Is Breastfeeding Or Formula Better For Your Baby?

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Mom breastfeeding vs. formula

(reading time ~9 minutes) 

This article will discuss "Is Breastfeeding Or Formula Better For Your Baby?" The short answer is that breastfeeding offers so many advantages that it's absolutely preferred over formula. Breastfeeding is best for babies and moms too! 

In the course of evolution, there have been eons of time to perfect the #1 natural food source for infants-- mother's milk. The components of breast milk-- protein, lactose, carbohydrates, fat, calcium, vitamins, hormones, and digestive enzymes-- can easily be digested by a newborn with less difficulty than formula. 

Formula approximates breastmilk, but breastmilk provides the best nutrients for your little one's brain growth and nervous system development.

And the components of a mother's breastmilk change gradually over time to perfectly accommodate your baby's changing needs. That's right. Your little one will communicate what she needs from mom's body according to the milk production stage she's in and the changing nutritional requirements of her body. 

Breastfeeding, of course, also promotes skin-on-skin bonding with your little one.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced shortly after birth and during breastfeeding that helps with milk flow. It is also responsible for naturally promoting bonding and maternal behaviors. Oxytocin promotes calmness, affection for your little one, and stress reduction. 

As we will see, the complete list of breastfeeding advantages is phenomenal.

20 Benefits of Breastfeeding For Baby 

Is Breastfeeding or formula better for your baby?
  1. Since breastmilk digests more easily than formula, breastfed babies are less constipated and gassy.
  2. Breastmilk has antibodies that give your baby considerable immunity from colds, flu, and thrush. 
  3. Breastmilk has proteins and white blood cells that help protect against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. 
  4. Mother's milk contains immunoglobulins, which provide passive immunity for your baby. Immunoglobulins also have factors that assist with the maturation of the digestive tract lining. 
  5. Breast milk can help prevent health problems such as eczema, allergies, stomach problems, and intestinal and ear infections. 
  6. Breastfed babies are 3.6 times less likely to be hospitalized with pneumonia, bronchitis, and other breathing infections than formula-fed babies. Exclusively breastfeeding infants were 17 times less likely to be admitted to the hospital for pneumonia.
  7. Breastfeeding is responsible for a decreased infectious morbidity rate, including otitis media and gastroenteritis. 
  8. In preterm infants, not being breastfed is associated with a 2.4-fold greater risk of NEC. 
  9. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 60-72%, depending upon how long the baby is breastfed for. In fact, breastfeeding for as little as two months cuts the risk of SIDS in half! 
  10. Since breastfed babies are more likely to remain healthy, there are fewer trips to the doctor's office needed, fewer co-pays, and less money spent on prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. 
  11. Breastfeeding helps reduce the chances of your child developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, lymphoma, and high cholesterol later in life. 
  12. Breastmilk contains over 200 oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates naturally found in an array of plant foods that support a more robust immune system and healthy gut. 
  13. Breastmilk contains beneficial bacteria that protect your baby's digestive system. 
  14. Breastfeeding provides stem cells that support organ development and repair and hormones that regulate appetite. 
  15. Breastmilk has long-chain fatty acids that help develop your baby's brain, eyes, and nervous system. 
  16. It also contains nucleotides and hormones that help promote healthy sleep and wake patterns. 
  17. Breastfeeding will also help your child in later years by reducing the chances of developing asthma and allergies and being overweight, which leads to a host of health complications. 
  18. Breastmilk is always at the perfect temperature, takes no preparation time, and is available at any time and place. 
  19. There's no cleanup, and it saves over $1,000/year in formula costs. 
  20. Breastmilk can also be pumped, allowing more discrete public feedings and other family members to participate in feeding. 
dad bottle feeding breastmilk

Other Perks of Breastfeeding 

Introducing New Tastes 

Foods that the mother eats flavor her breast milk. This can lead to your baby enjoying a wider variety of foods when you start introducing solids. In general, breastfed infants accept solid foods more readily than formula-fed babies. 

Breastfeeding also encourages an infant's healthier selection of foods when Mom has been eating healthy while nursing. She has secretly been handing down a taste for healthier foods! 

Is A Higher IQ Possible With Breastfeeding? It Seems So. 

Higher IQ through breastfeeding

The research as to whether breastfed babies have higher IQ scores has not been entirely conclusive. There were modest IQ gains in many research tests among breastfed babies and a higher level of cognitive function.

However, it has also been argued that other factors could be responsible for these somewhat higher IQ scores. Namely, mothers who breastfed tended to be well off, have a relatively higher IQ, and participated with their little ones in more cognitively stimulating activities. For cognitively stimulating activities please see Dad Bonding With Baby Months 0-3, Dad Bonding With Baby Months 4-6 and Dad Bonding With Baby months 7-12.

