New moms often feel pressure to breastfeed their baby and can be left feeling guilty for choosing not to do it. Others don’t even get to choose and have their bodies (or their baby) choose for them.
Breastfeeding does have some amazing benefits for you and your baby. But, it is not the be-all-end-all of motherhood. What matters most is that your baby is getting the nutrition they need to be able to grow.
In this article, we will summarize the advantages and disadvantages of breast and bottle feeding.
Advantages and Disadvantages: Quick Summary
While the natural approach to breastfeeding has a lot of amazing benefits, it is not the only way to raise a child. Suitable formula milk is a viable substitute until they are old enough to eat solid foods and the long term outcomes are comparable.
So rather than approach this question from a position of guilt, ask yourself what will make you the best parent overall as this is only one piece of the puzzle.
Here is a high level summary of each approach before we analyze the detail.
- Quality and adaptable source of nutrition
- Cheapest way of feeding a baby to toddler age
- Built in bonding time with baby
- Immunity boosting and easiest to digest
- Accelerates development of brain
- Faster recovery for the mother
- Sole source of food
- Low milk supply can cause frustration and undernutrition
- Wear and tear on the mother’s body
- Working moms will have to pump alot
- Latching difficulties
- Breastfeeding in public
Bottle Feeding Advantages:
- Less frequent feedings
- Easy to monitor baby’s daily milk intake
- Mother’s independence when bottle fed
- It doesn’t matter what the mother eats
- Easier to feed in public
Bottle Feeding Disadvantages:
- Bottle feeding takes time plus longer to prepare
- Lower levels of antibodies and nutritional value
- At risk for swallowing too much air and constipation
- Increased risk of gas, reflux, and constipation
- Proactive mother/baby bonding required
Breastfeeding vs Formula Feeding (11 Point Comparison)
In the section below we will conduct an objective comparison of the areas that future breastfeeding mothers may care most about.
No doubt you have been flooded with opinions from those around you for what you should be doing. While well meaning, people can only give advice from their own perspective.
We hope that this information helps you block out the noise and make an objective decision that is best for you and your newborn baby.
1. Nutritional Benefits of Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding
Many will tell you that breast is best, especially when it comes to a baby’s nutrition. It is hard to argue that anything man-made could improve on the vital and natural nutrients contained in human milk.
Only breast milk provides antibodies that can help your baby’s immune system fight off and prevent various illnesses, and may reduce the risk of developing asthma, diabetes, and high cholesterol later in life.
It is more easily digested, keeping your baby comfortable with reduced risk of constipation and gas.
Cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have even been believed to be reduced in breastfed babies (2).
Formula-feeding has its advantages in the way of nutrition as well. CA commercially prepared formula can provide some vitamins that breastfed babies would need to get from supplements.
However, there are no antibodies that are present in breast milk, and, despite many advances over the years, there has yet to be a formula manufactured that can duplicate the complexity of breast milk (3).
2. Cost Comparison of Formula and Breastfeeding
Cost can be the sole deciding factor for the budget-conscious mom. Formula milk is expensive and will put a dent in your bank account.
Breastfeeding is, for the most part, free! Your milk source is attached to you, and you simply restock with time and proper nutrition.
But, you may need to buy some accessories depending on your circumstances:
- Nursing cover – if you plan to feed in public.
- Breast pump – if you plan to bottle feed, or are returning to work and want to keep feeding your baby breast milk (you may be able to offset the cost with insurance).
- Nursing pillow – to ensure you are comfortable when breastfeeding.
All of these are one off purchases. The biggest difference compared to bottle feeding of formula is that you have to keep on buying formula… And it is expensive!
At an average of $0.19 per ounce, you can look at spending around $1,734 in a year for average formula fed babies (1).
You will also need to buy feeding bottles, and a sterilizer to clean those bottles.
3. Sharing the Feeding Duties
When you are breastfeeding there is only so much dad can do to help out. You are the food source, and it’s up to you alone to feed the baby.
If you are on a regular pumping schedule then he may be able to help with the midnight feeding sessions from your stores of pumped milk, and perhaps cleaning of your pump and bottle feeding equipment… But that’s about it.
If you formula feed, it is much easier for you and dad to take turns in the night making bottles for the baby when they wake up hungry.
The downside is that each feed will take longer as you are not just whipping out the boob and need to mix the milk powder and warm the bottle.
Bottle feeding helps babies to become less attached to their mom also and get used to other people being involved (well, maybe just a little).
Verdict: Formula feeding (with some time sacrifice)
4. Feeding your Baby on the Road
A day out with your baby requires a diaper bag full of things you need just in case. And preparing to go out with a formula-fed baby requires the following:
- Packing enough formula for the trip.
- Remembering to prepare and carry clean bottles.
- Having somewhere to heat up the milk.
When breastfeeding you just have to turn up… and you can take one (heavy) thing off your packing list.
No contest really….
5. Skin to Skin Contact
Nursing mothers benefit from the close bonding time with their baby. However, regular skin to skin contact doesn’t need to be simultaneous with the act of feeding. You can achieve the same thing with formula fed infants by holding your baby regularly.
The key advantage for breastfed infants is that it is just built into the daily routine and requires less thought.
