When a new mother deciding how to feed her baby, knowing what’s in breast milk or formula, the difference in cost, and the impact they have on health and sleep, can help her make an informed decision.
Breast milk provides the best nutrition for your baby and is the most widely recommended way to feed a newborn baby. However, some circumstances might lead you to consider formula-feeding.
Breast milk vs formula: How both are similar?
There are few ways in which formula is similar to breast milk: they both provide hydration, energy, and nutrients, so your newborn baby will grow whichever milk he is given.
But despite these similarities and advances in how baby milk powder is formulated and manufactured, it doesn’t come close to matching the health benefits of breast milk. Breast milk has evolved over millions of years to be the perfect source of nutrition for human babies. It’s very much complex than other mammals’ milk, as it builds our more complex brains and unique digestive and immune systems.
In contrast, cow’s milk, from which most formula milk is made, meets the specific needs of calves. It’s not safe for human babies to drink, so has to be processed intensively when made into the formula for infants.
Salt [sodium] content in cow’s milk is pretty much at toxic levels for babies?” says Professor Peter Hartmann, an internationally renowned specialist in breastfeeding and milk production, based at the University of Western Australia.
Meanwhile, breast milk has very low concentrations of sodium.
All About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides ideal nourishment and bonding experience that many mothers cherish.
Many health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for newborn babies. It helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against several chronic conditions.
The AAP advocate that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Beyond that period, breastfeeding is encouraged until at least 12 months, and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.
What’s in breast milk?
From colostrum that coats and seals your baby’s stomach lining, to mature milk that helps your baby grow strong, each drop of mother’s breast milk contains thousands of beneficial components, including:
- antibodies to protect against illnesses and diseases
- hormones that promote bonding and regulate appetite
- stem cells that support organ development and repair
- white blood cells that fight against infection
- beneficial bacteria that protect the digestive system
- prebiotics called oligosaccharides that support a healthy gut
- long-chain fatty acids to help develop the brain, nervous system, and eyes of your baby
- enzymes to support digestive and immune systems
- nucleotides and hormones that aid develop healthy sleep-wake patterns
One of the most important benefits of breast milk over formula is that it’s a living fluid. It adapts to your baby’s changing circumstances. So if your newborn becomes ill, your newborn makes extra white blood cells and antibodies that travel into your milk and help fight infection.
Benefits of Breastfeeding:
Fighting infections and other conditions
Breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations chances than formula-fed infants. During breastfeeding, antibodies and other germ-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthen the newborn’s immune system.
It is particularly beneficial for premature babies.
Nutrition and ease of digestion
It is often called the “perfect food” for a human baby’s digestive system, breast milk’s components — lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat — are easily digested by babies.
Breastfed infants have fewer problems with digestion than do formula-fed infants. Breast milk tends to be more easily digested so breastfed babies have fewer bouts of diarrhoea or constipation.
Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for a newborn. One exception is vitamin D — the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing until their baby consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (after 1 year of age).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates formula companies to ensure that they provide all the necessary nutrients (including vitamin D) in their formulas. Still, commercial formulas can’t match breast milk’s exact composition. Why? Because breastmilk is a living substance made by each mother for her infant, a process that can’t be duplicated in a factory.
Breast milk doesn’t cost a cent, on the other hand, the cost of formula quickly adds up. And unless you’re pumping breast milk and giving it to your baby, there’s no need for bottles, nipples, and other supplies that can be costly for you. Since breastfed babies are less likely to be sick, that means they make fewer trips to the doctor’s office, so fewer co-pays and less money are paid for prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.
Nursing mothers normally need 300 to 500 extra calories per day, which should come from a wide variety of well-balanced diets that introduce breastfed babies to different tastes through their mothers’ breast milk, which has different flavours depending on their mothers’ eaten. By tasting the foods of their “culture,” breastfed babies more easily accept solid foods.
There is no need for last-minute runs to the store for more formula. Breast milk is always fresh and available whether you’re home or out. And when mothers breastfeed, there’s no need to wash bottles and nipples or warm up bottles in the middle of the night.
Some research shows that babies who were exclusively breastfed have slightly higher IQs than children who were formula-fed.
Nursing mothers can enjoy the experience of bonding so closely with their babies. And skin-to-skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between both mother and infant.