However, in a relatively new study, which followed breastfed and formula-fed subjects for 30 years, the playing field seems to have been leveled for the factors named above. 

"What is unique about this study is the fact that, in the population studied, breastfeeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women but was evenly distributed by social class," says Dr. Bernardo Lessa Horta from the Federal University of Peltas in Brazil. 

Participants who breastfed for a year or more had IQ scores that were 3.76 points higher than formula-fed babies. This is considerable. The breastfed babies also went on to attain more years of education and earned about a third more than babies who were breastfed for less than one month. 

Dr. Horta attributed these gains to being breastfed. "The likely mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of breastmilk on intelligence is the presence of long-chain saturated fatty acids (DHAs) found in breastmilk, which are essential for brain development."

Irrespective of these findings, which this author finds very credible, many studies previously observed a large impact of breastfeeding on increased verbal IQ scores. 

Breastfeeding Is Also Best For Moms Too 

Breastfeeding is best for moms
  1. Breastfeeding is also best for moms over formula feeding. Besides helping to form a unique bond with their babies, mothers who breastfeed find it easier to lose weight after pregnancy because of the additional 300-500 calories per day consumed by the infant. 
  2. Breastfeeding burns many calories and helps shrink the uterus back to its original position, so nursing moms may be able to go back to their pre-pregnancy shape sooner than when using formula. 
  3. Breastfeeding also helps moms lower the risk for breast, ovarian and uterine cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. 
  4. Rates of depression, anxiety and stress are lower in breastfeeding moms, reducing the risk of postpartum depression. 
  5. Breastfeeding also saves Mom time in general. It reduces the time during feedings and helps you and your partner get back to sleep more quickly. There is less time spent preparing formula, washing, sanitizing bottles, boiling water, and prepping bottles of formula. 

Breastfeeding Recommendations From The Medical Community 

With everything we have been saying about breastfeeding, virtually every medical association endorses breastfeeding as the healthiest option for both mom and baby. The USDA and WIC programs strongly encourage to breastfeed infants unless there is a medical reason not to.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months and continuing for at least another six months after solid foods have been introduced.

 After that, continue for as long as mother and child are willing. The World Health Organization recommends at least two years of breastfeeding for all infants.

Disadvantages Of Breastfeeding 

There are so many advantages to breasting feeding; it makes you wonder if there are any disadvantages. There are.

Early breastfeeding with sore mom

Early breastfeeding may be very uncomfortable for mom while the baby learns to latch on and mom accommodates to the process. However, if breastfeeding hurts in general or one's nipples or breasts are sore, it's time to visit a lactation consultant or your doctor.

Breastfed babies will need to eat more often than formula-fed infants since breastmilk digests more quickly. Mom may find herself having to feed every two to three hours or maybe more frequently in the first few weeks. A typical breastfed baby will eat 8-12 times in 24 hours. 

This can be difficult, especially at night time. Shorter intervals between feedings can also make it more difficult for mom to run errands. And if a feeding is missed, mom must pump to avoid engorgement and to keep her milk flowing. 

In 15% of cases, a woman cannot produce enough breastmilk or any at all to feed her baby. Occasionally, this is the result of a previous breast reduction surgery. When issues like this arise, it's best to speak to a lactation consultant to see if anything can be done. 

If you cannot produce enough milk, it is suggested to feed whatever breastmilk you can make and supplement the rest with formula. Even small amounts of breast milk can be very beneficial for your baby, particularly in the first three months.

Illnesses can interfere with breastfeeding, and so can taking certain medications. Ask your doctor if any medications you are taking or illnesses you may have make it unsafe to breastfeed.

When breastfeeding, you should not eat fish that are high in mercury. Limit your consumption of lower mercury fish. 

Breastfeeding Mom lower levels of mercury intake

Breastmilk contains all the vitamins and minerals a newborn needs except vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first two months. 

If a mom drinks alcohol, she must wait 2-3 hours after a single drink to avoid passing any alcohol to the baby in the breastmilk.

Caffeine should be limited to 1 to 3 cups or less per day as it can cause irritability and restlessness in some babies.

Note that it is safe to breastfeed your baby if you have hepatitis B or C.

If you're a smoker, it is still advisable to breastfeed. Breastmilk can eliminate some of the risks to your baby from smoking exposure. But if you do smoke, smoke after breastfeeding, so your baby gets the least amount of nicotine possible.

