With basically only two sources of nutrition to choose from to give your new baby, you'd think it wouldn't be that difficult of a decision. However, it's also one of the most important ones you'll make in your baby's young life, which makes it one that many parents, especially moms, are emotionally attached to. In the end, both breast milk and formula are healthy options for your baby that are going to help them grow and thrive.
Here we'll give you extensive information about the following:
- breast milk vs. formula
- breastfeeding pros and cons
- formula feeding pros and cons
- how to look for cues to know when to feed your baby
- determining if they're getting enough milk
We hope these guidelines help as you embark on the wonderful journey of feeding your newborn!
Deciding Between Breastmilk and Formula
According to an article survey completed by NBC News in 2016, more than 80 percent of U.S. mothers breastfeed their newborns at birth. This shows that prior to giving birth, the majority of mothers intend to try and breastfeed. The other option is giving your baby formula. Even though there are strong recommendations made in favor of giving breastmilk, formula is a safe and healthy choice for your baby, too.
Ultimately, this is a very personal decision for a mother to make. There is no right or wrong choice. "Fed is best" is the perfect motto, and the love you give you baby is far more important than which feeding option you choose.
Below are specific facts, pros, and cons of both breastfeeding and formula feeding. This way, you can make an informed decision that is best for your baby and your family.
Facts About Breastfeeding
Although most mothers do embark on the breastfeeding journey with their babies, the number of mothers who continue to do so steadily declines as the weeks go by. Just over half of babies are still breastfed at 6 months of age, which is the recommended extent of time the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed.
In order to establish a strong breastfeeding connection between mom and baby from the start, it is advised that babies are offered the breast within the first hour (often referred to as the "golden hour") after birth. The baby is usually alert enough at this time and ready to receive milk.
The AAP has good reason to recommend breastfeeding, but there are also limitations that can arise. It's important to know how breastfeeding can be a beneficial part of your baby's nutrition as well as the difficulties you may encounter if you choose to do so. Often having an understanding of these possible issues ahead of time can actually prolong the amount of time you're able to breastfeed.
Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding
Here are some of the benefits of breastfeeding as well as reasons why some mothers may choose (or need) to forego breastfeeding or supplement with formula.
Pros of Breastfeeding
The Better Health Channel reports that breastfeeding within the first hour of a baby's life is strongly recommended if possible because:
- it helps a mother be more confident with breastfeeding
- colostrum ("pre-breastmilk") distributes immunological benefits immediately
- the baby's digestive system is stimulated
- there is a higher chance of baby getting a proper latch if started right away
- mother and baby get skin-to-skin contact which is healthy for both
After the initial feed, the hospital is the perfect place to get help with any breastfeeding questions or problems you have before heading home. Of course, you can always receive help once home (more on that below) but getting immediate feedback can give mother and baby a positive start to breastfeeding.
The following evidence is why the AAP so strongly advises breastfeeding for newborn babies and why most pediatricians support it as well. Breastfeeding:
- protects against a variety of diseases including: diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, enterocolitis, UTIs, type 1 and 2 diabetes, etc.
- strengthens baby's immune system to help fight ear infections, pneumonia, etc.
- helps prevent childhood overweight and obesity, as well as asthma
- promotes a healthy digestive system
Additionally, some research suggests that breastfeeding may help prevent SIDS.
But breastfeeding doesn't only provide benefits for the baby, there can also be perks for the mom, as well. These include:
- getting the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size more quickly
- can help jump start weight loss after birth
- delays menstruation which helps prevent iron deficiency
- psychological benefits such as increased social interaction, decreased anxiety, decreased stress, and decreased blood pressure, due to the oxytocin release that occurs
Cons of Breastfeeding and How to Overcome Breastfeeding Issues
There aren'tt necessarily cons to breastfeeding so much as there are difficulties that can come along with it. Even though many mothers begin feeding their newborn breast milk, certain limitations may arise that make it hard to continue. Formula feeding isn't always a choice; sometimes it is the only viable option for a baby to get the calories she needs.
Below are some breastfeeding difficulties that may arise for a mother and baby:
- lactation (low milk production) and latching issues
- supplementation of formula is recommended to increase baby's weight
- breast infections such as mastitis
- interference of medications causes a need to cease breastfeeding
- needing to go back to work
- difficulties with pumping breast milk
- cultural norms may may a mother feel like she shouldn't breastfeed
Additionally, breastfed babies should be given vitamin D supplements.
If you do struggle with breastfeeding and want to continue, there are resources available to help you. It's important to contact a lactation consultant or seek assistance from a pediatrician as soon as possible so that you can get back to a successful breastfeeding experience for you and your little one.