Holding your baby close when bottle feeding helps increase that skin to skin contact. Bottle feeding takes time and can be just as impactful.
Verdict: Breastfeeding (but a manageable difference)
6. Skin Deterioration
There’s no denying that the first few weeks of breastfeeding can be very painful. With your little one’s powerful sucking action, you are in for a few weeks of bleeding, scabbing, ointment, and then a repeat of the same cycle when they’re ready to eat again.
You can minimize the damage through the use of nipple shields, but these have their own problems.
Formula fed babies require bottles, not human nipples.
Verdict: Formula feeding
7. Public Feeding
Your baby doesn’t care where you are. When they are hungry, they are hungry!
Rightly or wrongly, breastfeeding in public continues to be controversial in some parts of America. No matter how frustrating it is that you could offend a stranger by feeding your baby it is a reality you may be forced to deal with.
You can cover up to give you some comfort but it is up to the individual to decide how much privacy you really need.
Breastfed babies tend to also get a bit grabby when they are hungry. They might just pull down your top anyway if it is within reach! Even if you are trying to be more conservative.
No one would even notice a bottle fed baby when walking past. So you can eliminate that annoyance by sticking to formula milk and bottle feeding. Then the challenge is mixing the formula milk powder and getting it to the right temperature when you have no facilities handy.
Verdict: Breastfeeding (don’t let the nosey public bully you into submission!)
8. Breast Milk Supply When Working (or any kind of separation)
The choice between breast and formula is of less consequence to the stay-at-home mom practicing exclusive breastfeeding. If you are working then this requires more preparation and a few upfront purchases (laid out in the cost section above).
It is hard work, but the silver lining is that when you get home you can reunite and bond with your baby again by feeding them immediately. This can be a huge moment each day to look forward to each day that will keep any mother healthy in the mind.
But it is a lot of work!
Formula is impersonal and can be left to other family members who are caring for your baby during the day.
This means fewer demands on you while working days, and less risk that your baby will refuse baby formula the day you do return to work – another potential stressor!
Many working mothers may opt for formula right off the bat for this very reason. There’s no pumping, no preparation, and it’s one less thing for you to be thinking about. Your mind (and time) will be freed up to spend even more time with your little snuggle bug before it’s time to go back to work.
Verdict: Formula Feeding (but hats off to all working moms who persist with breast milk)
9. Immunity Boosting Breastmilk (and Easy on the Belly)
Breast milk has been shown to boost immunity. It can adapt to what the baby needs depending on the mother’s health condition.
The antibodies created when mom is sick are also in breastmilk, helping baby to protect herself from getting the virus.
If the baby is the one that’s sick, the breast milk adapts to the baby’s needs as it detects the illness in the baby’s saliva. Breastfeeding has been shown to be the best option for your baby to reduce risk and protect against various viruses (4).
It is also easier for a baby’s gut to process breast milk than formula milk.
Formula is one dimensional and cannot adapt to maximize health benefits. But given that it is administered independently of the mother’s body it doesn’t need to have any built-in disease control.
There are also formulas that work best to certain conditions like colic or just general spit up and gasiness.
10. Monitoring Milk Consumption
It is near impossible to track exactly how much milk your baby is consuming. Often problems with breast milk supply only become apparent when your baby is upset and constantly hungry, or if they are not gaining weight at the expected rate.
Formula milk can easily be measured and tracked down to the ounce when mixing the powder. And the actual consumption of a feeding baby can also be monitored precisely.
Verdict: Formula Feeding
11. Health Benefits for Mom
Breastfeeding also has a number of health benefits for mom long term that bottle feeding can never match. These include:
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Lower BMI
- Conserve iron in the bloodstream
- Reduced risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer
Can I Supplement Breast Milk with Formula
Yes, you can also give your baby formula milk to supplement what they need from breastfeeding from when they are one month old. Some signs to look out for that your baby may not be eating enough is:
- Your baby is not gaining weight in line with expectations.
- Fewer diaper changes.
- Mood changes in your baby (lethargic
You can top up their milk intake by bottle feeding from either pumped milk or formula milk.
But remember, do not mix breast milk and formula milk in the same bottle. If your baby is still hungry after breastfeeding you can follow up with bottle feeding after they finish. Never pour milk into mixed formula.
If I Bottle Feed What Happens to my Milk
Even if you choose bottle feeding, your breast milk develops anyway. It is important that you express this and wean your supply down gradually so you don’t end up with blocked milk ducts or mastitis (infection) in the breast.
We have a guide on reducing your milk supply here. But if you want some more guidance then speak to your doctor or lactation consultant about your decision.
Now that you understand the advantages and disadvantages of both bottle feeding and breastfeeding you can make an informed choice that suits your circumstances and lifestyle.
This is going to be different for everyone and only you know what is best.
It may come down to trial and error in the first few weeks after your baby is born. You can never plan too much! Breastfeeding has a lot of clear benefits and based purely on our comparison comes out a winner.
However, formula milk is also going to do a fine job of nourishing your baby.
You have the option to do both and use a combination of formula milk and natural breast milk (if your baby will let you!).
As always, seek help from your healthcare provider.