Breastfeeding vs Bottle feeding: what option is right for you?
As parents-to-be and new parents soon discover, when it comes to looking after baby everyone has opinions that they want to share with you, whether or not you ask for them. Breastfeeding vs Bottle feeding baby can be a very divisive topic, and it’s a big decision for parents, especially mom, to make. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs bottle feeding.
Is breastfeeding better than bottle feeding?
Breast is best is a message many will have heard, and human breast milk is designed to be the optimum source of nutrition for your baby. It’s safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that your baby needs for the first months of their life. That’s why worldwide health organizations like WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their life – meaning that baby should have no other foods or liquids, not even water.
However, there may be very good reasons why baby isn’t exclusively breast fed for the first 6 months. If your baby is premature for example, it may take some time for mom’s milk to come in. Also breastfeeding can be difficult for some moms and not everyone gets the support they need to do it.
Breastfeeding pros and cons
Practically, breastfeeding can be low cost and convenient. Breast milk is always fresh and available and served up at body temperature whether you’re at home or out and about.
When it comes to health, breastfeeding really is a wonder. Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of:
Diarrhea and vomiting
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Cardiovascular disease in adulthood
Breastfeeding also has health benefits for mom too it also lowers your risk of:
osteoporosis (weak bones)
You may have heard that breastfeeding can help you lose your baby weight. It’s true that breastfeeding burns calories, so you need to make sure you have plenty to eat and drink while you’re breastfeeding your baby.
You’ll produce more oxytocin, the happy hormone, which in turn can make you and your baby feel more relaxed and content.
And it’s a beautiful bonding experience between you and baby.
One challenge with breastfeeding is that it can sometimes hurt. This is mainly down to issues with baby latching on your breast properly. Some days you’ll think you’ve got it cracked, others that will just be your nipples.
But a great latch can make all the difference and minimize the risk of nipple soreness or infection. And once your baby masters the latch this also works wonders on getting up that all important milk supply.
Have a look at what support is available in your area and remember both you and your baby are learning a brand-new skill. Once you’ve both mastered it there will be no looking back.
If you can get support from a breastfeeding advisor, then do so and remember it may take a while to get comfortable and confident and that’s ok.
Breastfeeding does require some commitment from mom to always be on demand or expressing, especially in those early days. You may feel more like a milking machine, and while that’s not always convenient or comfortable, it does pay off for all those benefits above.
Challenges such as engorgement, mastitis or other infections may also make breastfeeding more difficult and in some cases may be severe enough to make it necessary to move on from breastfeeding to bottle and formula feeding.
But with the right support, most mums get through it and breast vs bottle feeding isn’t an all or nothing choice. You can switch between the two.
Firstly, let’s be clear. You can give your baby all the benefits of breast milk using a bottle, by using expressed breast milk. So actually, when most people talk about breastfeeding vs bottle feeding, what they really mean is breastfeeding vs formula feeding.
There may be very good reasons why parents choose to formula feed using a bottle. These days baby milk formula is produced to very high standards and provides all the basic vitamin and minerals your baby will need for healthy growth and development.
Bottle feeding using formula can be convenient as it gives mom a chance to rest and allows other members of the family to get involved. This can be particularly welcome when it comes to catching up on sleep or going back to work and helps partners bond with baby too.
There’s a bit of a misconception that formula milk fills baby up more quickly, so you may find people recommending it if you have a very hungry baby. Breast milk is easier for baby to digest, so that often means a shorter period between feeds, leading to the idea that baby is always hungry.
Unlike breastfeeding, where you only need boobs, bottle feeding needs additional accessories. You’ll of course need bottles and nipples, but you may also like to add sterilizing equipment and bottle warmers.
Yes you can and many parents do. Feeding your baby with breast milk and formula is called supplementing or combination feeding.
It's usually recommended you wait until your baby is at least a month old before introducing formula so that your baby gets the benefits of breastfeeding and your body can balance out your milk supply.
Can you mix formula and breast milk in the same bottle?
In theory you can however, to ensure that none of your hard-earned breastmilk goes to waste it’s recommended giving that to baby first.
If you decide to mix formula and breast milk it’s important to remember that formula milk is made to provide your baby with a specific amount of calories and nutrients when mixed with water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. So, remember to mix the formula with water before adding it to breast milk in the same bottle.
Can I give my baby formula during the day and breastfeed at night?
Yes you can, or vice versa. Many parents start to introduce a mixture of breast and bottle or formula feeding as baby grows.
Whenever you choose to introduce bottle feeding, it’s best for both baby and you to do it gradually. Start to introduce bottle feeding one feed at a time.
Parents who really want to reduce those late night and early morning feedings often ask if giving baby a bottle of formula at bedtime will help them sleep longer. Sadly, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Breastmilk contains compounds that actually encourage babies to sleep. But, because breastmilk is so easily digested, babies wake to feed more frequently. Formula may be a little harder for babies to digest, so it keeps them fuller for longer. But this can also mean more gas, bloating and pain – and more shout outs for parents through the night.
All babies will need to feed during the night for the first few months. Once babies are more than five months old, their stomachs are larger, and they can last longer without milk. Their sleep patterns change too. So, whether you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby at night is really up to you. Just hang on in there. It will get easier.