Breastfeeding or Formula?
The UK government recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life. However, breastfeeding is a personal choice that depends on the mother's feelings and concerns, her lifestyle and in some cases, existing medical conditions.
Some women have a natural instinct to breastfeed and would never dream of offering their babies formula, while others are filled with anxiety and dread at the very thought of breastfeeding.
You will probably decide how you want to feed your baby before he or she is even born, but here are the pros and cons of breastfeeding and formula feeding to help you make an informed choice.
Pros of breastfeeding
- Breast milk is formulated as nature intended, with the right balance of nutrients to satisfy a baby's changing nutritional needs
- Antibodies in breast milk support the baby's immune system and help fight infections
- Breast milk is easier to digest than formula and less likely to cause constipation and diarrhoea
- Breastfed babies may be less likely to suffer middle ear and lower respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, eczema, asthma, diabetes, tooth decay, obesity and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
- Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in the mother
- Breastfeeding helps shrink the uterus, burns calories and may help a nursing mother return to her pre-pregnancy weight more quickly
- Breastfeeding is an opportunity for physical closeness between mother and child
- Breast milk is freshly available on tap at precisely the right temperature when the baby is hungry, without the preparation time associated with making up formula milk feeds
- Breast milk is free
Cons of breastfeeding
- Breast milk can be low in vitamin D and according to the NHS choices website, breastfed babies may need vitamin drops if the mother did not take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy
- Breastfed babies demand feeding more frequently than formula-fed babies, sometimes every two to three hours
- 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
- It can take patience, perseverance and lots of effort and time to establish breastfeeding
- The mother may experience leaking breasts, breast engorgement that causes discomfort, swelling and pain, sore and cracked nipples, and painful mastitis caused by bacteria entering the breast through a cracked nipple
- The mother must always be present to feed the baby or be able to pump milk
- Lifestyle issues such as going back to work, travelling or looking after other children can make it difficult to maintain a breastfeeding schedule
- Some medical conditions and medical treatments such as chemotherapy can make breastfeeding complicated or unsafe
- Caffeine and alcohol can be passed to the baby through breast milk and must be strictly limited in the mother's diet
- The mother may experience feelings of guilt and failure if breastfeeding is a struggle
- It can be difficult to find a suitable place to breastfeed when out and about, and breastfeeding in public is viewed as socially unacceptable by some people
Pros of formula feeding
- 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
- 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
- Anyone can feed the baby – the mother does not always have to be present
- The mother's partner can share feeding duties and bond with the baby
- There is no need to find a private place to feed the baby in public
- It is easier to arrange work or other commitments around the baby's feeding schedule
- Formula-fed babies are unaffected by what their mothers have to eat and drink
Cons of formula feeding
- Formula milk provides adequate nutrition but it does not duplicate the complex composition of a mother's breast milk exactly
- Formula milk does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk and it does not provide the same added protection against illness
- Formula-fed babies may produce more gas and become constipated more easily than breastfed babies
- Powdered formula milk costs around £45 per month, while ready-made formula is even more expensive
- It can be fiddly and time consuming to prepare feeds, and bottles and teats must be thoroughly washed and sterilised before each use
- It is necessary to take ready-made formula or equipment for making formula feeds with you when out and about with baby
- The mother may feel guilty for not breastfeeding
- The mother may be judged negatively by other people for not breastfeeding
There are many benefits of breastfeeding and it is easy to see why health experts think '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. Also, if you don't want to feed your baby directly from the breast, you can offer expressed breast milk from a bottle.
With all this in mind, breastfeeding is not for everyone. If you choose not to breastfeed, your baby will still grow and develop normally, and turn out just fine.