Breast Milk or Formula: Choosing the Best Option for Your Baby

Newborn baby girl in the hospital after c-section.
As a new mother, deciding between breastfeeding and formula feeding can be a difficult choice. (Image: Patryk Kosmider via Dreamstime)

As a new mother, deciding between breast milk and formula can be a difficult choice. It’s essential to make the best decision for both you and your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continuing breastfeeding for 1 to 2 years or as long as you are willing to do so.

However, there are instances where breastfeeding may not be possible due to medical conditions, such as medication that passes into breast milk or breast reduction surgery. In these cases, formula feeding may be the only option.

So what are the pros and cons of breastfeeding and formula feeding? And how do you decide whether to breastfeed or use formula?

Benefits of breastfeeding


Most mothers look forward to breastfeeding their newborn because it provides both the mother and her baby ample time to bond. Experts also recommend breastfeeding as the best option for your newborn because it provides nutrients that cannot be mimicked in a factory during formula milk preparation.

Mother and baby bonding.
Most mothers look forward to breastfeeding their newborn because it provides both the mother and her baby ample time to bond. (Image: Evgenyatamanenko via Dreamstime)

Breast milk contains the right amount of nutrients 

Breast milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in just the right amounts for your baby. It also contains hormones, minerals, and vitamins that suit your baby’s requirements for proper growth and development. As the baby grows, the nutritional value and content change to meet the baby’s needs. 

Breast milk contains antibodies

Breastfeeding passes antibodies from the mother to the baby. They help protect against some illnesses and infections. Research shows breastfed babies have better immunity and better chances of resisting infections. They are also less likely to get diarrhea, gas, allergies, skin problems, stomach problems, pneumonia, and bronchitis.

Protects against illnesses

Breastfeeding protects your baby against terminal illnesses such as asthma and type 1 diabetes. Health experts also say that it helps protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It also lowers the risk of developing obesity, ear infection, and cardiovascular diseases later in life.

Higher IQ

Studies have proven that breastfed children have a slightly higher IQ than those who were not. 

Breastfeeding is beneficial to the mother

Breastfeeding is not only good for the baby, but the mother as well. It helps the mother to shed off some pregnancy weight faster. Studies also show that breastfeeding mothers are less likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

Disadvantages of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be easy and fascinating for both mom and child once they get used to it. It seems challenging at first since most new moms experience pain during breastfeeding. However, the pain or soreness should disappear after one to two weeks.

Another disadvantage is the inability to know how much your baby has consumed. Therefore, you can easily underfeed or overfeed your baby. Breastfeeding your baby in public can also be uncomfortable for some women, plus you may sometimes leak some milk, which can be embarrassing to some moms. 

Advantages of formula

Formula milk is a healthy replacement or supplement for breast milk recommended by most health experts. It contains the nutrients your baby needs for proper growth and development.

However, formula will not offer the same exact nutritional value as breast milk because it lacks certain components, such as natural hormones and antibodies. So remember that formula may not protect your baby against illnesses and infections.

A perfect alternative where breastfeeding is prohibited

Formula comes in handy when breastfeeding is not an option, either due to medical conditions or by choice. It is also a go-to solution in case of allergy or intolerance. Also, you can get lactose-free formula milk for babies with lactose intolerance and hypoallergenic formula for babies with allergies.

Flexibility and convenience

You don’t have to fret about your baby’s food with formula, especially if you are a working mom. It can be easily prepared at home by your nanny or at the daycare center. Babies can also be fed anywhere, anytime, without worrying about being out in public.

When breast milk isn't available, formula can be a good option.
Baby formula can be conveniently prepared at home or the daycare center. (Image: Nata3081 via Dreamstime)

You don’t have to worry about your diet

Breastfeeding can put you on a strict diet since what you eat is passed into the milk, and your baby can consume it. With formula, you can enjoy a glass of wine at a party or eat anything without worrying about your baby’s intolerance or allergy.

Your partner can help

You don’t always have to be the one to feed the baby. Your partner can help while you nap or do other chores. Contrary to breastfeeding, where you must be present to feed your baby, you can go on dates with friends or run errands, confident that your baby will get the nourishment they need.

Disadvantages of formula

Can’t match up to breast milk

Manufacturers have tried to include the basic nutritional components of breast milk in formula. Still, they cannot include fundamental components such as antibodies. As much as formula will have adequate carbohydrates and proteins for your baby’s proper growth and development, formula will not protect your baby from infections like breast milk does.

Breast milk also changes as the baby grows, but formula remains the same.

It’s expensive

Formula can be costly compared to breast milk, which does not cost anything apart from feeding the mother. Special formulas such as lactose-free and hypoallergenic milk, among others, cost even more. 

Gas and constipation

Formula is hard for the baby to digest compared to breast milk. It can therefore cause gas, constipation, and other gastrointestinal disorders. 

Take away

It may not be easy to decide how to feed your baby before the baby is born. You can therefore wait until the baby is born to choose between breastfeeding and formula. Some babies have special needs, so your choice will greatly depend on your baby’s specific needs. Also, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to help you make the perfect choice for you and your baby.

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  • Nathan Machoka

    Nathan is a writer specializing in history, sustainable living, personal growth, nature, and science. To him, information is liberating, and it can help us bridge the gap between cultures and boost empathy. When not writing, he’s reading, catching a favorite show, or weightlifting. An admitted soccer lover, he feeds his addiction by watching Arsenal FC games on weekends.