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Breast-Feeding vs. Bottle-Feeding: The Pros and Cons

breast-feed or bottle-feed

Choosing to breast-feed or bottle-feed is a personal decision. It’s one of the first important parenting decisions you’ll make as a new mom. Both have pros and cons. Over the years, the issue has been controversial, often leading to moms feeling judged for choosing bottle-fed formula over breast milk.

There’s no right or wrong choice, just the healthiest choice for you and your baby. Before settling on one or the other, you’ll want to have all the information.

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If you’re unsure of how you’d like to feed your baby, read on to learn more about each method.

Breast-Feeding

Trusted health organizations like The World Health Organization (WHO) and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breast milk as the best way for newborns and infants to get nutrition.

According to AAP, babies should be fed exclusively by breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life, and breast-fed in combination with solid foods until age 1. Exclusively means the baby doesn’t consume any other forms of liquid or solid, including water.

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Pros

Breast-feeding is good for both mom’s and baby’s health. It’s also a special time that allows you to bond emotionally.

Here are the physical benefits for you and your baby.

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Availability

  • Pumps, bottles, formula, and other bottle-feeding products can be costly. Breast-feeding is free.
  • Breast milk doesn’t require any prep work. It’s ready when your baby is ready.

Boost for Baby

  • breast milk has all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and stay healthy
  • promotes a healthy digestive system: breast-fed babies are less likely to have diarrhea and upset stomach
  • strengthens baby’s immune system: breast milk helps protect against ear infections, pneumonia, bacterial, and viral infections
  • might boost IQ: some research suggests that breast-fed babies may have a somewhat higher IQ than formula-fed babies
  • may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • potentially protects against conditions like asthma, allergies, diabetes, and obesity
  • good for development in premature babies

Good for Mom

  • helps your uterus get back to pre-pregnancy size faster
  • burns extra calories that can lead to weight loss
  • keeps your period from returning, which can prevent an iron deficiency after giving birth
  • allows your body to release hormones that help you bond with your baby
  • reduces your risk of getting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease, and diabetes

If you choose to breast-feed, your doctor will likely recommend that you do it for as long as you feel comfortable. The longer you breast-feed, the greater these health benefits are for you and your baby.

Cons

Although breast-feeding is healthy for you and your baby, it can also come with challenges.

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  • You may feel discomfort, particularly during the first few feedings.
  • There isn’t a way to measure how much your baby is eating.
  • You’ll need to watch your medication use, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Some things that go into your body are passed to the baby through your milk.
  • Newborns eat frequently. Keeping up with a feeding schedule may be difficult if you need to return to work or run errands.

Bottle-Feeding

Bottle-feeding can mean either feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle, or using a formula. Breast milk given from a bottle still has the same nutrients, but gives you more flexibility because the baby isn’t only relying on your body for food.

Formula is manufactured, and while it’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and does contain lots of nutrients, it’s still not a perfect match for breast milk made by a woman’s body.

Pros

  • A family member or caretaker can feed your baby when you aren’t able to be there.
  • You can see how much your baby is eating at each feeding.
  • Babies eating formula don’t need to eat as often as breast-fed babies.
  • Fathers, siblings, and other family members get the chance to bond with the baby during feeding time.
  • Mothers using formula don’t need to worry about how their diet will affect the baby.
  • Formula doesn’t provide the same protection against infections as breast milk.
  • You need to mix and prepare formula to make sure it’s the correct temperature.
  • Bottles, formula, rubber nipples, and breast pumps can be expensive.
  • Formula can cause digestive trouble like constipation and gas.

Cons

  • Formula doesn’t provide the same protection against infections as breast milk.
  • You need to mix and prepare formula to make sure it’s the correct temperature.
  • Bottles, formula, rubber nipples, and breast pumps can be expensive.
  • Formula can cause digestive trouble like constipation and gas.

Weaning

Whether you decide to breast-feed or bottle-feed, you’ll still need to begin the process of weaning, which means to completely stop breast milk or formula. This is usually not done until 9 to 12 months or later. The general rule is that babies should have only breast milk or a fortified formula for the first 6 months of life.

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Even after introducing other foods, your doctor will likely advise allowing the baby to breast-feed for as long as it feels comfortable for both of you. The WHO recommends continuing breast-feeding as an additional food source, up to age 2 or longer.

Breast milk has many health benefits over formula. Giving milk via exclusive breast-feeding rather than a bottle has health benefits for both you and your baby. But this doesn’t work for everyone. Even if you don’t exclusively breast-feed, any amount of breast milk your baby gets (for as long as they get it) is beneficial. If you plan to breast-feed, make the decision before your delivery, get your partner involved, and establish the support you need.
Karen Richardson Gill, MD, FAAP

If you’re breast-feeding, the weaning process should be done carefully, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

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Some moms follow the baby’s lead, letting them decide when to reduce breast-feeding. Other moms begin the weaning process themselves. This method can be more difficult, especially if your baby is still really attached to breast-feeding.

Start slowly, gradually reducing the amount you’re feeding over time. Not only will this help baby, it’ll also help your body get used to producing less milk and eventually stopping altogether.

You might eliminate one daytime feeding at first, but continue morning and bedtime feedings. Babies tend to be more attached to the first and last feedings of the day.

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Starting Solids

There’s no clear medical recommendation for which foods babies should have first. In the past, most people started with a grain cereal and built from there. Rice is usually the best cereal to start with, as few people are allergic to it. You can buy rice cereal made specifically for baby’s introduction to solid foods. However, starting with a pureed fruit or vegetable is fine, too.

After your baby has adjusted to their first food, you can start adding others, including fruits, vegetables, and meats. Make sure there is no added salt, sugar, or seasoning in the foods. Introduce one food at a time and wait a few days to make sure your baby isn’t having an allergic reaction or trouble digesting it.

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Once your baby has mastered pureed foods, it’s on to chopped up finger food. Here you can introduce:

  • pasta
  • cheese
  • crackers
  • dry cereals
  • more veggies

The Takeaway

Sometimes moms aren’t able to breast-feed for medical reasons. You might also have a demanding schedule that doesn’t allow for flexibility needed to breast-feed. You can’t always control medical factors, but it’s a good idea to think about your personal preferences and other needs before you give birth.

Getting the facts ahead of time and coming up with your own plan can help ease any stress and anxiety around feeding baby. Remember that this is your decision. You should do what feels best for your family.

If you’re having trouble making a decision, talking to your doctor or lactation professional may help.

Rena
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