Health Benefits for baby:
Valuable antibodies present in breast milk protect babies against viral and bacterial infections such as:
- Ear infections
- Respiratory tract infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Bacterial meningitis
- Necrotizing Enterocolitis, longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protection her baby has.
Decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Improves baby’s brain development.
Easier to digest, decreasing baby’s risk of:
- Stomach Infection
- Inflammation of the stomach
Breast milk has an analgesic effect, meaning it comforts the baby when he or she experiences pain.
Decreases risk of developing health issues later in life such as:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Celiac Disease
- Type I & II Diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart Disease
- High cholesterol
- Cancers such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and neuroblastoma
Health benefits for mom:
Breast milk is always available at the right temperature, and always free. It requires no preparation.
Decreases your risk of developing:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Type II Diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Postpartum Depression
Alternative caregivers can feed – if you express milk beforehand.
Moms and babies require plenty of patience to get used to the routine of breastfeeding.
Some common concerns of new mothers, especially during the first few weeks and months, may include:
Initially, many new moms feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding. But with proper support, education, and practice, most moms overcome this problem.
Latch-on pain is normal for the first few weeks to 10 days and should last less than a minute with each feeding. But if breastfeeding hurts you throughout feedings, or nipples and/or breasts are sore, it’s a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to get help from a lactation consultant or a doctor.
Time and frequency of feedings
Breastfeeding requires patience and commitment from mothers, especially in the beginning, when babies feed often. A breastfeeding schedule or the need to pump breast milk during the day can make it difficult for some mothers to work, run errands, or travel.
Breastfed babies need to eat more often than babies who take formula because it digests faster than a formula, which means that mom may find herself in demand every 2 or 3 hours in the first few weeks.
Mothers who are breastfeeding need to be conscious about what they eat and drink, since these can be passed to the baby through breast milk. Like pregnancy, breastfeeding mothers should not eat high mercury fish and limit lower mercury fish consumption.
If a mom drinks alcohol, a small amount of alcohol can pass to the baby through breast milk. She should wait at least 2-3 hours after a single alcoholic drink to breastfeed to avoid passing any alcohol to their baby. Keep in mind that caffeine intake should be kept to no more than 300 milligrams (about one to three cups of regular coffee) or less per day because caffeine can cause problems like restlessness and irritability in some babies.
Maternal medical conditions, medicines, and breast surgery
Medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS or those medical conditions that involve chemotherapy or treatment with certain medicines can make breastfeeding unsafe. A woman should need to check with her doctor or a lactation expert if she’s unsure if she should breastfeed with a specific condition. It is also important to note that always check with the doctor about the safety of taking medicines while breastfeeding, including over-the-counter and herbal medicines.
Mothers who’ve had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with their breast milk supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this condition, a woman should talk to her healthcare provider about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.
All About Formula Feeding
Commercially prepared infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk. It also contains some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements.
Manufactured under sterile conditions, and it tries to duplicate mother’s milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins that aren’t possible to make at home. So if you don’t breastfeed your baby, it’s crucial to use only commercially prepared formula and not try to make your own.
The formula does not contain the same antibodies found in breast milk. There are substances added to the formula to help protect babies from illness but these are not as easily absorbed by babies as breast milk and do not offer the same kind of protection. Higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals in the formula make it more difficult to digest and more likely that your baby will suffer:
- Upset stomach
Formula-fed babies have a higher risk of SIDS.
It is expensive, the average cost is around $1,000 – $1,800 a year ($87 – $150 per month)
A 2013 WHO report found formula-fed babies scored lower on IQ tests than those who were breastfed.
The formula must be prepared following certain guidelines to make sure it is sterile and your baby doesn’t get sick. Bottles must be thoroughly sterilized.
Here are the reasons why women may choose to formula feed:
Either parent or any caregiver can feed the baby a bottle at any time (although this is also true for women who pump their breast milk). This allows mothers to share the feeding duties and helps their partner to feel more involved in the crucial feeding process and the bonding that comes with it.
Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother can easily leave her baby with a partner or caregiver and know that her baby’s feedings are taken care of. There’s no requirement to pump or to schedule work or other obligations and activities around the baby’s feeding schedule. Formula-feeding moms don’t need to find a private place to nurse in public.
