Breast Milk vs. Formula: Here’s What You Should Know

breast milk vs formula

Breastfeeding vs. formula— a debate that’s been going on for many years. Some may choose breast milk because it’s natural, while others might prefer formula for other reasons. It often depends on your preference for your baby and other factors out of your control. 

As we celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, we made this guide to help you explore the differences between breast milk and formula. It will help you understand each feeding method’s benefits, challenges, and recommendations.  


What You Need to Know About Breastfeeding 

Breast milk is the gold standard or natural choice when feeding a baby. It’s a mother’s first and best food for her baby and contains just the right balance of nutrients for good growth and brain development. 

As your baby grows older, breast milk composition changes to meet your baby’s changing nutritional needs. This natural change ensures they get optimal nutrition through their entire first year. It also helps mothers bond with their infants because it creates a physical connection between them.


Benefits of Breast Milk

1. Protects Babies from Infection

Babies benefit from breast milk because it contains antibodies that protect them against infections like ear infections and respiratory infections. It also contains proteins that help boost infants’ immune systems, which may help prevent chronic conditions like allergies later in life.


2. Helps develop a healthy digestive flora

Breastfed babies have fewer digestive problems than formula-fed babies because breast milk is rich in enzymes that assist the stomach and intestines digest food. Breastfed babies also have less gas than formula-fed babies because breast milk has fewer carbohydrates than formula.


3. Complete Nutrition

Breast milk contains more than just calories, water, fat, and protein (though it does have those things). It also contains hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin, vitamins and minerals, and enzymes that help break down food into nutrients for the body and can repair tissue if an injury occurs. Breast milk is also low in sodium and potassium, which promotes proper brain development.


4. Helps lower the risk of SIDS

Research shows breastfed babies have lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than formula-fed infants. Less than half of the reported SIDS cases occur among infants who were exclusively breastfed for six months or longer compared with those who never received breast milk after birth.



Although breast milk is all-natural and contains all the nutrients your baby needs, it isn’t always an option for mothers. Some women have trouble maintaining enough breast milk for their babies needs, which can result in inadequate weight gain and possible dehydration. In these cases, bottle-feeding with formula is a great alternative to breast milk to keep your baby healthy and happy.


How to Prepare for Breastfeeding

Nursing can be tricky, and it may take time for both of you to adjust. But with patience and practice, breastfeeding will become second nature in no time. To prepare for breastfeeding, follow these tips:

  1. Get help from a lactation consultant or other expert if you need it. A lactation consultant can teach you how to breastfeed and provide any support you need during the process.
  2. Prepare breast pads. You’ll need these when you first start nursing because they help keep your clothing clean from leaking milk and can protect sensitive skin from irritation caused by friction with clothing.
  3. Get into a comfortable position. You should ensure that your baby is well-latched and able to suck strongly. If your baby is not latching well, try to get them to open their mouth wide and gently guide the head, jaw, and tongue towards the nipple. Also, ensure that you have positioned your nipple in front of their mouth, not above or below.
  4. Make sure your breasts are ready. Your body will let your baby know when they’re ready to feed, but some things can help prepare them. For example, nursing frequently can help increase milk production in new moms; pumping before feeds can help stimulate production too. 

Doctors recommend allowing enough time between feedings, so your breasts are not full during a feeding session. As a result, you’ll have less pain while feeding and be able to move around more easily.


Feeding Schedule

Babies who are fed breast milk are fed the same times as formula-fed babies — about eight to 12 times in 24 hours, on average. It is typical for them to feed every 2 to 3 hours. There may be times when a baby feeds every hour. Just look for signs of hunger and feed on-demand.


What You Need to Know About Formula Feeding

Infant formula is a safe alternative to breast milk that provides all the nutrients babies need to grow and thrive until they’re ready to eat solid foods. It is made up of a combination of water, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Baby formulas are also fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates infant formula.


Reasons Why Other Mothers Opt for Infant Formula

Even though breast milk is recommended, the benefits of bottle feeding for those who can’t breastfeed are numerous. There are many reasons why mothers choose infant formula, and they are all valid. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones.


