breast milk or formula for baby
Being Mom

Breast Milk, Breastfeeding, and Formula: The Pros and Cons

Congratulations! You’re gonna have a baby! Lots of people wonder at this point what they should feed their baby. Actually, the question shouldn’t be ‘what should I feed my baby?’ because that implies that there is a universal right or wrong answer.  I can’t really say it better than this quote from my new favorite book, The Guilt Free Guide to Motherhood by Kirsten Toyne,

“What is important is that we feed our babies, full stop. The how of it is actually a woman’s choice and there are so many factors involved that we can’t apply generalizations about what is right or wrong to individual women.” Kindle Location 946

Baby formula is great for your baby.  Breast milk is great for your baby. Breastfeeding + supplementing with formula is great for your baby. Feeding your baby is great for your baby!  

Formula, breast feeding, and/or pumping: there’s plenty of pros and cons for each option. A mom may choose any of the options or mix a few of them, depending on her personal preference and what her circumstances allow. Whatever you choose, your baby is gonna thrive. 

baby formula

Awwwwwww

Formula

Pros

  • Full nutrition + added vitamins (like Vitamin D and K- more on that in a sec)
  • Anyone can do it (daddy, the babysitter, your parents, a friend, your other kids…)
  • You always have enough for baby despite if you get sick, dehydrated, have a period, etc.
  • Don’t have to undress in public/find a place to nurse
  • Don’t have to pump at work/store milk in transport
  • Mom doesn’t have to be the only one to do night feedings
  • Less quickly/easily digested by baby which can sometimes mean baby sleeps longer between feedings

Cons

  • More expensive than breastfeeding
  • Lots of equipment, some of which changes as baby gets older.
  • More dishes to clean
  • Smelly baby poop
  • Miss out on the antibodies and such from breast milk
  • Less specially adapted in terms of time of day (but still adapted to baby’s age)

Overview + Tips

Giana Angelo, Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Nutrition states, Infant formula attempts to mimic the nutritional composition of breast milk as closely as possible. Cow milk or soy milk are commonly used as the base, supplemental ingredients are added to better approximate the composition of human breast milk (fatty acids, sometimes probiotics) and to attain health benefits. 

Vitamin D and vitamin K (which are low in human breast milk) are included in infant formula. Vitamin D is important for so many things, but the main ones are immune function and bone health. If the mom takes supplemental vitamin D, it can increase the vitamin D content of breastmilk. But even so, adequate sunlight exposure and/or vitamin D supplementation are recommended for the breastfed and partially breastfed infant (the recommendation is 400 IU/day). 

Vitamin K helps the blood clot. Newborns have low vitamin K status and breastmilk is low in vitamin K compared to infant formula. In the US, it’s standard to get an intramuscular vitamin K injection at birth in order to prevent vitamin K-dependent bleeding. Some countries (like France),  give an oral vitamin K supplement to newborns, I think up to 3 months of age? These two interventions are meant to prevent life threatening vitamin K-dependent bleeding that can happen early in life, up to 6 months of age.” 

Clearly, formula has its advantages. Portable, easy to mix, and abundant! For some, formula is less stressful for parents than either pumping or breastfeeding are. Just be sure that if you choose to feed baby with formula, check (and double check) that your equipment is safe (no cracks, etc), clean, and age-adapted.  Choose the formula that corresponds to baby’s age. 

Breast Feeding

Pros

  • Full nutrition and hydration
  • Super portable LOL
  • Less expensive than formula
  • Specially adapted to the time of day
  • Specially adapted to fight germs (baby is sick less often)
  • Helps get digestive system in place
  • Easily digested- baby poop doesn’t smell bad
  • Nursing bras are comfy

Cons

  • Only mommy can do this (mom does ALL the night feedings)
  • Have to pay close attention to mom hydration levels and nutrition
  • No booze just before feeding
  • Nursing in public/everywhere/in front of friends and strangers alike
  • Stressful when baby’s need increases or mom’s supply dips
  • Easily digested- gotta feed baby at least once every two hours, even at night
  • Leaking boobs
  • Ouch- breastfeeding, particularly in the beginning, can be painful, not to mention possible complications like mastitis, cracked nipples, infections, etc.

Overview + Tips

Breastmilk has lost of benefits for baby but it’s important to realize that breastfeeding is a learning process and a journey for both mamas and babies. There are thousands of resources/tips for you and baby on your journey. Specialists, supplements, blogs, lactation consultants, support groups, movements, the list goes on. Breastfeeding is a lifestyle, and it definitely has its emotional ups and downs.  If you decide to go the breastfeeding route, learn as much as you can about it. How does the body know to produce antibodies for baby? Hint: it has something to do with baby backwash. In what way does breast milk change throughout the day, as your baby ages, and when your baby is sick?  The more you know, the less overwhelming and more manageable it is. 

pumping breast milk

Left boob was always the lazy one 😉

Pumping

Pros

  • Babies can be fed breast milk even if mom can’t be in proximity (baby in NICU, mom works, etc)
  • Babies can be fed breast milk even if baby can’t latch
  • Increases milk supply (good partner for those who breastfeed)
  • Anybody can give baby her bottle (daddy, babysitter, your parents, a friend…)

Cons

  • Moo. There’s a distinct dairy-cow feeling when hooked up to a machine.
  • Logistics- Can’t always find a place to pump in privacy
  • Lots of equipment needed (pumping, transporting, storing)
  • Like breastfeeding, pumping can be physically uncomfortable or painful
  • More dishes (bottles, pumping equipment, etc)

Overview + Tips

As with breastfeeding, there are many, many resources for mamas who pump.  Do you have the right size flanges? Have you tried massaging your breasts at the end to make sure you get as much milk as possible?  Changed your duckbill valves recently? Is it normal that one boob produces more milk than the other? My #1 tip: get/rent a double pump and buy a nursing bra. You can pump in less time and have your hands free. Great for working, reading, scrolling FB, folding laundry, holding a baby… 

pumping breast milk

Proof I have pumped on a train

Related: 

Worried if baby is eating enough? Try making this newborn journal for those first few weeks to help you track baby’s (and mama’s) progress! 🙂

Wondering when you’ll “get back to normal” post-pregnancy? Here’s the answer.

With love,

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