Time and frequency of feedings
Because the formula is less digestible than breast milk, formula-fed babies normally need to eat less often than breastfed babies.
Moms who opt for formula feeding don’t have to worry about the things they eat or drink that could affect their babies.
What’s in formula milk?
Formula milk’s ingredients vary by brand and country, but typical baby formula milk is made of processed skimmed cow’s milk with added emulsifiers and stabilizers to help the oils and water mix when making up the feed.
It may also contain:
- lactose (a natural sugar found in milk) and/or other sugars such as fructose, corn syrup, or maltodextrin
- plant-based oils, such as coconut,
- , palm, rapeseed, sunflower, and soybean oil
- fatty acids, derived from fish oil
- vitamins and minerals from plant and animal
- a couple of enzymes and amino acids
- probiotics (in some formulas)
NB Different types of baby formula milk, such as goat’s milk, hypoallergenic, and soya formulas, may have a mix of different ingredients.
“As far as cow’s milk is concerned, excess amount of protein has to be added to bring the number of amino acids up to the level that babies need,” he continues. “But that excess amount of this protein will be metabolized and broken down into components that can be converted into fat.
“That’s one of the major problems with formula – babies do too well on it. Parents often think they’re doing good because they’re growing mad – but actually, that may not be good for the long-term health of formula-fed infants. So formula companies are now trying to bring down the number of protein levels in their milk to prevent babies from getting too fat.”
Formula Feeding Challenges
There are some challenges face when deciding whether to formula feed.
Lack of antibodies
None of the antibodies found in breast milk is found in the manufactured formula. So formula feed can’t provide a baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk provides.
Can’t match the complexity of breast milk
Manufactured formulas have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as per the baby’s needs.
Planning and organization
Unlike breast milk — which is always available, unlimited, and served at an accurate temperature on the other hand formula feeding requires planning and organization to make sure that you have what you need when you need it.
And it’s necessary to always have the necessary supplies (like bottles and nipples) clean, easily accessible, and ready to go — otherwise, you will have a very hungry, very fussy baby to answer to.
Powdered formula is the least costly, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed being the most costly. And formulas (such as soy and hypoallergenic) cost more than the basic formulas. In the first year, the cost of basic formula can run about $1,500.
Possibility of producing gas and constipation
Formula-fed babies possibly may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies.
Nutrients in Breast Milk Versus Formula
While formula contains essential vitamins and minerals, the nutritional content of breast milk is unbeatable.
- Carbohydrates (sources of energy) like lactose and corn maltodextrin.
- Protein content (which helps to build bones and muscles) from partially hydrolyzed reduced minerals whey protein concentrate.
- Fats from palm olein, soybean oil, coconut oil, etc.
- Minerals such as potassium citrate, calcium chloride, sodium citrate, etc.
- Vitamins such as Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, folic acid, riboflavin, etc.
- Enzyme – Trypsin.
- Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) like taurine and L-Carnitine.
- Nucleotides, which are chemical compounds that are the structural units of RNA and DNA.
- Soy Lecithin – an emulsifier.
- Carbohydrates such as lactose and oligosaccharides.
- Carboxylic acid, like alpha hydroxy acid and lactic acid.
- Proteins such as whey protein, alpha-lactalbumin, casein, etc.
- Non-protein nitrogens such as creatine, creatinine, urea, etc.
- Amino acids like alanine, arginine, valine, and so on.
- Nucleotides like uridine diphosphate, guanosine diphosphate, etc.
- Fats such as triglycerides, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acids, etc.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, phospholipids, sphingolipids, etc.
- Sterols like squalene, lanosterol, vitamin D metabolites, steroid hormones, etc.
- Vitamins A, B6, B8, B12, C, D, E, K, and numerous others.
- Hormones are chemical messengers that carry signals from one or a group of cells to another via the blood.
- Enzymes such as amylase, catalase, lipase, and so on, which support chemical reactions in the body.
- Antimicrobial factors, which are used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects, such as neutrophils, lymphocytes, phagocytes, and so on.
