Breastfeed vs Formula Feeding
If you’re a new or expectant mother, you’ve most likely heard, talked, thought, or read about breastfeeding.
You might have come across phrases like ‘breast is best’ or ‘fed is best’. If you’ve joined any new parent groups on Facebook, you might have even witnessed a ‘breast is best’/’fed is best’ debate among other members.
The truth is, being informed is best. There are many benefits of breastfeeding and there are risks associated with not breastfeeding.
This article will answer some common questions about breastfeed vs formula feeding.
Which is better for baby – breastmilk or formula?
Breastmilk is mother nature’s perfectly designed infant nutrition.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and to continue breastfeeding, with the addition of nutritious solid foods when your baby is around 6 months old. The WHO recommends that breastfeeding should continue to 2 years and beyond, as long as mother and baby are both happy to do so.
These recommendations exist to avoid the health problems associated with not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding helps build a baby’s immune system, which not only fights infections in infancy, but can help avoid health problems into adulthood.
Some of the benefits of breastfeeding are:
- Reduced infant mortality
- Fewer ear infections
- Reduced number of respiratory tract infections
- Reduced risk of obesity in childhood and adulthood
- Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia
- Reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
There are also benefits of breastfeeding for nursing mothers.
Some of these are:
- Reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Faster return of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size
- Use of fat stores to help lose weight gained in pregnancy
- Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A study published by The Lancet showed found that if breastfeeding were to reach a near universal level, 823 000 deaths in children under 5 and 20,000 deaths from breast cancer would be prevented every year.
Infant formula, or baby formula, is specially prepared under strict regulations and guidelines to ensure it contains all the necessary ingredients a baby needs to grow and thrive.
Baby formula has all the nutrients babies need and is a safe alternative to breastmilk, if breast milk is not available. It’s important to use only commercially prepared infant formulas (not homemade formulas or cow’s milk) and, if you are using powdered formula, to follow closely the preparation instructions displayed on the tin.
Formula doesn’t have everything breast milk naturally contains. For example, formula does not have the antibodies that breastmilk contains, to protect your baby from illness.
Which formula is closest to breastmilk?
Although many formula companies claim their infant formula is closer to breastmilk than other commercially prepared formula, this is just a marketing tactic.
In the past, formula companies have used aggressive marketing techniques to convince mothers that their breastmilk is deficient and that their babies need infant formula to make up for these deficiencies. This is untrue. Formula marketing is now heavily regulated to ensure these marketing tactics are no longer used.
Formula companies attempt to duplicate mother’s milk, but no formula contains living cells, like breastmilk does. All commercial infant formulas manufactured in Australia and New Zealand must meet certain standards and the brands available on your supermarket shelves contain all the necessary nutrients for healthy babies.
That’s why it is vital to use only commercially prepared formula for your baby.
Are breastfed babies smarter than formula fed babies?
Collaborative studies on the epidemiology and lifelong effect of breastfeeding in the 21st century have found children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies had higher rates of school attendance and performed better on intelligence tests.
They also found that breastfeeding was associated with a higher income in adult life.
Do breastfed babies sleep better?
You might have heard the advice that giving babies a bottle at bedtime will help them sleep through the night. This is because babies digest formula more slowly than breastmilk, so it could mean that, compared with breastfed babies, some formula fed infants have a longer stretch of sleep before waking for their next feed.
Hoping that your baby will sleep longer shouldn’t be a reason to switch from breastfeeding to formula feeding. Babies are not designed to sleep through the night; waking is a survival mechanism. Frequent rousing is a protective factor against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Baby sleep can be challenging for new parents.
To learn more about what to expect, you can read BellyBelly’s article Baby Sleeping Guide | What To Expect.
Sudden infant death syndrome
Breastfed babies or babies who are fed expressed breast milk have a lower risk of SIDS than babies who are not fed breastmilk.
According to the research, the longer you can exclusively breastfeed your baby, the lower her risk.
To reduce the risk of SIDS, it’s also important that your baby has a safe sleeping environment.
You can read more about that here.
What happens if I decide not to breastfeed?
Not all mothers are able to breastfeed. If women take certain medicines or have an alcohol or drug addiction, it can mean that the risk of baby being exposed to harmful substances outweighs the benefits of breastfeeding.
Some mothers who are not able to overcome breastfeeding challenges switch to bottle feeding.
If you move on from breastfeeding but still wish to feed your baby breastmilk, you can pump milk and bottle feed your baby. If you have low milk supply, you can combine breast feeding and bottle feeding. You might be able to give your baby pasteurized donor milk from a human milk banking association, or human milk that’s shared informally (i.e. non pasteurized).
Whatever problems you might encounter with breastfeeding, you should seek help from a certified lactation consultant. A lactation consultant is a specialist in breastfeeding and can help you to overcome breastfeeding challenges and support you to meet your breastfeeding goals.
Some mothers simply choose bottle-feeding over breastfeeding. As long as it is an informed choice, formula feeding is sometimes the best choice for families.
No matter how you feed your baby, like all mothers you feed your baby with love.