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Feeding 101: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

babyhood Apr 18, 2023
Mother holding their new baby for breast feeding or formula feeding in a bottle.

Professionals agree that when possible, breastfeeding is the way to go. They also agree that if breastfeeding doesn't work, formula is a great way to give your baby all the nutrients they need. Both will lead to a healthy and happy baby.

Benefits of Breastfeeding 

  • It's cheaper. Breast milk is free. But keep in mind the supplies needed to support breastfeeding are not. Nursing bras, pads, nipple creams, pump parts, and freezer bags/coolers are added up.
  • Immune System Benefits – Antibodies from mom will be transferred to the baby resulting in an added layer of protection from infections. These antibodies can also help lower the risk of allergies and asthma (there are a myriad of other illnesses and conditions that breastfeeding may help with as well, but research isn't all in agreement- so keep that in mind.)
  • Contractions from breastfeeding help the uterus contract back to its pre-pregnancy size faster.
  • Beneficial for Mom – Breastfeeding can sometimes help mom lose extra pregnancy weight, bond to the baby, and may also decrease the risk of certain cancers and chronic diseases.

Disadvantages of Breastfeeding 

  • Often painful during the first few weeks.
  • Emotionally and physically taxing on mom – she is the only one that can feed the baby.
  • Possible complications – clogged ducts, mastitis, milk supply etc. (See common breastfeeding challenges below) 
  • Requires pumping during regular feeding times when mom is away from the baby. 
  • Sometimes mom needs to restrict certain foods from diet and cut back on alcohol and caffeine consumption. 
  • When issues arise, your partner may need professional support with a Lactation Consultant to work through them. Lactation consultants often cost upwards of $100/hr. It's not uncommon to need more than one visit.
  • Many medications cannot be taken while breastfeeding.

It's important to note that, especially in the United States, there is a lot of pressure put on parents to breastfeed. For many, breastfeeding is a great option that goes relatively smoothly. For others, the struggles outweigh the benefits. Support your partner in whatever they decide is best.

Benefits of Formula

  • Convenient – Formula fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time. This allows mom to be away from the baby and also get more sleep since anyone can do nighttime feedings.
  • Easy to track intake – You know that your baby is full and getting plenty to eat.
  • Mom is able to take any medications she may need, drink caffeine, alcohol, and eat whatever diet she choses without it impacting her supply or affecting the baby.

Disadvantages of Formula 

  • Expensive – have to buy formula, bottles, bottle warmers and sterilizers, etc. the price of formula on a weekly basis could strain budgets
  • Baby does not get the antibodies from mom. 
  • Inconvenient at times to get a warm bottle (though not all babies need their bottle to be warm).
  • Can take time to find the right formula and bottle for your baby.

Other Feeding Options

A Combination of Both – Some parents do a mix of breastmilk and formula, also known as supplementing. It's a great option if mom works and can't always breastfeed, has low supply, and tons of other reasons.

Exclusive Pumping – Exclusive pumping is a form of breastfeeding where the baby drinks breast milk from a bottle that mom has pumped using a breast pump instead of feeding at the chest. This is a great option if your baby is struggling to gain weight and you want to see how much they're eating, but don't want to switch to formula. It's also common to see exclusive pumping in working moms, or mom's that had issues with latching or simply just didn't want to breastfeed. If your partner ends up exclusively pumping, she's a strong and tough parent. Pumping in any capacity is a lot of work and not for the faint of heart.

In the end, how you decide to feed your baby will depend on a myriad of factors. Try to be flexible in this department if the need arises. Working with your pediatrician will also allow you and your partner to know what's best for your specific circumstances. In the end, fed is best. When your child is grown, there will be no way to tell whether they had formula or breastmilk.

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