To breastfeed or to formula milk feed: Which is better?

Both meet your baby’s nutritional needs, but there are differences

Fashion designer breastfeeding daughter while looking at fabric swatch on sofa in living room

Choosing how to feed your baby can be a difficult decision for many families. With the demands of both parents working, day care and other obligations, it is important that you are well informed on all the options so you can make the best choice for your baby and you.

Breastfeeding is the biological natural way to feed a baby. Women’s bodies begin to make colostrum, the first milk, during pregnancy. Shortly after birth, it begins to produce a full milk supply that is designed specifically for a newborn baby’s needs and grows and changes with your baby. This supply doesn’t just happen on its own. It does take feeding your baby whenever hunger cues are shown, doing skin to skin as often as possible and ensuring your baby has a proper latch to maximize stimulation and milk transfer.

Exclusive breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is considered the biological norm; however, it doesn’t always come naturally to mom or baby. The first few weeks can be hard for some families as they figure things out. But once you are more comfortable with breastfeeding, things begin to fall into place.

Breastfeeding is considered convenient and flexible. Your milk is always the right temperature, you do not need to prepare bottles, store milk, wash bottles or worry about throwing away milk not consumed.

Breastmilk-fed babies tend to be sick less, have less stomach issues, and have less chance of obesity in adulthood. Also contrary to popular belief, diet restrictions for mothers are not recommended or required. If a mom feels something she is consuming is causing an issue for her baby, it is best to seek expert lactation advice from an IBCLC.

Breastfeeding can be done anywhere, anytime, as in all 50 states there are federal and state laws protecting breastfeeding women. If you need to be away from your baby for any length of time, it is necessary to pump your breastmilk to help protect your milk supply and to feed your baby.

Pumping breastmilk

Some women chose to pump their breastmilk and use a bottle to feed their baby their milk. This is still considered breastfeeding and is a common option for moms to choose. It is important if you choose to exclusively pump that you are pumping at least eight times per day, know how to use your breast pump properly and care for the parts. Bottle prep is involved and understanding the milk storage guidelines for breastmilk is also necessary.

If you desire to breastfeed your baby but are struggling with latching, supply or just have concerns or questions, reaching out to an internationally board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) or other lactation support is a good idea.

Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for mom and baby. However, for some women it doesn’t work out or they feel from the beginning it isn’t right for them.

Formula feeding

Formula milk is a nutritional substitute for breastmilk. It is an adequate substitute but can never compare to the nutritional benefits of breastmilk. Your baby will still receive the proper calories and nutrients to grow and develop if you chose formula milk.

There is evidence-based research that shows formula-fed infants do get ill more than breastmilk-fed babies, experience more stomach upset and tend to be overfed. If you have questions or concerns about the use of formula milk, you can ask your baby’s doctor or a dietician for guidance.

If you chose to formula feed, it is important to consider the cost of the formula, possible intolerance by your baby, prep time and feeding time along with cost of purchasing bottles and storage of the formula milk.

No matter what your choice, meeting your baby’s nutritional needs requires major adjustments in your time and lifestyle. It is important that you be informed of all the options when it comes to feeding your baby. Whether you breastfeed/pump or formula milk feed your baby, your baby’s growth and development should be your main priority.

Sanford Health offers support for every mom, whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping or formula feeding. Learn more about lactation services.

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Posted In Children's, Health Information, Women's

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