Pumping Breastmilk At Work 

Pumping breastmilk at work is not necessarily convenient or comfortable. Hourly workers employed by companies with over 50 employees must by law be given a time and place to pump. This does not include salaried employees, who may or may not be accommodated.

And not all jobs allow for regularly scheduled breaks to pump. If you travel for work or have more than one job, finding a place, time, and storage area for pumping may be difficult.

Breast Feeding Is Therefore Very Highly Encouraged 

There are so many advantages and benefits to breastfeeding; it is this author's sincerest recommendation to breastfeed for the entire first two years if you can. If that's not possible, breastfeed for as long as you can or use a combination of mother's milk and formula if your production is low. 

Remember, any timeframe or amount that you can breastfeed has a positive effect on your child. 

When Breastfeeding Isn't In The Cards 

Of course, there will be those who cannot breastfeed due to illness, medications prescribed, deficient milk production, or perhaps an alcohol or drug problem. 

And there will be those who cannot pump at work and find it too difficult to breastfeed, too annoying, or feel that it's just not for them or part of their lifestyle. This is always a parent's decision and must be respected.

So let's consider options for bottle-feeding and the advantages it offers.

Types Of Formula

Formulas are prepared to duplicate mother's milk as closely as possible using a combination of sugars, fats, proteins, and vitamins.

Typical baby formula is made of processed skimmed cow's milk. It may contain: lactose and/or other sugars such as corn syrup, plant-based oils, such as palm, sunflower, and soybean, fatty acids derived from fish oil, vitamins and minerals, enzymes and amino acids, and in some cases, a probiotic.

A wide range of formulas is available. For instance, soy-based formulas are helpful when parents do not want their children to eat animal proteins or when infants have a milk allergy. 

Reflux formulas come thickened with rice starch. These are helpful to babies with reflux problems who are not gaining weight.

There are also formulas for premature and low-birth-weight infants that contain extra calories and minerals. There are also specially designed formulas for babies with digestive problems or heart conditions.

You'll have a choice of 3 different kinds of formula to use: ready-to-use, powdered and liquid concentrated.

A ready-to-use formula doesn't need to be mixed with water. It's ready to go, but it's also the most expensive kind.

Liquid concentrated formula is priced between ready-to-use and powdered formula and needs to be mixed with water before use.

The most widely known and used powdered formula is the least expensive type and very easy to prepare.

Advantages of Bottle Feeding Your Baby

Tired Dad formula feeding baby
  • Convenience. Formula can be prepared by anyone and formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time.
  • Flexibility. You don't have to schedule pumping into your daily or work schedule.
    Your partner can contribute with nighttime feedings, giving mom a chance to rest and dad the opportunity to bond while feeding the baby.
  • The schedule of feedings may be more convenient. Formula isn't digested as quickly as breastmilk, so you don't need to feed as often, especially in the first few months. 
  • You can eat whatever you choose to. You don't need to avoid eating foods that your baby can't tolerate, and you can have a glass of wine without being concerned about passing alcohol on to your little one. 

I hope this article has been helpful to you, and I welcome any comments you may have.

About the author 

Dan Sperling

I'm the proud father of two great children. They are grown up now, and although I would have preferred to be a stay-at-home dad, I had to work. Luckily, I could work out of my home so I was around a lot. I ran a video production company, had a couple of great guys working with me and it allowed me to be around the children a lot. I was the "fun guy" for my kids and fathering was something I just took to.
When my daughter became pregnant, I was glad to see my son-in-law was doing everything right--or as good as it gets--we're always winging it, right? It got me thinking that so many dads would like to be more emotionally involved and knowledgeable when it comes to their wives' pregnancy and the first year of their children's lives.

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  1. As someone who has a child who just will not breastfeed despite ALL tricks (finger feeds, s n s machine, you name it- i tried it!)…i had a decision to make. Pump every two hours and bottle feed mothers milk or formula feed. i have friends who just don’t produce enough so of course formula is the best option for them. But i have the milk….so do i spend 1/4 of my life pumping and going through the pain to give mothers milk or use formula?

    MOTHERS MILK ALWAYS IF YOU CAN. i’m on only on the two and it’s hell. But with all of the benefits- how could i not ???

    1. You’re a real trooper. It’s about twice as much work to pump and feed separately. You are really dedicated! You’re a great example of going the extra couple of miles for your child. When you consider the medical conditions that he may avoid as he gets older, the conditions that you may avoid, the 50% less chance of SIDS, the likelihood of boosting IQ a few points in this competitive world, and very possibly contributing to a greater bottom line your son will earn in the future – and on and on– I think you’ll be very pleased in the long run that you hung in there. Great job to you, kudos.

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