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Breastfeeding vs. Formula: What’s best for my baby?

Breastfeeding vs. Formula: What’s best for my baby?

Making the decision between breastfeeding and formula feeding can be tough. This article breaks down the pros and cons of both options to help you make the best decision for your baby.

While breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for your baby and is the most widely recommended way to feed a newborn, there are some important factors that might lead you to consider formula feeding. You may experience criticism from a range of different people for not feeding your baby from the breast. However, no matter what you decide, the only thing that really matters is what choice is right for you and your baby.  

The benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk is tailor-made for your baby. It adapts to your baby’s changing needs, and provides them with the best combination of antibodies, vitamins, proteins and other nutrients for their cognitive and physical development. It also offers protection from certain infections and helps to improve your baby’s long-term health, which research has shown lasts well into adulthood. Any amount of breast milk has a positive effect on your baby, and the longer you feed, the greater the protection and benefits. 

The limitations of breastfeeding

While experts believe that breastfeeding is the best choice, it may not always be possible to do as a parent. For many, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, or those adopting. Breastfeeding affects different people differently. Some parents may not be able to produce breast milk, while others may choose to stop or avoid breastfeeding because of infections such as mastitis, which affects 1 in 10. 

Another challenge that might prevent you from breastfeeding is latch-on pain, although this typically only lasts for the first week to 10 days, and no longer than a minute with each feeding. Latch-on pain can however  prevent you from feeding. If you find this is happening to you, it might be a good idea to get help from a lactation consultant or your GP. Usually, it's just a matter of using the proper technique, but sometimes pain can mean that something else is going on, like an infection. In these instances, formula can provide a great convenient and pain free alternative for you and your baby. Supplementing breast milk with infant formula is nothing to be ashamed of, as ensuring that your baby meets their nutrition needs is exactly what any good parent should do. 

The benefits of formula milk

Pre-prepared infant formulas offer a nutritious alternative to breast milk, and even contain some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements. Formula bottle-feeding allows the freedom of a less restrictive diet, as you might be concerned that the food and medication you’re ingesting will be passed along to your baby through your milk.  There's also no need to use a breast pump or to schedule work or other obligations and activities around the baby's feeding schedule, nor will you need to find a private place to nurse in public. You’ll have the benefit of being ready to feed regardless of time or place. 

The limitations of formula milk

None of the antibodies found in breast milk are in manufactured formula. So formula can't provide a baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does. Formulas have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as the baby's needs change. Preparing and mixing formulas can be a little tricky to master as you have to make sure it's the right ratio, consistency, and temperature. 

Combining breastfeeding with formula bottle-feeding:

Breastfeeding requires a big time commitment from parents, especially in the beginning, when babies feed often. A breastfeeding schedule or the need to pump breast milk during the day can make it harder for some to work, run errands, or travel. And breastfed babies do need to eat more often than a formula fed baby, as breast milk digests faster than formula. This means you may find yourself in demand every 2 or 3 hours (maybe more, maybe less) in the first few weeks. 

If you choose to combine breastfeeding with formula feeds both you and your baby can carry on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding. If you choose to introduce infant formula:

  • it's best to do it gradually to give your body time to reduce the amount of milk it makes – this helps lower your chance of getting uncomfortable, swollen breasts, or mastitis
  • if you're going back to work, start a few weeks beforehand to give both of you time to readjust
  • if your baby is 6 months old or more and can drink milk from a cup, you may not need to introduce a bottle at all

It may take a while for a breastfed baby to get the hang of bottle feeding, because they need to use a different sucking action. It usually helps to give the first few bottles when your baby is happy and relaxed, rather than when they’re hungry. It may also help if someone else gives the first bottle feed, so that your baby isn’t near you and smelling your breast milk. 

Final thoughts from Kinhub:

Every parent and baby is unique, as is every breastfeeding situation. If you want to breastfeed but you’re told you can’t or shouldn’t, it can be devastating. Breastfeeding offers a chance to bond with your baby and enhance emotional connections and is often cited as one of the most beneficial reasons to do so. However, try to remember that exclusive breastfeeding isn’t the only way to build a close relationship while providing nutrition to your child. The choice on how you will feed your baby is extremely personal and you should do whatever you think is best for both you and the baby.