Breastfeeding versus Formula Feeding

How Can You Be Sure You Are Doing What’s Best?

It’s a hot topic these days. On one hand, breastfeeding moms are hailed as heroines by the medical community. Midwives, nurses, lactation consultants and doctors encourage (and in some cases even push) new moms to breastfeed. Meanwhile, nursing in public can cause a mom to be the target of nasty looks or even requests to cover up or leave. Pumping at work is inconvenient at best. At the same time, formula feeding is compared to giving your child poison. No joke, I saw someone comment online that a mom was feeding her baby “poison” in reference to baby formula. Have we lost our minds, people?

How can we expect a new mom to make the right decision for herself and her family when it seems there are challenges and guilt trips waiting for her regardless of what she chooses? As I mentioned in a previous post, moms of this generation don’t have the same family support as in the past. We need to support one another. New moms: take a breath. I’m going to give you some resources and a vote of confidence to decide for yourself! Here are some key facts and my own personal experience.

What are the pros and cons to breastfeeding versus formula?

Benefits of Breastfeeding

“Breast is best.” This seems to be the mantra of our time for new moms! Here’s what it means. Studies have shown that breastfeeding improves babies immune systems and can reduce childhood obesity. It has also been shown to have various health benefits for new moms, including claims of reduced risk of heart attack or stroke and even reduced risk of breast cancer. The list goes on. You can read more about the research at the website for La Leche League International. My pediatrician even recommended putting a few drops of it in my baby’s eye when it was infected. There are so many benefits, human breast milk seems like a magic potion! Who wouldn’t want to have a healthy baby and a healthy mom?

I chose to breastfeed my daughter for these reasons and others. As a working mom, the time I spent nursing was important to bonding with my baby. After being away from her all day, I needed this time of closeness. It also saved my family a lot of money that would have been spent on formula. I had very good milk production and was able to nurse exclusively for six months. After that, I began supplementing with homemade purees. I began to supplement formula around 9 months and breastfed until 13 months. Ultimately, I stopped because I was ill and needed to take antibiotics that would have passed through to my milk. But even my experience was not without challenges.

Obstacles to Breastfeeding

After a few days of nursing, I experienced pain while feeding. I consulted with friends and thought it would get better, so I powered through it. I didn’t go back to the hospital until two weeks later. By then, I was wincing and gritting my teeth every time she nursed. As cluster feeding began, I had the baby on my breast for up to two hours at a time. It was excruciating. With some help from a lactation consultant and a nipple shield, I survived my first breastfeeding trial. More challenges came when I returned to work.

I was lucky because I work for a large company with many resources. My office building has designated “Mother’s Rooms” that can be reserved for expressing milk. Nonetheless, I had to schedule multiple breaks to pump each day. I also had to leave work promptly for daycare. I didn’t feel like the strong contributor I had always prided myself to be. Over time, pumping felt like a dreaded chore. I was afraid to stop because my time nursing was so important to me, I didn’t want to dry up. I felt truly conflicted and frustrated. At work, other moms would overstay their reservation in the mother’s room, cutting into my time. I often found other women’s milk droplets on the table and chair where I pumped. I felt dirty.

Friends of mine had it worse. Without a designated room at work, one had to find a private place or pump in her car. Another was brought to tears after being yelled at by a nurse in the hospital. Her baby had an issue that made latching difficult. This mom was told that her baby needed to eat, regardless of mom’s pain. Way to make a hormonal new mom feel like garbage! The pressure not to formula feed can be intense. I know another woman who made her husband guard her hospital room door just to keep the lactation consultants out!

Is Formula All That Bad?

Now that we’ve weighed the pros and cons of breastfeeding, let’s talk about the alternative. Formula was the go-to in prior generations. My mom only nursed for about 3 months with each of us. My grandmother formula fed, too. “I had to go back to work,” she told me. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was common to formula feed. Some parents even made their own formula. Breastfeeding is becoming more popular in the U.S. these days. However, formula feeding is still the more popular choice in some other countries like France. (I discovered this when I read the cult favorite, Bringing Up Bebe.)

When I was struggling with my decision to wean, I searched for advice from a trusted source. In a prior post I mentioned “Expecting Better“, a book by economist and mom, Emily Oster. I appreciate her objective, research-based approach. When I searched for her thoughts on breastfeeding, I found this article. In it, she breaks down the research on the benefits of breastfeeding. Her conclusion? Basically, yes there are benefits to breastfeeding. But they are totally overblown. She points out how the research may or may not take other factors into consideration, and brings us all down to earth a bit. And a strong point she makes about formula is the fact that with clean drinking water, it is safe and healthy. Breastfeeding may be necessary in the third world, but we really do have a choice in the U.S.

Breastfeeding Resources

If you know you want to breastfeed, or haven’t decided and want more info, here are some suggestions:

  • Speak with your ob-gyn.
  • Talk to friends and family to hear about their experiences.
  • Contact HR where you work to find out about accommodations for pumping moms.
  • Attend a breastfeeding class at the hospital where you will deliver.
  • Search the web. KellyMom is a great practical resource. La Leche League has local chapters worldwide.

Formula Resources

Some babies are sensitive to different types of formula so you may need to try a few to find one that works. Ask your pediatrician for free samples. The formula companies make them available to doctors’ offices and it is a great way to try them for free. You just have to ask!

We found these Enfamil to go packets to be super convenient when traveling. Just dump a packet into a bottle of water, shake it and serve. To supplement, we used Gerber formula at home and daycare.

A friend of mine wanted to go as natural and organic as possible. The U.S. based companies use some ingredients that are not used in Europe. I haven’t seen the research behind this. If you are concerned, you can get German brands Holle or Hipp online. Baby’s Only also has organic options.

It’s All Good!

Let’s remember that some of our sisters in motherhood don’t have an option. For various medical reasons, some women are not able to nurse. And let’s not judge those who simply don’t want to! Breastfeeding is an extremely personal decision. There are a lot of factors and it is easy to judge. Let’s do the more difficult thing and seek to understand. Finally, let’s really support the moms who do breastfeed. Encourage without pressure. Don’t stare or glare at moms who feed their babies in public. Normalize breastfeeding. Work with your employer to ensure moms in your office have clean, private mothers’ rooms.

New moms need all the support they can get. We should also remember that we moms are our own worst enemies. We want to be strong and do everything right, all on our own. If you’re struggling, ask for help! Give yourself a break. The simple fact that you care so much is evidence that you are giving your baby a great start, whether you nurse or bottle feed.

If you’re expecting your first child, let me know what you think in the comments! If you’ve got some experience, share it below to let other moms know they aren’t alone!


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