastfeeding vs Formula Feeding: Advantages & Disadvantages
Like all things in the world, there are pros and cons to each. Let’s go through them.
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Still on the fence about formula versus breastfeeding? You may want to consider mixed feeding. Mixed feeding is when a baby is both formula-fed and breastfed. Mixed feeding can be a combination of formula and directly nursing from your breast or bottle feeding breastmilk. Many mothers use this technique when they are not able to supply enough breastmilk to meet all of their babies’ needs, but still desire to breastfeed.
As any amount of breastmilk is considered better than none, mixed feeding may be recommended by pediatricians. Mixed feeding is commonly recommended if you are suffering nursing problems, such as mastitis, you are not producing enough milk, you are away from home, or your baby is not gaining enough weight.
Exclusive breastfeeding is advised for the first six months, so can you breastfeed and formula feed a newborn? Under the guidance of a pediatrician, yes. This is especially true if you are experiencing any of the issues mentioned above.
Mixing your breastmilk with formula is also possible with mixed feeding. Most formulas have specific guidelines about how to combine formula with breastmilk as opposed to water.
However, you may notice infant colic or gas after feeding baby breastmilk and formula. This is likely to do an adverse reaction to the formula rather than breastmilk.
Hopefully, we have shown you that when it comes to breast milk versus formula, there isn’t really a right answer. While breastmilk is considered the perfect food and has many benefits, breastfeeding just isn’t possible for some mothers.
Moms then turn to either mixed feeding or formula feeding, which is okay. The best option for your family is one that keeps your baby and you happy and healthy.
Pumping isn’t exactly the same as breastfeeding, as breastfeeding usually refers to feeding directly from the breast. However, pumping still provides your infant with breastmilk as opposed to formula feeding.
You can breastfeed and formula feed your baby. This is known as mixed feeding.
You can mix breastmilk and formula together. However, you must pay close attention to the manufacturer’s guidelines and follow all their instructions.
While there are cognitive benefits to breastfeeding, studies don’t prove that breastfed babies are smarter.
There are many different kinds of formula. The right one for your baby depends on their digestive system, allergies, etc. The kinds that most closely resemble breastmilk are Enfamil Enspire, Enfamil NeuroPro, and Similac Pro Advance.
Many moms prefer mixed feeding because it still provides their child with breastmilk and as a result the many benefits of breastmilk. Formula feeding may also give them the opportunity to leave their little one in someone else’s care without them having to pump a bottle.
Working with your doctor and your child’s pediatrician can help you decide which is the best path for you. Many mothers start out wanting to breastfeed but don’t make it as long as they hoped.
If you find yourself considering formula, know that this is alright! You may also wish to continue to work with a lactation consultant in order to improve your breastfeeding experience.