When it comes to feeding your baby, there’s no single choice that’s right for everyone. Experts generally agree that breastfeeding offers significant health advantages over formula feeding. However, a small percentage of women can’t breastfeed for health reasons. Others may choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons. Many women also choose to breastfeed and supplement their baby’s diet with formula.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) notes that there are advantages and disadvantages to breastfeeding as well as formula feeding. It’s smart to learn the facts about breastfeeding to help you decide what’s best for you and your little one.

Advantages of Breast Feeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until your baby is six months old, and continuing to breastfeed for one year or longer, as new foods are introduced. That’s because breastfeeding:

  • Gives your baby the right balance of nutrients needed for them to grow strong and healthy 
  • Helps provide extra protection for babies against infections and common childhood illnesses
  • Lowers the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • May help reduce your risk of some types of cancer
  • Breastfed babies may also have a lower risk for certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

When Breastfeeding Alone Is Not an Option

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) note that some women need to avoid breastfeeding. If you are required to take certain medications, your doctor may advise you not to breastfeed. However, most women who take medications can still breastfeed. For women with substance abuse problems, such as alcohol or illegal drugs, breastfeeding is not a good choice—consider speaking with your doctor to seek help. If you have HIV or tuberculosis, you should not breastfeed because you could pass your condition on to your child.

Other conditions, such as breast hypoplasia, may result in a new mother being unable to make enough milk to support her baby. A study by the University of Colorado found that 15 percent of the breastfeeding women studied had a low milk supply three weeks after giving birth. Four percent of these women appeared to have a chronically low supply of breast milk.

For women with these or other health conditions, breastfeeding may not fully meet their babies’ nutritional requirements. For parents who adopt babies, breastfeeding may be impossible. In these situations, formula is a good choice.

Some families also consider seeking donated breast milk. Although this may give babies the benefits of breast milk, it could also carry significant risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that feeding your baby donor breast milk could expose them to infectious diseases or chemical contaminants. If you decide to seek out donated breast milk, the FDA advises that you should consult your healthcare provider first and only obtain breast milk from a source that screens donors and takes precautions to ensure safety. Be aware that only a few states have required safety standards for human breast milk. The FDA has not been involved in setting any voluntary or required standards.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Although there are many advantages to breastfeeding, the APA notes several disadvantages as well:

  • Discomfort for the mother
  • Inconvenience for the mother, who must either be physically available for feedings or provide pumped milk
  • Certain medications may make breastfeeding difficult

According to The Nemours Foundation, women who use infant formula to feed their babies will still bond with their babies. Mother and baby will enjoy the connection of feeding time whether or not they breastfeed. The APA notes that disadvantages of formula feeding include:

  • Some babies’ tolerance for certain formulas may be low
  • Inconvenience for parents of carrying formula and bottles on outings
  • It takes time to mix, prepare, and warm the formula

Make the Best Choice for You and Your Baby

Although breastfeeding carries certain health benefits, women shouldn’t feel guilty if they can’t or choose not to breastfeed. New parents face so many decisions in their own personal circumstances—it’s important that you make the choice that’s right for you. Take the time to consider your own medical history, lifestyle, and preferences when making the decision about how to feed your baby.