Formula and breastfeeding – the facts!

Formula and breastfeeding – the facts!

Choosing formula and breastfeeding – it’s a big decision for parents. While there are many factors to take into consideration, in the end there is really only one thing that matters: Which choice is right for you and your child? 

As a registered dietitian and nutritionist in a pediatric practice, I discuss breastfeeding and formula with new parents every day. Below is a breakdown of the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding and formula feeding – here are the facts!



The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk as the best source of nutrition for infants.  Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by the introduction of complementary foods, with continuation of breastfeeding till 1 year or older is recommended by the AAP.  You can access their Policy Statement about breastfeeding here:

The benefits with breastfeeding include: 

  • Provides natural antibodies to help baby resist illnesses
  • Easily digested, and babies often experience less constipation and gassiness
  • May lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome during the first year
  • Some studies have shown higher levels of cognitive function in breastfed babies
  • Evidence shows that breastfeeding protects against a variety of diseases and conditions including: childhood overweight/obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, celiacs disease, asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkins disease, leukemia, and lymphoma
  • Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer
  • Women who breastfeed lose pregnancy weight faster than women who do not
  • It is a bonding opportunity for mother and child
  • It is a low cost option (of course there is your time and supportive tools, equipment ad/or advice)

Challenges with breastfeeding:

  • There are some medical contraindications for breastfeeding – please speak with your pediatrician regarding medical reasons not to breastfeed, and you can also refer to the AAP Policy Statement
  • Mother must be available for feeding and/or provide pumped milk
  • Mother must pump if feeding is missed
  • Certain medications can interrupt breastfeeding
  • Mothers need to be cautious of their diets while breastfeeding since nutrients are being passed directly to baby – this means following a well-balance diet to provide enough energy and nutrients for mom and baby, as well as avoiding alcohol, excessive caffeine, fish high in mercury
  • Early breastfeeding may be uncomfortable and can be difficult



The AAP recommends iron-fortified cows milk-based infant formula as the most appropriate milk feeding from birth-12 months for infants who are not breastfed or partially breastfed.

The benefits with formula feeding include:

  • Formula is manufactured to simulate human milk as a complete food for infants (The FDA mandates that all infant formulas marketed in the US provide the same nutrition for healthy, full-term infants and closely monitors that manufacturers to assure their products provide appropriate nutrition)
  • A variety of infant formulas are available for healthy, full-term infants as well as infants with special needs including: cows milk formulas, soy-based formulas, hypoallergenic formulas, lactose-free formulas, partially digested formulas, amongst others
  • Convenience: formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time
  • Flexibility: there is no concern about needing to pump or be physically with your child to provide their nutrients, so you can leave formula with any caretaker
  • Mothers do not need to alter their diet specifically for the baby, including moderate alcohol and caffeine 
  • Pediatrician/caregiver can determine the amount to feed baby – many parents find it reassuring to know exactly how much milk their baby has consumed
  • Feeding can be evenly divided between parents, which can be helpful when mothers return to work, as well as allowing fathers to enjoy a close bond with child

 Challenges with formula feeding include:

  • Infant formula is made to resemble breast milk as closely as possible, however cannot reproduce the living antibodies and antibacterial properties of breast milk
  • Formula can be costly, in addition to bottles and sterilizing equipment
  • Cleaning and sterilizing bottles can be time consuming
  • Infant formula needs to be warmed and preparation times can vary
  • Baby may not tolerate all formula well
  • Must always carry bottles, formula/mixing items with you

As you can see, there are benefits and challenges to both options, and this is a emotional topic for some families. Do not be shy about reaching out to your doctor and/or lactation consultants for help and support. And remember, do what is right for you and your family!


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