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Breastmilk or Formula: What is the best for my baby?

The answer to this heavily debated question is no longer cut and dry. You are the mother, the caregiver and you will know what is best for your new little one. Will it be breastmilk or formula? What about using a bottle or the breast only? I am a mother of 4, and I did it all. I learned by trial and error, and by baby number four, I just went with the flow wishing I knew what I did when I had our first child! The struggle is real, the mom guilt that kept me up at night was crippling, the ‘mom-shaming’ from others who sometimes didn’t even have their own kids who thought they knew better hurt my feelings, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you. Get the information, talk your pediatrician, take the free classes at your birthing hospital before the baby arrives, and decide what is best for you and baby. Inevitably it will change once baby arrives.

Breastmilk

This option is favored by doctors everywhere because it is has the exact nutrients your baby needs. For 40 weeks, your baby was fed by you via the umbilical cord and once they are born you can continue that through the breast.

Pros:

  • Easy: Breastmilk is ready made food. It’s filled with nutrients, vitamins and minerals made from your body designed just for your baby. No warming, no mixing, no measuring, just pull up your shirt and cradle that sweet baby. Its sweet taste your little one will love.
  • Baby Bonding: In your infant’s first few days and weeks, nothing is more precious than that skin to skin contact. Hold them close, talk to them, sing, stroke their head, softly touch their cheek and bond. During feeding time, this is also when your growing baby will be the most still in the early months, staring right back at you, studying the face of their favorite person. 
  • Cost: The cost is even better, free!
  • Weight Loss: Last but not least, your body can burn an additional 500-750 calories per day producing that liquid gold, so you will lose some of that extra baby weight.

Cons:

  • Discomfort: Your breast will get very, very sore. Simple task such as getting dressed and sleeping will still be uncomfortable for a while.
  • Raw: Nipples can crack and even bleed in some cases. You can take mild pain killers and use special creams and gels to ease these symptoms. They will not last forever, but the pain can be intense and this is when a lot of mothers quit. You do what is best for you!
  • Leakage: The one they never tell you about is the leaking! I would soak many a bra, right through the pad and onto the shirt. It was embarrassing for this new mom and I carried extra items everywhere.
  • Unable to Measure: An important one is that you can’t really measure how much your child is eating. Some pediatrician offices have these new scales that you can go to the office, weigh your baby, feed them, and then weigh them again and they can determine how many ounces they are getting. If your baby seems full and is gaining weight, you shouldn’t need to worry.
  • Pumping: Using a breast pump at home can be considered a pro, but if you are planning to go back to work after childbirth this can be a hassle. By law, your employer has to give you a place to pump but your breaks may not coincide in the time frame you need it (again with the leaking!). Carrying the pump, the storage containers, a cooler with ice packs, bags, and cleaning your equipment in the breakroom sink is just more work, but if you are committed you will find a way.

Common Issues:

  • Iron Deficiency: Several breastfed babies have a slight iron deficiency which your doctors will monitor and sometimes suggest a supplement. (Easy fix!) 
  • Infections: Some others are yeast in the breast that can be treated with medication or prevented by washing the nipples with warm soapy water and keeping them dry between feedings. There are few other rare breast infections like mastitis but again, your doctor can help with these.
  • Get what you give: You have to watch what you put in your body, like you did while pregnant. Speak to your physician about rapid weight loss, alcohol consumption, calories needed to sustain you and your baby, medications, supplements, and drink extra water daily. 
  • Allergies: Some women who love eating eggs, extra veggies, cow’s milk spicy sauces or another type of food can cause the baby discomfort as their little digestive tracks are learning how to process. From gas to constipation you and your doctor can monitor these if they arise. 
  • Latching issues: Why won’t your baby just latch on and suck? Why does it hurt so badly when they do latch on? You have access to wonderful lactation consultants who can help with this. Take the free classes offered at most hospitals, read books, the more you know the easier it will be. 
  • Production: The last issue is one that I feel is the hardest. Some women just can’t produce. They may only get a few ounces a day or may not produce at all. Do not feel bad about this (easier said than done). You tried your best and have options. Your baby will still be fed, be happy, and thrive if this happens to you, the next option is for you.

Formula

While this option is still being heavily researched the advances in this area has made incredible strides and women across the globe are using and choosing this option on a broader scale in the past decade. What if you are adopting or used a surrogate, you can use this without guilt.

Pros:

  • Convenience: Yes! You can pre-make it for the day or as needed. All you need is a bottle and that miracle powder with warm water (or pre-made liquid) and the food is ready. It only takes a few minutes to warm. There is even an incredible new machine, like the single serve pod coffee, that can make the bottle for you, called the BabyBreeza.
  • Measure: This option allows you to measure how much your child is getting at each feeding. 
  • Variety: With multiple brands of formula you can choose what is best for your child needs. 

Cons:

  • Extra Stuff: While on the go, you will have to carry extra items in an already heavy diaper bag. 
  • Extra Time: The amount of bottle cleaning can sometimes be daunting to a tired mom or dad. Anywhere from 6-8 bottles a day.
  • MORE Stuff: Equipment can clutter a small kitchen quick. From the bottle drying rack, nipple and bottle brush, bottle warmer, to handwashing them separately from food in the first few months and sterilizing equipment- when you are ready for bed- can seem daunting. For those ‘middle of the night feedings’ when you realize they are all dirty, the baby is crying, you have to wash one, heat the water, and you are exhausted and on the brink of tears, you may want to purchase more bottles, but inevitably you will end up having to clean those too. I found that picking a time of day do this and sticking to the routine, like in the morning when baby is dry, fed, and happy, worked for me. 
  • Added Expense: Formula itself is pricey, very pricey. In the later months, that bundle of joy will hit a growth spurt and can go through an entire container in 5 days alone, and at $20-$40 per week, it adds up fast.

Common Issues:

  • Too Many Choices: The sheer number of types can be overwhelming too! Picking one will make your head spin, from regular formula to soy, iron plus, to this brand over that brand and more. Talk to your child’s doctor if you need help.  
  • Allergies: There is also the issue of allergies. This is the first foreign thing you will introduce to your babies digestive track and most kids will do just fine, but some will need a few trial and errors to get it right. Allergies can be stressful for both baby and parent and can lead to fussy, uncomfortable, gassy, itchy babies, but you will figure it out with a little time and extra patience.

In the end, you can do a mix of both! Each child is different, all four of mine were. Mix breastmilk and formula, pump and only bottle feed, exclusively feed from the breast, it doesn’t make a difference how you do it, just take care of that bundle of joy. If I could give you one piece of advice, once that baby arrives, enjoy it. Don’t spend those first days and weeks stressing out over everything that didn’t go according to your plan perfectly. I share my experience here. It’s a learning experience, grow with your baby, don’t force it by what your head thinks, use your heart, that mother’s intuition, it’s a gift.

Sarah Holland
Sarah Holland
I am a mother of 4 with my husband of over 10 years. Life is busy, but I work hard to enjoy life to the fullest! Life experience is the best education in my book!

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