June 8, 2022

Breastfeeding or Formula Feeding: Which Is Better?

Written by Dr. Sandy Portko, Early Childhood Expertise

Dr. Sandy Portko, Early Childhood Expertise

Formula feeding with a bottle or breastfeeding: that is the question. Listed below are some advantages and disadvantages of each option. 

Advantages of breastfeeding: 

  • Human milk has antibodies that protect baby against diseases 
  • Human milk is more easily digested which usually results in fewer tummy troubles 
  • Human milk is readily available and always the right temperature 
  • Human milk is very inexpensive compared to the cost of formula 

Disadvantages of breastfeeding: 

  • Some mothers have a harder time setting up a feeding routine when the baby is born  
  • Some mothers develop tender/sore breasts or breast infections which are painful 
  • Some mothers come from families that have no experience in breastfeeding or don’t approve of it  

Advantages of formula feeding:  

  • Formula is easily transported and can be made quickly 
  • Babies can be fed anywhere using formula without the need for privacy 

Disadvantages of formula feeding: 

  • There is financial cost associated with purchasing formula, including the purchase of feeding equipment 
  • Cow milk (or other milk) is harder to digest than human milk and may cause more gas and tummy troubles 
  • Some babies are allergic to formula 
  • A source of clean water for mixing must be readily available 
  • Bottles and nipples must be sterilized before feeding, which is additional work

While human milk is healthier overall for babies, this doesn’t mean that formula feeding is unhealthy. There are many reasons why some mothers choose not to breastfeed; Certain medications the mother must take prevents breastfeeding, parents have difficult work situations, or even family culture is very unsupportive. If a mom feels unsupported or forced into breastfeeding, the feeding is not likely to go well and may result in high levels of stress for both mom and baby. 

The bonding/attachment between parent and child can be equally strong with each feeding situation if the parents are loving, nurturing, consistent, and respond quickly to the baby’s hunger signals. One important part of feeding the baby is holding the baby closely and paying attention to the baby while it is drinking. Most moms who breastfeed do this automatically, but formula feeding requires close contact to promote bonding and healthy attachment. When parents hold babies closely, look into their eyes and talk softly while feeding, the bond develops the same way. I breastfed my two oldest children for only about two weeks, primarily because I didn’t have a knowledgeable support system. The kids were then formula-fed until weaning. My three youngest children arrived after several years of a ‘break.’ I knew more, had better support, and succeeded breastfeeding them. Regardless of feeding method, all of them developed healthy attachments.  

Attachment develops from nurturing, loving, attentiveness to a baby’s needs and consistently prompt, adequate responses to those needs. Distracted or disinterested parents who are not tuned into their babies interfere with the attachment process. Babies become attached because they develop their sense of security and trust from the loving closeness and consistent care they receive, not from the type of milk they are drinking. 

If you have questions about either option, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Family Support Navigator team at navigation@familyfutures.net.