Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding Formula

When it comes to deciding breastfeeding vs bottle feeding, the USDA and WIC programs state that “mothers are strongly encouraged to breastfeed their infants unless there is a medical reason not to.” Ultimately the decision to breastfeed vs bottle feed is made by the parents, but parents should strongly consider breastfeeding as a very health-conscious option. Because there are many health and relational benefits of breastfeeding, it is strongly suggested by all medical communities.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding Formula

The American Pregnancy Association recommends breastfeeding for most families. If you have questions about breastfeeding, are struggling with your breastfeeding relationship or are not sure what is really best for your baby, please don’t hesitate to contact a lactation consultant.

Sometimes there are medical reasons not to breastfeed (illnesses, medications, etc.) or a woman is not able to produce a sufficient amount of breast milk; these are understandable hindrances to breastfeeding. If there are true medical concerns, then we suggest following your doctor’s orders. If the concern is low breast milk, make sure you try out some ways to increase production and speak to a lactation consultant. If you still do not produce a sufficient amount, it is suggested to feed whatever breast milk you do produce and then supplement with formula.

Even a small amount of breast milk (especially in the first 6 months) can be beneficial for your baby!
The following table outlines several of the issues that need to be considered when making the decision on whether to breastfeed, bottle-feed with formula, or use a combination of the two.

Breastfeeding vs Bottle Feeding


Bottle Feeding With Formula

A perfect balance of nutrients Not as efficiently utilized/absorbed as breast milk
Contains high levels of nutrients
Nutritional content depends on proper preparation (human error)
Easily digested and absorbed Some babies have difficulty tolerating certain nutrients
Content varies according to the milk production stage, which meets
the changing nutritional requirements
Pediatrician/caregiver determines the amount consumed
Infant determines the amount consumed
Milk is free Formula ranges from $54 to $198 per month depending on the brand
Nursing pads, nursing bras, etc. Bottles, nipples, etc.
Breast pump (optional)
Always the perfect temperature Anyone can feed the baby
No preparation time
Milk is readily available at any time and any place
Mother’s milk contains Immunoglobulins, providing passive
immunity for baby
Skin-to-skin and breastfeeding latch releases bond-supporting
the hormone in mom (oxytocin)
The mother must be available for feeding or must provide pumped
milk if she is absent
Warming formula to the proper temperature
The mother must pump if feeding is missed (engorgement) Preparation time varies
Early breastfeeding may be uncomfortable The baby may not tolerate formula well (diarrhea)
Certain medications can interrupt breastfeeding Always have to carry bottles, formula/mixing items with you
Formula does not contain Immunoglobulins (no passive immunity)
Possible formula recalls

Something important to note is that we do not fully know all of the contents of breast milk or fully understand all the changes it goes through as the baby grows. This means that formula companies can never accurately mimic the contents of breast milk.

The passive immunity and oxytocin controlled bonding that comes into play with breastfeeding cannot be replaced with a bottle or formula. (Bonding to some degree can still occur with bottle-feeding. It helps when the baby is bottle-fed when held near the mother’s chest, skin-to-skin preferred.)

What is passive immunity? When a baby is young, its immune system is functional but is not sensitized to and prepared for many of the common bacteria or viruses humans encounter. Parts of the immune system response, called immunoglobulins (Ig), are passed from the mother’s immune system to the baby through breast milk and give the baby temporary immunity to the things the mother has become sensitized to. It is called “passive” because it is not immunity that the baby has created, but it has been given to the baby.

Other factors that go along with immunoglobulins and help to protect the baby are factors that assist with digestion and the maturation of the lining of the digestive tract, proteins that protect against bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and white blood cells from the mother. This is part of why breastfed babies are often healthier, absorb milk better, and tend to have less digestive trouble than babies who are primarily fed formula.

What is oxytocin? Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced soon after birth and during breastfeeding. It assists with milk flow from the breasts. Perhaps the more interesting part of the oxytocin response is its promotion of bonding and mothering behaviors. Without breastfeeding, the mother will have less oxytocin – less of a sense of bonding, affection, calmness, and stress-reduction.

Physical Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom & Baby

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it, “Breastfeeding is an investment in health, not just a lifestyle decision.” From research and study, they have determined benefits for mom & baby when breastfeeding occurs:
For babies, there is a reduced risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Ear infections
  • Respiratory infections
  • SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)

For moms, it can lower their risk for:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ovarian & Breast cancers
  • Heart disease

Recommended Links to Learn More about Breastfeeding vs. Bottle-feeding

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Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Olds, London, Ladewig’s Maternal-Newborn Nursing.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Breastfeeding – Why It Matters.

3. USDA – Food and Nutrition Service: Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

4. Breast Milk: Every Ounce Counts.

5. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Session 2: The Physiological Basis of Breastfeeding. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009.