Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed their baby is one of the biggest
decisions expectant and new parents will make.
Healt experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants. But
breastfeeding may not be possible for all women. For many, the decision to breastfeed
or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and specific medical situations.
For moms who can't breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a healthy
alternative. Formula provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Some mothers worry that if they don't breastfeed, they won't bond with their baby.
But the truth is, loving mothers will always create a special bond with their children.
And feeding — no matter how — is a great time to strengthen that bond.
The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal one. Weighing
the pros and cons of each method can help you decide what is best for you and your
All About Breastfeeding
Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal
nourishment and a special bonding experience that many mothers cherish.
A number of health organizations — including the
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and
the World Health Organization (WHO) — recommend breastfeeding as the best choice
for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and
protect against a number of chronic conditions.
The AAP recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively
for the first 6 months. Beyond that, breastfeeding is encouraged until at least 12
months, and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.
Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding:
Fighting infections and other conditions. Breastfed babies have
fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants. During breastfeeding,
antibodies and other germ-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthen
the immune system. This helps lower a baby's chances of getting many infections, including:
Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies.
Nutrition and ease of digestion. Often called the "perfect food"
for a human baby's digestive system, breast milk's components — lactose, protein
(whey and casein), and fat — are easily digested by a newborn.
As a group, breastfed infants have less difficulty with digestion than do formula-fed
infants. Breast milk tends to be more easily digested so that breastfed babies have
fewer bouts of diarrhea or constipation.
Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn
requires. One exception is vitamin D — the AAP recommends that all breastfed
babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing
until a baby consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (after 1 year
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates formula companies to ensure
they provide all the necessary nutrients (including vitamin D) in their formulas.
Still, commercial formulas can't completely match breast milk's exact composition.
Why? Because milk is a living substance made by each mother for her individual infant,
a process that can't be duplicated in a factory.
Free. Breast milk doesn't cost a cent, while the cost of formula
quickly adds up. And unless you're pumping breast milk and giving it to your baby,
there's no need for bottles, nipples, and other supplies that can be costly. Since
breastfed babies are less likely to be sick, that may mean they make fewer trips to
the doctor's office, so fewer co-pays and less money are paid for prescriptions
and over-the-counter medicines.
mothers usually need 300 to 500 extra calories per day, which should come from
a wide variety of well-balanced foods. This introduces breastfed babies to different
tastes through their mothers' breast milk, which has different flavors depending on
what their mothers have eaten. By tasting the foods of their "culture," breastfed
infants more easily accept solid foods.
Convenience. With no last-minute runs to the store for more formula,
breast milk is always fresh and available whether you're home or out
and about. And when women breastfeed, there's no need to wash bottles and nipples
or warm up bottles in the middle of the night.
Smarter babies. Some studies suggest that children who were exclusively
breastfed have slightly higher IQs than children who were formula fed.
"Skin-to-skin" contact. Many nursing mothers really enjoy the
experience of bonding so closely with their babies. And the skin-to-skin contact can
enhance the emotional connection between mother and infant.
Beneficial for mom, too. The ability to totally nourish a baby
can help a new mother feel confident in her ability to care for her baby. Breastfeeding
also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return
to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker. Also, studies show that breastfeeding
helps lower the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular
disease, and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding can be easy from the get-go for some mothers, but take a while
to get used to for others. Moms and babies need plenty of patience to get
used to the routine of breastfeeding.
of new moms, especially during the first few weeks and months, may include:
Personal comfort. Initially, many moms feel uncomfortable with
breastfeeding. But with proper education, support, and practice, most moms overcome
pain is normal for the first week to 10 days, and should last less than a minute with
each feeding. But if breastfeeding hurts throughout feedings, or if their nipples
and/or breasts are sore, it's a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to get help from
a lactation consultant or their doctor. Many times, it's just a matter of using the
proper technique, but sometimes pain can mean that something else is going on, like
and frequency of feedings. Breastfeeding requires a big time commitment
from mothers, 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
moms to work, run errands, or travel.
