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Breastfeeding vs formula: which is right for you and your baby?

Charlotte Grainger

Written by Charlotte Grainger

6 min read

From the moment you announce your pregnancy, the barrage of opinions starts coming in. Your mother tells you she breastfed and you’d do well to do the same. Your best friend claims to have heard that formula is just as good and that you’d have more time on your hands if you chose it over breastfeeding. 

Yes, everyone has an opinion. But which is right for you? 

New mum feeding her baby with a green bottle

How to decide between formula feeding or breastfeeding

This comes down to your health, your experiences and what works for your family. While you should get as much information on the controversial subject as possible, you have the final say on the matter. 

“Your decisions around feeding your baby are so personal and governed by the unique experiences that make you you. Becoming as well informed as you can on the subject will help you navigate your decisions, but beware of misinformation, of which there is plenty,” explains Roma Norriss, Hand in Hand Parenting instructor.

New mother breastfeeding her newborn baby

“Breastfeeding is undoubtedly the ideal choice for mothers who have the inclination and support, but when this is not the case it can become a stressful experience. There are many ways to raise a good family and the most important thing is your level of connection with your baby,” says Norris.

“Breastfeeding supports this connection emotionally and hormonally, but if it doesn’t work out you can focus on fostering connection in other ways.”

The benefits of breastfeeding

Baby feeding on breast milk from his mother in bed

Breast is best, as the old saying goes. Of course, when you’re deciding whether to breastfeed or opt for formula, it pays to look at the benefits of each. With that in mind, let’s take a peek at the reasons that choosing breast milk may benefit your baby. 

It’s free and always available 

Breastfeeding your child is one of the most accessible ways to nourish them. Breast milk is free and readily available whenever you need it. Put simply, you don’t have to worry about buying formula or bottles. That can be a huge win! 

It can lower the risk of SIDS

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death of an otherwise healthy baby. Breastfeeding your child can lower the risk of SIDS, according to the Lullaby Baby Trust. Full of the nutrition your baby needs, breastmilk may protect them against diseases. 

It’s full of nutrients 

Breast milk is packed with the nutrients that your baby needs to grow. Containing calcium, protein, Vitamin A, healthy fats, iron and more, breast milk is perfectly primed for helping your baby to develop. 

It may protect against obesity 

There’s some evidence to suggest that breastfed children are protected from obseity in later life. Research suggests that having breast milk rather than formula can lower your child’s chance of obesity by up to 20%. 

It may protect your child from allergies 

Next up, one of the most interesting benefits of breastfeeding. It could prevent allergies. Research published in HighWire suggests that less exclusive breastfeeding can lead to a higher chance of asthma and atopy. On the flip side, that may mean that exclusively breastfeeding your child protects them from these allergies. 

Tips for Breastfeeding 


Benefits of formula feeding

Baby laying down while being fed cow’s milk base formula from a bottle by her mum

Breastfeeding is not for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay. There could be numerous reasons that you decide to use formula. Keep in mind that you should always speak to a healthcare professional about your choice. Here are the benefits of formula feeding. 

Formula imitates breast milk 

If you are unable to breastfeed for any reason, choosing formula is the next best option. Research from the Nutrients Journal concluded that while breast milk is the best nutritional choice for child development, infant formula is another way to go.

Many formula products try to mimic the nutritional makeup of breast milk. When choosing the right product for your child, it pays to do your research and speak to an expert before making your decision. 

Some women should not breastfeed

While most women can physically breastfeed, some women should not do so for the health of their child. For example, mothers who have HIV have a 20% chance of passing the virus onto their child if they breastfeed up to the age of two without treatment. Every woman is different. It’s important to look at the facts when deciding how to feed your baby. 

Some newborns struggle to feed 

When your baby first enters the world, you may be eager to start breastfeeding. However, some babies struggle to latch and feed. Factors such as prematurity, jaundice, infection, heart disease or your medicines can prevent a baby from suckling well, according to Stanford Children’s Health.

That can lead to you having sore nipples or plugged milk ducts - which of course leads to stress. In these instances, it’s helpful to speak to a healthcare professional.  

Tips for Formula Feeding 

  • Discuss the issue with your doctor first
  • Always research the formula product
  • Avoid low-iron baby formula
  • Choose a cow’s milk base rather than soy
  • Speak to friends for some recommendations  

Mother sitting down while feeding her baby formula with a pink bottle

Remember, the choice is yours (and yours alone!)

While the WHO advice on the matter is that you should exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of your child’s life, that may not be possible for all mothers.

Formula feeding is a valid alternative, which helps to mirror the nutrients your baby would get from breast milk. Take the time to consider what works for you, reach out for help and advice, but, ultimately, know that this is your decision and whatever works for you is right. 


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