Breast Milk versus Formula

Breast Feeding versus Formula Feeding

If you are parenting your child, choosing to breast feed or formula feed your baby is one of the early decisions you need to make.

Breast Milk versus Formula

Breast feeding Versus Formula Feeding

Breast milk is usually the ideal nutrition for a new born.  However, if you are unable to breast feed or do not want to breast feed, infant formula is a healthy alternative.

Choosing to breast feed or bottle feed is a personal decision that needs to fit you, your baby, and life style. Feeding your baby breast milk or bottled formula are both healthy and responsible decisions, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Although there is no right or wrong choice, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations recommend breast feeding when possible. While breast milk is the ideal form of nutrition for a newborn, if you feed your baby a government approved formula your baby's nutritional needs will be met. Below are some facts you may want to consider as you decide which is best for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding: The Advantages

Infection-fighting: Antibodies are passed from you to your baby through your colostrum and breast milk including immunities to ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and meningitis.  In general, breast fed babies also have less frequent skin diseases, allergy problems, and less risk of becoming overweight, developing high blood pressure, and developing tooth decay.

Nutrition and ease of digestion: Breast milk is easily digested by a newborn and avoids digestive reactions found with some formulas and breast fed babies have less frequent diarrhea or constipation.

Costs: Breast milk is free although you do have to supplement your diet to make sure you stay healthy and have the nutrients for healthy breast milk production..

Convenience:  You do not need all the supplies associated with bottle feeding-- no bottles, mixing, or sterilizing and no need to worry about the temperature of the milk.

Obesity prevention: Some research suggest that breast feeding might help reduce the incidence of future obesity.

Breastfeeding: The Disadvantages

Legal issues: In some states breastfeeding a child in public is not allowed.

Breastfeeding can be challenging and may require your patience and persistence to get used to the routine of breastfeeding.  As with any new skill, you may initially feel uncomfortable and awkward with breast feeding.

Personal discomfort: You may experience nipple soreness, breast engorgement, and leaking breasts.

Feeding times and frequency: Breast feeding requires a substantial time commitment and many birth mothers are overwhelmed and exhausted by the every 2 to 3 hours, day and night, feedings.  Breast feeding makes it more difficult to work, run errands, or travel and full-time daycare is not practical.

Caffeine, alcohol, and other substances: The food and substances you eat and drink get passed onto your baby. Accordingly you to be careful about what you eat and drink. 

Medical conditions: A birth mother may have trouble with breast feeding due to a breast infection, a breast abscess, cancer, or an inadequate milk supply. A baby may have difficulty due to premature birth and small size, weak physical condition, sucking reflex problems, birth defects involving the mouth, lips or palate, and certain digestive problems.

Formula Feeding: The Advantages

A birth mother may choose formula feeding for medical reasons.  Some of the other reasons for formula feeding include:

Convenience: Either parent or another caregiver can feed the baby allowing the birth mother to share the feeding responsibility. Additionally, a birth mother will not need to be concerned about feeding her child in public.

Feeding times and frequency: Because formula digests slower than breast milk, formula fed babies usually need to eat less often than breast fed babies.

Food and liquid intake: If you use formula feeding you do not need to worry about anything you eat or drink being passed to your baby.

Formula Feeding: The Disadvantages

Organization and preparation: Formulas are prepared with sterile water or bottled sterilized baby water.

Ready-to-feed formulas that can be poured directly into a bottle without any mixing or water tend to be expensive.  Bottles and nipples need to be sterilized before the first use and then washed after every use. Bottles with formula that are left out of the refrigerator longer than 1 hour and any formula that a baby does not finish must be thrown out. You need to have formula available at all times and bottles must be ready. Bottles may need to be warmed up before feeding -- never use a microwave to heat the formula.

Lack of antibodies: While formula provides your baby with all the necessary nutrients, none of the antibodies found in breast milk is found in formula.

Gas and constipation: Typically, a baby feed with formula may have more gas and firmer bowel movements.

Cost: Formula can be expensive with powdered formula usually being the least expensive, followed by concentrate, then ready-to-feed, with specialty formulas such as soy and hypoallergenic formulas being more costly.

Additional Information

Breast feeding is not necessarily "second nature" to either the mother or the baby. Many women are helped by advice and tips from others, especially during the first days after the baby's birth. An excellent source is La Leche League International at 800-LA LECHE. Additionally, you may want to visit the websites listed below.

Kids Health: Breastfeeding versus formula feeding

American Pregnancy: breastfeeding and bottle feeding

Infant Nutrition


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