Breastfeeding vs Formula Feeding: (Advantages and Disadvantages Explained)
One of the biggest decisions expectant and nursing mothers have to make is whether to breastfeed or formula feed their baby. And while every parent wants the best for their child, there is a very big difference between that and seeing the best to fruition.
It is no wonder many parents get easily wrecked with guilt over their choices.
Doctors strongly recommend breastfeeding, unless there is a medical reason not to. Medical reasons not to breastfeed include illnesses and medications. Mothers who aren’t able to produce enough breast milk should consider supplementing with formula. But putting all of the above factors aside, what factors should be considered when making a decision between breastfeeding and formula feeding?
This post explores breastfeeding vs formula feeding advantages and disadvantages…
Breastfeeding: Everything You Need to Know
Breastfeeding can be a great bonding experience for both baby and mother that provides ideal nourishment. Most health organizations including World Health Organization (WHO), American Medical Association (AMA) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breastfeeding for good reasons.
Breast milk has been known to reduce the risk of infections, protect against chronic conditions and even prevent allergies. According to the AAP, babies should be breastfed exclusively during the first 6 months. Breastfeeding can be supplemented with formula and food until the baby is at least 12 months.
What is found in breast milk?
There are thousands of components found in breast milk including:
- Beneficial bacteria for protecting the digestive tract
- Hormones for regulating appetite and encouraging emotional bonding
- White blood cells for fighting infections
- Antibodies for protecting against diseases
- Long-chain fatty acids to promote the development of the brain, eyes and nervous system
- Nucleotides and hormones for developing healthy sleep-wake patterns
- Prebiotics for a healthy gut
- Stem cells for supporting organ development and repair
Benefits of breastfeeding:
- Fights infections and chronic conditions: Breast milk passes germ-fighting factors such as antibodies from mother to child. This reduces the risk of infection and hospitalization as compared to formula-fed infants. Breastfeeding can protect against ear infections, meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, obesity etc.
- Free: The most obvious benefit of breast milk is that doesn’t cost anything. You just have to eat healthy, and your infant will have a constant supply of food. With baby formula, the cost adds up quickly. In addition to the formula, you have to purchase other supplies such as bottles and nipples.
- Convenience: Breast milk is readily available and as such, eliminates the need for last minute runs to the store to get formula. Additionally, you don’t need to warm up bottles or clean bottles and nipples.
- Nutrition and ease of digestion: The contents in breast milk are easily digested by newborns. This means lower bouts of diarrhea and digestion issues as compared to formula fed babies. Breast milk also contains most nutrients required by an infant, with the exception of vitamin D. The AAP recommends using Vitamin D supplements after the first the first 2 months until the baby starts feeding on formula.
- Lower risk of infection for moms: Breastfeeding protects mothers against certain infections including Type II diabetes, heart disease, and ovarian & breast cancers.
Downsides of breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding comes easy to most mothers, but some face a few challenges including:
- Personal comfort: Many mothers feel uncomfortable when breastfeeding for the first time. Proper support, practice and education help overcome this.
- Time and frequency of breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is a huge commitment in terms of time, especially during the first few weeks. Lack of a proper breastfeeding schedule or the need to pump breast milk may make it more difficult for lactating mothers to get other things done.
- Maternal health condition: Medications, treatments like chemotherapy and conditions such as HIV/AIDs can make breast milk unhealthy for an infant. Additionally, mothers who’ve had breast surgeries will have a hard time producing enough breast milk. In each of these cases, mothers should talk to their doctor about their lactating concerns.
- Diet: It is extremely important to be cautious of what you eat or drink if your breastfeeding since it’ll be passed to the baby. Drink alcohol at least 2-3 hours before breastfeeding, avoid fish that are high in mercury, and limit caffeine intake to 1-3 cups of coffee per day.
- Latch-on pain: This is particularly common during the first 10 days and lasts less than a minute with each breastfeeding. Some moms experience latch-on pain throughout breastfeeding. In some extreme cases, the nipples and/or breasts become sore. Learning proper breastfeeding technique can help. You should also ask a lactation specialist for help.
Formula Feeding: Everything You Need to Know
When exploring breastfeeding vs. formula feeding advantages and disadvantages, it’s important that you look at all the angles. Infant formulas are commercially prepared and offer a nutritious alternative to breast milk. Manufactured in sterile environments, they attempt to duplicate the contents found in breast milk by using a complex combination of nutrients.
What is found in baby formula?
- Fatty acid, often sourced from fish oil
- Vitamins and minerals derived from plant and animal sources
- Lactose and/or sugars like fructose, corn syrup, and maltodextrin
- Enzymes and amino acids
- Plant-based oils like sunflower, rapeseed, soybean and palm oil
Benefits of baby formula:
Formula feeding offers a variety of health and practical advantages including;
- Flexibility: With formula, mothers can leave their baby at home with a caretaker confident that feedings are taken care of. It eliminates the need to schedule other obligations around the baby’s feeding schedule or even look for a private place to feed their baby when in public.
- Convenience: Formula allows for feeding at any time, making it easy for mothers and caregivers to share duties. It also makes moms and babysitters feel more involved in the feeding process and bond with the baby.
- Diet: Parents who opt to formula feed don’t have to worry about eliminating some of their favorite foods and drinks from their diet.
- Time and frequency of feedings: Formula doesn’t digest as easily as breast milk and as such, formula fed babies don’t eat very often.
Downsides of formula feeding:
- Expensive: Formula can prove costly in the long run, especially if you use concentrated and ready-to-feed formula. Babies consume well over $1500 in the first year alone.
- Lack of antibodies: Baby formula doesn’t contain any of the antibodies found in breast milk, hence less protection against infections.
- Planning and organization: Using formula requires a lot of planning and organization. Parents need to keep bottles clean and always have formula on hand for when needed. The last thing anyone needs is to make late night runs to the store.
- Not as complex as breast milk: Regardless of how good formula is, it can never match the complexity of breast milk. Unlike formula, breast milk changes as your baby get older.
The Bottom Line
Making a decision is difficult, especially since you can only know the right answer after the arrival of your baby. This post compares breastfeeding vs formula feeding advantages and disadvantages to help you make an informed decision. And while there are compelling arguments for both, talking to a doctor or lactation specialist can help clear things up.