On the other hand, if the negatives and difficulties of breastfeeding are outweighing the positives for you to continue, you should feel completely comfortable with the decision to stop. Many babies are formula fed - and they are healthy and thriving and will continue to be.
Facts About Formula Feeding
Above we stated many of the challenges that can come along with breastfeeding. This can make the already stressful time of caring for a newborn even more so. Additionally, the fear that your child is not getting enough breastmilk - whether it's true or not - will of course make a mother turn to formula to ensure that her baby is never going hungry. I've been there and using formula as a way to supplement was a difficult decision, but it was the right one in my situation and will be for many other moms.
Though there are undeniable benefits to breastfeeding, it doesn't mean it's the best choice for every mom and baby. And just because someone may try to push you to continue to try and breastfeed, doesn't mean that you should.
Formula feeding can also give your baby a very healthy start.
Pros and Cons of Formula Feeding
Here we have several great reasons why formula feeding can be beneficial for your baby. Additionally, we'll look into some of the negatives of formula feeding, as well.
Pros of Formula Feeding
Even though many believe that breastmilk is the optimal nutritional choice for babies, there are some pros to formula feeding. These include:
- you baby is less likely to have nipple confusion making it easier to leave your baby in someone else's care
- formula-fed babies can go longer stretches between feeds
- a mother's diet won't affect a baby's digestion
- you always know exactly how many ounces of milk your baby is drinking
- you don't have to pump when you are away from your baby or back at work
Cons of Formula Feeding
- formula doesn't provide the same immunological protection as breast milk
- higher risk of obesity later in life - here's a study that cites this
- formula has to be prepared according to the specified directions and can include a lot of steps (as we outline in this article)
- it can sometimes be difficult to find the right formula for your baby that doesn't cause them gas or stomach upset.
Having guilt over the fact that your breastfeeding may not be as successful as you'd like it to be is a very real thing. However, and we know it's easier said than done, you have to let this go. You love your baby more than anything and that’s what matters. The number one benefit to formula feeding is that your baby is getting the nourishment they need.
When and How Often to Feed Your Newborn
Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed or do a combination of both, one of the most trying steps to navigating new baby life is figuring out when they need to eat and how often. Questioning whether you're feeding your baby too often, too much, not often enough, or if they're getting enough to eat are all normal wonderings!
Here we'll outline some signs for you to look for from your baby to determine when or if they’re hungry. We also have a few tips that will help ensure that your baby is getting fed enough and getting the nutrition they need.
When your baby is hungry, look for the following cues:
- moving their head side to side
- opening their mouth and sticking out their tongue
- sucking on hands and fists
- making sucking motion with their mouths
- rooting at mother's breast
Another telltale sign is of course...crying! Your baby will cry if they are hungry no doubt. During the early weeks, it can seem like your baby is eating all the time. When they cry, you may think they couldn't possibly be hungry. But more often than not, they are just upset because it's time for them to eat again.
Feed on demand in the beginning. This will establish a good milk supply and ensure that your baby is getting enough milk. If you want to breastfeed for as long as possible, many lactation consultants will recommend you feed on demand even as your baby gets older.
- After a couple of weeks, if your baby is gaining proper weight, you can start feeding closer to every 3 hours. This includes at night, as well.
Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, usually at the one-month appointment, you can let your baby go longer stretches at night between feeds without needing to wake them up.
Warm up your baby's milk if they are not getting it directly from the breast. By nature, babies like their milk to be at least body temperature. We recommend using the portable bottle warmer, The Baby's Brew, to ensure your child has warm milk wherever you go. Choose from 4 different temperatures including 98.6 degrees which is the recommended temperature for breastmilk to preserve nutrients.
- Don't stress if your baby isn't sleeping through the night when it seems like your other friends' babies are. This milestone varies widely between babies, so it's best not to stress about it and just ensure your baby is getting full feeds during the day and fed as needed at night.
How to Know if Your Newborn is Getting Enough Calories
It can be hard to know if your baby is getting enough to eat. Sometimes moms also worry that their baby is getting too much. Luckily, babies do a good job of regulating, and will stop eating if they are full. But determining if your baby is getting enough calories can be more difficult.
Here are some tips to ensure your baby is eating enough as well as demonstrating proper weight gain:
- Feed your newborn frequently - 8 - 12 times within 24 hours.
- If your baby is breastfed, offer both breasts.
- Make sure your baby is getting full feeds - don't cut the time short.
- Take your baby to all of their scheduled check-ups. The weigh-ins and conversations with your doctor will help ease any concerns.
- Spitting up is normal in young babies but throwing up is not. If your baby seems to be throwing up every time they eat you need to contact your child's pediatrician.
Babies who get enough to eat will usually be calm and content afterwards - just like you when you take in a nice, full meal.