Breastfeeding vs formula: Breast or bottle?

Breastfeeding vs formula

The pros and cons of breastfeeding and formula

Breastfeeding vs formula. Some mothers have a natural instinct to breastfeed and would never dream of offering their babies formula.

For others it doesn’t come so easily.

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The UK government, the World Health Organisation and health professionals recommend exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of a baby’s life.

It is unsurprising some mums are filled with anxiety and dread at the very thought of breastfeeding. But feel immensely pressured by society to do it anyway.

Breastfeeding or bottle feeding can be somewhat of a controversial topic! 

The decision may be an easy one for you to make that doesn’t even require much thought.

If not, it may help you to learn the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding and formula. Then you can make an informed choice.

So, what are the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs bottle feeding? 

Advantages of breastfeeding

Advantages of breastfeeding for baby

Why is breastfeeding best?

Breast milk is formulated as nature intended. It has the right balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to satisfy a baby’s changing nutritional needs.

Breast milk is easier to digest than formula and less likely to cause constipation and diarrhoea.

Antibodies passed through the mother’s breast milk support the baby’s immune system and help fight infections.

Breastfeeding may help protect babies from ear infections, respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, eczema, asthma, allergies, diabetes, tooth decay, obesity and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Advantages of breastfeeding for mum

Breast milk is freshly available on tap at precisely the right temperature when the baby is hungry. There is none of the organisation and preparation associated with making up formula milk feeds.

Breast milk is free. If babies are exclusively breastfed, there are no extra costs associated with bottle feeding, including formula milk, bottles, teats, sterilising equipment etc.

There is no need to faff about washing and sterilising feeding equipment on a daily basis. You won’t be constantly making sure formula supplies do not run out.

Breastfeeding is an opportunity for physical closeness and skin-to-skin contact between mother and child, and a chance to develop a special bond.

Breastfeeding helps shrink the uterus, burns calories and may help a nursing mother return to her pre-pregnancy weight more quickly.

If you breastfeed it may reduce the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Disadvantages of breastfeeding

Disadvantages of breastfeeding for baby

Breast milk can be low in vitamin D. According to the NHS, breastfed babies need a daily vitamin D supplement from birth, until they receive vitamin D-fortified formula milk.

It can be difficult to know exactly how much milk the baby is getting. If the mother is not producing enough milk this can result in a hungry, dissatisfied baby.

Disadvantages of breastfeeding for mum

Why do mothers avoid breastfeeding?

It can take patience, perseverance and lots of time and effort to establish breastfeeding. Latching on can be painful and it can be a frustrating experience.

Breastfeeding is demanding. Breast milk is digested faster than formula, so breastfed babies need feeding more frequently, sometimes every two to three hours.

The mother must always be present to feed the baby, or be able to pump milk to ensure a constant supply is available.

Lifestyle issues such as going back to work, travelling or looking after other children can make it difficult to maintain a breastfeeding schedule.

The mother may experience leaking breasts, uncomfortable breast engorgement, swelling and pain, and sore and cracked nipples. Even painful mastitis caused by bacteria entering the breast through a cracked nipple.

Some medical conditions, medicines and medical treatments can make breastfeeding complicated, unsafe or impossible.

Caffeine and alcohol can be passed to the baby through breast milk and must be strictly limited in the mother’s diet.

It can be difficult to find a suitable place to breastfeed when out and about. Breastfeeding in public is sometimes viewed as socially unacceptable and makes breastfeeding women feel uncomfortable.

The mother may experience feelings of guilt and failure if breastfeeding is a struggle.

Advantages of bottle feeding

Advantages of bottle feeding for baby

Why is it better to bottle feed?

Formula milk provides all known necessary nutrients that babies need to be healthy, and it is a good alternative to breast milk.

Infant formula provides all the vitamin D a baby needs – there is no need for a vitamin D supplement. Breast milk may be lacking in sufficient amounts of vitamin D.

Advantages of bottle feeding for mum

Formula-fed babies eat less often than breastfed babies because formula milk takes longer to digest.

It is easy to see exactly how much milk the baby is getting and adjust feeds accordingly.

Feeding duties can be shared. This gives the mother’s partner a chance to bond with the baby during feeds, and share the responsibility of night feeds.

It is easier to arrange work or other commitments around the baby’s feeding schedule. Grandparents and caregivers can feed the baby without mum being present.

There is no need to feel self-conscious about feeding in public, or trying to find a private place to do it. There is no need for nursing bras, special clothing or a nursing cover.

Formula-fed babies are unaffected by what their mothers have to eat and drink. Therefore mum does not need to worry so much about diet. It doesn’t matter if she fancies the odd glass of wine or a few cups of coffee.

Disadvantages of formula feeding

Disadvantages of bottle feeding for baby

Why isn’t bottle feeding as good as breastfeeding?

Formula milk provides all the necessary nutrition infants need (including vitamin D). But it does not replicate the complex composition of a mother’s breast milk exactly.

Bottle fed babies do not receive the antibodies found in breast milk, and do not benefit from the added protection against infection.

Formula-fed babies may produce more gas and become constipated more easily than breastfed babies

Disadvantages of bottle feeding for mum

Powdered formula milk costs around £50 per month, while ready-made liquid formula is even more expensive. This could have a serious impact on your family budget.

You will need to purchase bottles, teats and sterilising equipment. Teats will need to be replaced regularly.

You need to keep an eye on your formula milk supplies to make sure you never run out.

Bottle feeding requires a lot of organisation in the early weeks. You could be doing 8 bottle feeds a day to begin with, which requires feeding equipment to be prepared and ready at all times. (Or you will be dealing with a frustrated, screaming baby while simultaneously trying to get a bottle ready.)

Investing in a milk prep machine such as the Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Machine may be a life saver for making bottles quickly on demand.

It can be fiddly and time consuming to prepare feeds, and bottles and teats must be thoroughly washed and sterilised before each use. It can get monotonous doing this on a daily basis.

You must take ready-made formula or equipment for making formula feeds with you when you go out. If you make up bottles beforehand you must make sure you take enough with you and store them properly.

The mother may feel guilty for not breastfeeding, and may worry they won’t develop a close bond with their baby by bottle feeding. This simply isn’t true, feeding is just one way to bond with your baby. Both methods of feeding are an opportunity to bond.

The mother may be judged negatively by other people for not breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding vs formula

There are many benefits of breastfeeding and it is easy to see why health professionals promote ‘breast is best’.

Even breastfeeding for a short time is beneficial to both mother and baby.

There is plenty of support and guidance available from midwives, doctors, nurses and lactation consultants to help nursing mothers overcome obstacles to breastfeeding.

However, breastfeeding is not for everyone.

Also, if you don’t want to feed your baby directly from the breast, you can feed expressed breast milk from a bottle.

Or, you may find a combination of breastfeeding and formula that works for you.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice that depends on the mother’s feelings and concerns, lifestyle and in some cases, existing medical conditions.

Is it OK not to breastfeed?

What if you choose not to offer, or if it’s just not possible, for you to provide breast milk?

Formula milk is a healthy alternative to breastmilk. Formula milks are very good and will satisfy your baby’s nutritional requirements.

There is a wide range of formula milk brands to choose from as well as different types. First infant formula, goats’ milk formula, anti-reflux and lactose-free, to name a few.

Whatever your baby’s nutritional requirements and your maternal feelings towards feeding, you will find an option to suit you both. 

If your baby is well fed, healthy and thriving, you are winning, however you choose to feed.

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Breast or bottle