- HMO (Human milk oligosaccharides), the 3rd biggest solid component in breast milk after fat and lactose, but have no nutritive function. HMOs are responsible for directly stimulating the immune system of your babies by promoting good gut bacteria, strengthening the gut barrier function, and blocking pathogens. They have been shown to have anti-viral anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Advantages of Breast Milk Over Formula
There is no comparison to the quality of mother’s milk for the baby. Breast milk provides natural antibodies to your babies that protect your baby from illnesses and infections. It is easily digested and reduces the risks of bloating and gassiness in your baby. The nutrition breast milk provides the child during the nursing phase also reduces the chances of other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, leukaemia, asthma, high cholesterol, obesity, etc.
Breast-fed mothers also benefit from nursing as it reduces the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart diseases, and breast cancer.
On the other hand formula feeding, has its pros and cons. It is a healthy choice to breast milk when the nursing phase is affected, and convenient, too, as it also allows flexibility when it comes to feeding the baby. But formal feeding may lead to some health problems, which are not commonly faced by breastfed babies. Some of the constituents in formula milk may be hard to digest and can result in diarrhoea.
Studies show that breast milk is more nutritious. Also, fats in mothers’ milk are variable; these fat are varied even in a single feed at start and end, while they remain the same in formula milk. Very few fats are replicated in formula milk, and the variety of fats in mothers’ milk have different functions. Fats in either milk may assist in weight gain of your baby, but only a little. The main function is brain growth and vision, which can never be replicated with precision in any formula milk. Therefore, mothers must need to consult with their doctors and immediately seek solutions to the breastfeeding issues they are facing to be able to provide complete nourishment to their babies in their crucial growth years.
Another important advantage breastfeeding has over formula-feeding is the bonding experience mothers have while nursing their babies. While formula feeding might raise several questions and emotional dissatisfaction when this bonding experience is missing. But, moms who formula feed due to a genuine reason can utilize other methods of bonding with their babies. They need support from family and friends, therefore being a part of a support function or peer group, or forming one can help them motivate themselves and find a way that suits them and their baby.
Switching Between Breast Milk and Formula
Switching between breast milk and formula could be a solution when your breast is not producing enough milk for your baby, or when you are unable to feed or pump due to time or place constraints. Interrupted sleep due to night-time feedings can call for the switch. In such a case, you’ll probably have to depend on incorporating formula in your baby’s nursing schedules.
- If inadequate breast milk supply requires you to switch to formula milk at intervals, keep in mind that your baby may consume more milk than while he is breastfed. This means that his hunger will be satiated for longer, and the intervals between his feeding may increase. At the next feeding, though, you offer your breast milk first.
- Figure out as early as possible what you prefer to feed your baby at night time. If you are in dire need of a shut-eye, formula-feed the baby good before he goes to sleep. Since your baby will take in more, it will help him sleep longer through the night as well. Ensure that you burp him properly as alternating between breastfeeding and bottle feeding can cause gas in your little one.
- While introducing the baby to formula milk, some claim that mixing formula and breast milk can help the baby adjust to the taste of formula milk. However, it is best to steer clear of this idea due to these two main reasons – the ingredients of breast milk and formula milk are different and also, their shelf lives differ as well. Following this method can cause problems for your baby.
Breastfeeding vs formula: Practical advantages
Breastfeeding is easier on your purse. One estimate is that women who breastfeed exclusively save USD 1,200 to USD 1,500 during their baby’s first year.
And while breastfeeding may not stop your baby from waking at night, it will save time during feeding and help you both get back to sleep faster, so you can expect an extra 40 to 45 minutes of sleep each night.
Breastfeeding saves more time in general, as you don’t need to do as much washing up, sanitizing, boiling water, and prepping bottles of formula – your breast milk is always ready at the right temperature.
In addition, the foods you eat flavour your breast milk so your baby experiences different tastes at every feed, and may enjoy a wider variety of foods when you start introducing solids. Breastfeeding could even encourage healthier eating habits, as research shows breastfed babies of moms who have fruit and vegetables regularly and enjoy eating these foods more than babies of moms who don’t. Formula, meanwhile, always tastes the same.
Finally, breastfeeding is environmentally friendly because no intensive farming, factory emissions, transportation, or packaging is involved, breastfeeding is better for the planet as well as for you and your baby.
Growth Differences Between Breastfed and Formula-Fed Babies
Here are some differences between the growth patterns of babies who are breastfed and their non-nursing counterparts.
