Breastfeeding vs Formula: Which is Better?
If you’re trying to conceive or a few months into your pregnancy, you’re likely researching everything you can about raising a baby. There are many decisions to be made and one of those decisions includes whether you will be breastfeeding or formula feeding your baby.
So, what feeding method is more popular? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 74% of infants were breastfed at least once after being born. However, only 31% were breastfed until three months. That percentage dropped to 11.9% when counting the babies who were breastfed for six months. The rate drop off is likely due to breastfeeding issues and mothers returning to work.
In the end, the decision is up to you, your partner and your doctor. However, there are many points to consider on both sides. Here are the pros and cons to breastfeeding and formula feeding your baby.
Pros of Breastfeeding
Organizations Recommend Breastfeeding
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends breastfeeding for the first six months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the same and says that when you start to introduce solid food around six months, you should continue to breastfeed your baby for his or her first year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a full two years of breastfeeding.
Decreases Baby’s Risk of Diseases and Illnesses
A study published in 2009 concluded that breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death (SIDS) by 50% at all stages of infancy. The study recommended that mothers should breastfeed until six months.
After accidents, leukemia is the second biggest killer of children. Luckily, babies who consume breast milk for the first six months of their lives have a lower risk. According to a 2015 report, children who were breastfed for six months had a 19% lower risk of leukemia than children who weren’t breastfed or were breastfed for less than six months. According to another study, compared to babies fed formula, babies who are breastfed have more cancer-killing cells.
Some studies have also suggested that the longer a baby is breastfed, the smarter they will become. However, that study was met with criticism over the many variables that could cause such a conclusion. Another study of 11,000 British children debunked that theory and showed that there was no correlation between breastfeeding and higher IQS.
You Can Store Breast Milk
There should be no shame in breastfeeding in public; however, if you’re too shy, there’s always the option to store breast milk in a bottle. That way, you will have it on hand just like baby formula. If refrigerated, the milk will stay good for 48 hours. Left at room temperature, it will be good for up to four hours.
You can Freeze Breast Milk
You can also store breast milk by freezing it, which ensures that it won’t go to waste if it’s not used within 24 hours. The milk should stay good for three to six months. These storing methods can make breast milk as convenient as baby formula.
It’s Always Available — Even in Disaster Emergencies
If a disaster occurs in your area, baby formula may not be easily accessible and there could be errors in formula preparation. However, breast milk will always be available to your baby — and there are even some benefits to breastfeeding during an emergency situation. Firstly, the hormone release from breastfeeding can help relieve maternal anxiety. Even mothers who are malnourished or have some medical illnesses can still breastfeed. The temperature of the breast milk can also help prevent hypothermia.
It’s Generally Cheaper
Breastfeeding is not free — you may choose to purchase pumps, storage bags and other lactation accessories. However, if you keep what you purchase to a minimum, breastfeeding is generally cheaper than purchasing formula.
Lose Your Pregnancy Weight Faster
Studies show that women tend to lose their pregnancy weight quicker if they breastfeed. Since the baby uses additional calories, you won’t have to rely on just your diet and exercise routine.
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Cons of Breastfeeding
Not a Good Idea for Every Mother
Depending on the mother’s health and what she consumes, it may not be advisable for her to breastfeed. If a woman takes street drugs or drinks excessive amounts of alcohol, she should not breastfeed. Other health considerations should be taken if a woman has HIV, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type 1 or 2 or untreated tuberculosis, varicella or active herpes with breast sores. Babies who have galactosemia should also stick to bottle formula.
Limit Alcohol and Cigarette Intake
If you’re a drinker or smoker, you will need to limit your intake of these substances to ensure the health of your baby while breastfeeding. Smoking during breastfeeding is associated with infant respiratory allergy and SIDS. If a mother decides to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, she shouldn’t consume more than 0.5 grams alcohol per kilogram of body weight. The baby should also be fed two hours after alcohol intake at the earliest.
If you are returning to work after you’ve had your baby, continuing to breastfeed may be time-consuming. You may find it difficult to find time to pump, and it may be draining.
Breastfeeding May Hurt
Some women who breastfeed stop because of nipple or breast pain. They may also experience blisters, bruises or cracked nipples.
Pros of Formula Feeding
Good for Poor Sucking Reflex
Babies who have a weak suck may have a hard time consuming breast milk and gaining weight. This is particularly common in premature babies.
Luckily, baby formula has advanced and is now healthier. Formula is typically made with cow’s milk or soybeans and is a good option if you need to adjust the number of calories your baby is consuming. If a baby is allergic to certain ingredients, there are additional options. While there are many formulas available, it’s important to research the nutritional benefits of each and to make sure it’s iron-fortified.
Used to Supplement Breast Milk
If you breastfeed your baby, you may choose to supplement breast milk with formula. This works when you don’t have time to pump or can’t produce enough milk for a day with the babysitter or daycare.
Feeding your baby formula allows for a more flexible lifestyle, especially if you are returning to work. Mothers who have little time to pump or who are uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public may prefer purchasing a premade formula.
Both Parents Can Be Involved
When you breastfeed, only you can have the experience of feeding your child. While your partner can be involved in other activities such as bathing and changing diapers, some women want their partner to have a different level of bonding. If you choose to formula feed your baby, your partner can always be involved. When your baby starts crying for food in the middle of the night, you and your partner can rotate the feedings. Some women feel that formula feeding allows an equal opportunity for both the mother and father to bond and share responsibility.
Cons of Formula Feeding
Increased Risk of Diseases and Illnesses
Analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that formula-fed babies have a higher risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood obesity, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome. They also have an increased rate of infectious morbidities such as otitis media, pneumonia and gastroenteritis.
Increased Risk of Health Problems for the Mother
The baby is not the only one whose health may be affected if they are formula-fed. Analysis also shows that mothers who do not breastfeed have a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, retained gestational weight gain and even certain cancers including breast and ovarian cancer.
Formula Feeding is Work, Too
Some women may choose formula feeding because they believe it’s easier than breastfeeding. However, that is not necessarily true. When you formula feed, you will have to research formulas, always have it on hand, prepare formulas and wash, sterilize and store bottles.
Your Decision to Breastfeed or Formula Feed
Whether you choose to breastfeed or use formula is a personal decision. It’s important to consult your doctor and do your own research.
You can choose to only breastfeed your baby, only feed your baby formula or do a combination of both. For example, it is generally suggested that mothers do not introduce a bottle until the baby is at least four weeks old. After this point, you may choose to supplement breast milk with formula. Many mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months, then change to baby formula when they return to work because it’s more convenient.
Sit down and talk to your partner about the health benefits and lifestyles associated with each option. If you have any questions, consult your doctor, midwife or pediatrician.
Are you choosing to formula feed or breastfeed your baby? Comment below why you made your decision. If you have any pregnant friends, be sure to share this article with them, too!