Breastfeeding vs Formula: Is One Better Than The Other?

There’s no formula to equal the benefit that the baby can get from breast milk. However, there is an exception to everything – including feeding your baby. Formula feeding is an alternative in rare cases when a mother cannot breastfeed. It’s not only because she is intending to be separated from the child for a time. Breastfeeding is also contraindicated for newborns and mothers with certain medical conditions. You can use an infant formula, but make sure it meets the nutrition and safety requirements for your infant.

For most moms, buying baby essentials may include a few stacks of feeding bottles, right? You may not be able to use that right after birth, but you know you will in the near future.

And even if you want to stick to breastfeeding, it’s not always a pliable option. Pumping may be a solution, but then again, there’s the storage viability problem. That’s why some moms are relying on the convenience of infant formula for baby feeding. But, is it worth it?

Breastfeeding or formula feeding?

Breast milk is paramount to all human food given to a baby in the first two years of his life. Experts can’t stress enough how important this is to every child. Breast milk gives your child his exact nutritional needs making it almost a custom-designed food for babies.

Baby formulas, on the other hand, come in a whole gamut of choices. Each of them is tailored with a different composition to mimic that of breast milk.

As your child grows older, you need to switch to a formula suitable for his age. You may even do some trial and error at first to know if your child can tolerate it. That’s why it is important to talk about this with your pediatrician, especially if your child has underlying medical conditions.

Let’s talk about breastfeeding


If you think breast milk is one and the same for all, that’s where you are wrong. Breast milk is complex in nature and uniquely designed for your baby.

Babies seem to have some kind of strange charm over it. For instance, his suck reflex can dictate how much milk the breast can produce. When he is sick, it releases antibodies to help speed up his healing.

Colostrum, the sticky “first milk” from the mother’s breast, is the gold standard of milk. It’s the newborn baby’s first food to form the protective layer of his immune system and gut enzymes. As he crosses infancy, breast milk’s composition changes to fill up his nutritional needs.

Here are other important contents of breast milk according to Medela:

  • Antibodies and white blood cells for protection
  • Hormones for mother’s bond and attachment
  • Prebiotics and probiotics
  • Long-chain fatty acids for brain development
  • Nucleotides
  • Essential bacteria and enzymes

Advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding

Your baby is not the only one who can benefit from breastfeeding. It does not only lower his risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other diseases later in life, but it may also help lower the breastfeeding mom’s chances of contracting illnesses like breast and ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding is basically inexpensive. If you prefer to latch your baby, you won’t need anything other than minding your diet. If you want to feed him expressed milk, you can invest in equipment without worrying about monthly expenses either.

Aside from the disadvantage of not being able to leave babies longer, comfort is also a struggle for most moms.

With all these social norms and mom-shaming lately, some mothers may feel hesitant about breastfeeding. But don’t let these negativities make you sacrifice what lifetime benefits you can give your child.

You, as a mom, have the final say on what you think is right.

When to avoid breastfeeding

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lays down the instances where breastfeeding and expressed milk feeding are not recommended. It happens if the mother has an untreated communicable disease. She may also temporarily suspend breastfeeding if she is taking certain medications at the moment.

If your child has galactosemia, he cannot tolerate lactose, including those found in breast milk. This is a genetic and metabolic condition where milk can cause developmental disabilities if left untreated. It’s easy to treat galactosemia when detected. But in the meantime, your baby may need a special formula like soy for sustenance.

Now let’s talk about formula feeding

Formula feeding instead of breastfeeding

Choosing the best infant formula can get overwhelming with its array of choices, and even pediatricians will have varying recommendations for this. There are Lacto-free formulas, cow’s milk-based, soy milk-based, and hypoallergenic milk that you probably hear about.

How do they differ? Here’s how the American Academy of Pediatrics explains the types of infant formula:

Cow’s milk protein

This is what the majority of infant milk is made of. It contains a complete cow’s milk protein that is purified from whole milk.

It has added lactose and vegetable oils for easy digestion. Doctors recommend using iron-fortified cow’s milk, which is what most commercial infant formula is also made of.

Extensively hydrolyzed formula

The protein in this formula is broken down into smaller pieces or “predigested,” so the infant can digest it easily.

It’s also lactose-free for babies with sensitivity to cow’s milk protein making this a hypoallergenic formula. Only, this is more expensive than other infant milk.

Soy formulas

Soy milk is intended for babies who are unable to digest lactose. It contains soy protein and no animal products.

Parents who are vegan or vegetarian give a nod to this baby formula. But it is also important to note that some babies may also pose sensitivity to soy. You can always consult your healthcare provider before switching to soy formula completely.

Whole cow’s milk is a totally different product. This is not intended for infant feeding since whole proteins are harder to digest by the little tummies.

You can introduce fortified cow’s milk only when the child reaches 12 months of age.

The AAP and FDA also warn parents against using homemade infant formula. These products do not meet minimum health requirements and may pose health risks to your baby.

Supplementing breastfeeding with formula

A scoop of baby formula is shown being used top prepare baby's milk

As a mom, you have the ultimate decision on how you are going to feed your baby. That’s unless there is a medical reason to rule out that you have to exclusively formula feed. But if you don’t want your baby to miss out on the benefits of breastfeeding, you can alternate between the two.

Parents often choose formula supplementing in the case of multiple births. It’s also the best possible option if you have a low milk supply.

Like pumping breast milk, a formula can allow the participation of caregivers or family members in feeding. This gives mom a chance to get out of the house, sleep through the night, and relax for a while.

Here are some important reminders when supplementing:

Talk to your doctor

The best place to start introducing formula to a newborn is to get professional advice. As we have said, there is a trial and error process to see your baby’s tolerance. If you have a preemie or any of your parents have allergies, the pediatrician can help narrow down your choices.

When the baby develops a rash, gas, vomiting, or diarrhea, stop using your current formula. Talk to your doctor about other options.

Introduce formula after one month of age

Full-term and healthy babies are recommended to continue breastfeeding for at least a month. This will help you establish your baby’s feeding habits and stabilize your milk supply. It will prevent nipple confusion for your baby such that he would choose a bottle or breast over the other.

After four weeks, your baby is familiar with his feeding routine. And that’s the time you can start alternating to formula or introducing dummies like a pacifier.

Prepare formula according to package direction

One of the biggest downsides of the formula is the cost.

Once you commit to using it, you should also prepare a huge cut in your budget. If you’re running out of supply, diluting your infant formula to stretch it for payday is unwise.

You can mix breast milk with properly diluted formula, yes. But we strongly suggest against it for safety reasons. Breast milk is not also a substitute for water; always follow the right water-to-formula ratio during preparation.

Take extra precautions on the proper handling, storage, and sanitation of your feeding implements. Check the label, and don’t compromise.

Transition slowly

Don’t surprise your baby by letting him go full formula during the day and switching to breast milk at night. You can start with no more than two bottles a day and gradually increase it over the week. This will help prepare his tummy for formula, and keep your breast from disrupting the milk supply.


Some mothers are switching to formula milk not because they want to – but because they have to. If you want the best for your child, weigh your options so that your baby can get the most benefits.

There’s really no need to ditch breastfeeding if you can supplement it with infant formula. This way, you can balance baby feeding with your lifestyle without compromising his health.

You, as a mom, have the final say. So choose wisely what you think is best for your little one.


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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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