1. Food Sensitivity 

Some babies are sensitive to lactose (milk sugar) in breast milk or formula and may suffer from tummy aches, diarrhea, or other digestive issues if they drink it. If your baby has a food sensitivity, you should talk with your doctor or pediatrician about switching brands or discuss types of infant formula until you find one that works better for your baby’s digestive system.


2. Not Enough Breast Milk

Some women don’t have enough lactation hormones to stimulate their breasts to make enough milk for their babies. Various factors can cause this, such as trouble with breastfeeding and certain medications. 


3. Health Condition of the Mother

A mother may be unable to breastfeed due to physical or mental disability, smoking, alcohol use and drugs during pregnancy, or other health conditions requiring medication treatment. Others may have had breast surgery or experienced a rupture in their breast ducts during delivery, preventing them from nursing. If the mother suffers from HIV or hepatitis C, she will need to stop breastfeeding and use infant formula instead. It is too risky for the child to contract these infections.


4. Health Condition of the Baby

Babies may have health issues that make them unable to nurse properly or safely at the breast. If your doctor recommends that you use infant formula for your baby, then, by all means, follow their advice! If your baby has special needs or is premature, it’s even more critical that they get the nutrition they need.


5. Breastfeeding Difficulties

You may find yourself struggling with sore nipples from cracked skin or blisters from cracked nipples, engorgement (when your breasts fill up with milk), mastitis (an infection in one or both breasts), blocked ducts (when milk isn’t flowing correctly through). 


Common Types of Baby Formula 

Baby formula comes in a variety of types. If you’re not sure which one is best for your baby, it’s important to talk with your doctor.

Here are some of the most common types of baby formula:

  • Cow’s milk-based formula that has been fortified to resemble breast milk.
  • Hypoallergenic or hydrolyzed formulas for babies with an allergic reaction to milk protein. 
  • Specialized infant formulas for premature infants, those with malabsorption syndromes, heart problems, and difficulties digesting amino acids and fats.
  • Lactose-free baby formula for babies who have trouble digesting lactose (the natural sugar found in breast milk and cow’s milk).
  • Soy-based formulas contain high amounts of protein and fat compared to other formulas.


How to Prepare for Bottle Feeding

Parents must prepare baby formula correctly to be safe and free from contaminants like bacteria and viruses. Observing the following steps ensures that your infant gets the full benefits of formula feeding. 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything. You should have a clean area with everything you need within reach. This area includes sterilized bottles, nipples, a measuring cup, and safe, warm drinking water. Use water boiled for 10 minutes or distilled water if your water supply isn’t safe. 
  • Read directions carefully before mixing them up. If you are preparing powdered formula, ensure it is not expired and check the instructions on how much water to add to the powder.
  • Mix the powdered formula with the water in a clean container warmed to body temperature. It should be mixed well, and there should be no lumps.
  • Check the temperature of the formula using a thermometer or by testing with your hand. It should not be too cold or too hot.
  • Don’t reheat leftover formula unless it’s been refrigerated for less than an hour or two because it might not be safe after being heated again.


Feeding Schedule

Formula-fed babies tend to feed eight to twelve times in a 24-hour period. To start:


  1. Check with your pediatrician about how many bottles per day are recommended for your baby’s age, weight, and size — this will help determine how many bottles and nipples you should buy initially.
  2. Give your baby 1 to 2 ounces of formula every two to three hours.
  3. When your baby shows signs of hunger, offer some more formula.


What Will Happen If I Switch to Formula from Breast Milk?

Changing from breastmilk to formula side effects like gas, upset stomach, and even constipation is possible if you make the change quickly. Wait three to four weeks before supplementing or switching from breastfeeding to formula. Wean your baby off breast milk gradually to allow their bodies and yours to adjust. It is advisable to cut back on one breastfeeding session at a time. Over the course of two to six weeks, the baby will adapt to the new formula.


Get the Best Nutrition for Your Child!

There’s no clear winner in the breast milk vs. formula debate. It just depends on what you want for your baby. Breast milk has certain advantages over formula — if that matters more to you than the other benefits of formula feeding. Whatever method you choose, ensuring your child has the proper nutrition should stay the main objective! 

CMCFresno can provide advice on breastfeeding or formula feeding if you need it. You can contact our team if you have any questions or concerns. Call or schedule an appointment with CMCFresno to get started.

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