- A Few Days After Birth
Babies normally lose about 10% weight in the first ten days of birth. Research shows n that when it comes to breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, infants fed on breast milk lose more weight than those who are fed formula in the initial weeks of birth. Though mother’s breast milk is more nutritious, the supply could below right after birth. On the other hand, there’s no dearth of formulated milk, that’s why formula-fed babies weigh more than breastfed children.
- First 3 Months
Health experts say that once the supply of breast milk normalizes, there’s no difference between the growth of formula-fed babies and breastfed babies, and both can enjoy a good supply of nutritious milk and consistently gain weight.
- 6 to 12 Months
Healthcare experts recommend that babies be introduced to solid food along with continuing breast milk or formula milk once they complete the 6-month milestone. For consistent growth of your baby requires a fair amount of energy and proteins. Once a mother tries to wean her baby by introducing him to solid food, breastfeeding gradually decreases.
Breast Milk vs. Formula Milk – What Should I opt?
A recent study shows that there are not many differences between young children who were breastfed to those who were not nursed as babies. However, the following positive developments were observed in breastfed babies.
- Kids who were nursed as babies faced fewer problems of hyperactivity, by the age of three.
- These kids also scored higher on tests of problem-solving and vocabulary.
Remember this, – breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for your baby, although there are certain dos and don’ts you need to follow. But, there could be a condition when you have to choose to formula-feed your infant. Information about the nutritional value, as well as the growth differences presented by either option, can help you make a more informed decision about the question of breastfeeding vs. formula.
How long should I breastfeed my baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. And breastfeeding in combination with solid foods until at least age 1. Extended breastfeeding is recommended as long as both you and your baby wish to continue.
Mother’s milk contains the right and balanced amount of nutrients for your baby and boosts your baby’s immune system.
Is any additional nutrition necessary?
Consult with your baby’s doctor about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you’re exclusively breastfeeding. Breast milk might not provide enough amount of vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.
What can I do to promote successful breastfeeding?
During breastfeeding need to eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids, and rest as much as possible.
To boost your confidence, learn about breastfeeding. Keep the environment relaxed and calm. Look to your partner and other loved ones for their support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Friends who’ve successfully breastfed might be a good source of learning. Lactation consultants are available at many hospitals and clinics also help you. Your baby’s health care provider might be able to help, too.
Can I use only bottles and still breastfeed?
If your baby face trouble latching on to the breast or if you and your family have a preference for bottle-feeding, you can exclusively bottle-feed your baby breast milk. Pump as often as you would feed your baby from the breast. Using a double electric breast pump can help you collect more milk in less time.
If you’re having trouble making enough milk or if you can’t give your baby your breast milk due to any medical reason, you can turn to a breast milk bank and feed your baby with pasteurized donor milk from a bottle.
What if breastfeeding isn’t going well?
If you’re struggling, consult with a lactation expert or a doctor for help. If the doctor is concerned that your baby isn’t receiving enough amount of nutrition or hydration, he or she might suggest pumping and supplementing with expressed breast milk or formula.
Breast milk is the essential food for babies — and the best way to keep a baby healthy. And also, proper nutrition and hydration are essential for your baby.
Does infant formula pose any risks to your baby?
Commercial infant formulas don’t contain the immunity-boosting component that presents in breast milk it only your body can provide to your baby. For most babies, breast milk is easier to digest compared to formula.
When prepared as directed, however, the formula supports healthy babies who have typical dietary needs. A baby who has special nutritional requirements might require a special formula.
Can I combine breastfeeding and formula-feeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by WHO for the first six months after birth. Breast milk provides the best nutrition. Formula supplementation can disrupt breastfeeding as well as affect breast milk supply.
However, some moms can combine both breastfeeding and formula-feeding — especially after breastfeeding has been well established.
If I choose the only formula feed, how should I handle the resulting emotions?
If you’re considering formula-feeding, do your research so that you can make an informed conclusion. Then focus on nourishing and nurturing your little one — instead of dwelling on negative feelings and emotions. You might also share your feelings and emotions with your healthcare provider or certified nurse-midwife, your baby’s doctor, or others in your support circle.
Remember, parenting is an adventure and skill that requires choices and compromises.
Making a Choice
Deciding how you will feed your baby can be a difficult decision. You’ll only know the right choice for your baby.
Many moms decide on one method before birth and then change their minds after their baby is born. And many moms decide to breastfeed and supplement with formula because they think that is the best choice for their family and their lifestyle.