And breastfed babies do need to eat more often than babies who take formula, because
breast milk digests faster than formula. This means mom may find herself in demand
every 2 or 3 hours (maybe more, maybe less) in the first few weeks.
Women who are breastfeeding need to be aware of what they eat and drink, since
these can be passed to the baby through the breast milk. Just like during pregnancy,
breastfeeding women should not eat fish that are high in mercury and should limit
consumption of lower mercury fish.
If a mom drinks alcohol, a small amount can pass to the baby through breast milk.
She should wait at least 2 hours after a single alcoholic drink to breastfeed to avoid
passing any alcohol to the baby. Caffeine intake should be kept to no more than 300
milligrams (about one to three cups of regular coffee) or less per day because it
can cause problems like restlessness and irritability in some babies.
Maternal medical conditions, medicines, and breast surgery. Medical
conditions such as HIV or AIDS
or those that involve chemotherapy or treatment with certain medicines can make breastfeeding
unsafe. A woman should check with her doctor or a lactation consultant if she's unsure
if she should breastfeed with a specific condition. Women should always check with
the doctor about the safety of taking medicines while breastfeeding, including over-the-counter
and herbal medicines.
Mothers who've had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with
their milk supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this situation, a woman
should to talk to her doctor about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.
All About Formula Feeding
Commercially prepared infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk,
and even contain some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from
Manufactured under sterile conditions, commercial formulas attempt to duplicate
mother's milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins
that aren't possible to create at home. So if you don't breastfeed your baby, it's
important to use only commercially prepared formula and not try to make your own.
Besides medical concerns that may prevent breastfeeding, for some women, breastfeeding
may be too difficult or stressful. Here are other reasons women may choose to formula
Convenience. Either parent (or another caregiver) can feed the
baby a bottle at any time (although this is also true for women who pump their breast
milk). This allows mom to share the feeding duties and helps her partner to feel more
involved in the crucial feeding process and the bonding that often comes with it.
Flexibility. Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother
can leave her baby with a partner or caregiver and know that her little one's feedings
are taken care of. There's no need to pump or to schedule work or other obligations
and activities around the baby's feeding schedule. And formula-feeding moms don't
need to find a private place to nurse in public.
and frequency of feedings. Because formula is less digestible than
breast milk, formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than breastfed babies.
Diet. Women who opt to formula feed don't have to worry about
the things they eat or drink that could affect their babies.
Formula Feeding Challenges
As with breastfeeding, there are some challenges
to consider when deciding whether to formula feed.
Lack of antibodies. 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.
Can't match the complexity of breast milk. Manufactured formulas
have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as the baby's needs
and organization. Unlike breast milk — which is always available,
unlimited, and served at the right temperature — formula feeding your baby requires
planning and organization to make sure that you have what you need when you need it.
Parents must buy formula and make sure it's always on hand to avoid late-night runs
to the store.
And it's important to always have the necessary supplies (like bottles and nipples)
clean, easily accessible, and ready to go — otherwise, you will have a very
hungry, very fussy baby to answer to. With 8-10 feedings in a 24-hour period, parents
can quickly get overwhelmed if they're not prepared and organized.
Expense. Formula can be costly. Powdered formula is the least
expensive, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed being the most expensive.
And specialty formulas (such as soy and hypoallergenic) cost more — sometimes
far more — than the basic formulas. During the first year of life, the cost
of basic formula can run about $1,500.
Possibility of producing gas and constipation. Formula-fed babies
may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies.
Making a Choice
Deciding how you will feed your baby can be a hard decision. You'll really only
know the right choice for your family when your baby comes.
Many women decide on one method before the birth and then change their minds after
their baby is born. And many women decide to breastfeed and supplement with formula
because they find that is the best choice for their family and their lifestyle.
While you're weighing the pros and cons, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.
These health care providers can give you more information about your options and help
you make the best decision for your family.