Breastfeeding or formula? A personal choice


A big decision new parents must make for the little one’s nutrition is whether to breastfeed or give formula. No matter what you decide, other people will surely have an opinion, but only one thing really matters: which choice is right for you and your baby?

There are pros and cons to both breastfeeding and formula feeding, but the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At about six months, your baby may be ready for other foods, but you can continue breastfeeding as long as it is comfortable for you and your baby.

Benefits of breastfeeding

There are several benefits to breastfeeding your little one. Some of these benefits include:

  • Breastmilk provides natural antibodies that help your baby resist illnesses, such as ear infections.

  • It is usually more easily digested than formula, so breastfed babies are often less constipated and gassy.

  • Breastfeed babies are less likely to be overweight into adulthood.

  • It is good for moms too. Studies show that women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and ovarian cancer.

Benefits of formula feeding

If you find you can't breastfeed, relax. Formula feeding is also a healthy choice for babies. If you use formula, your baby will get the best possible alternative to breastmilk. It’s not true that bottle-fed babies are constantly going to the emergency room with ear infections. Likewise, moms who breastfeed are not immune to cancer.

In fact, there are benefits to that option as well. Busy parents can easily become overwhelmed with a newborn, and breastfeeding severely inhibits your ability to have personal time away from your baby. If you do find that time, you often pay in advance with hours and hours of uncomfortable breast pumps, just to make sure that junior gets the good stuff. Formula can be much more convenient, and you can’t underestimate the benefits that can have for a mother’s mental health. To add to that, formula isn’t digested as quickly as mother’s milk, so your baby may be able to go longer between feedings. Longer naps, more peace and quiet for mom and dad. It’s not all bad.

Read: Self-care: You are your best health advocate

If you choose to go the breastfeeding route, there are few things that you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t worry about not making enough milk. Many moms worry because their baby seems to be constantly hungry, and they can’t measure how much milk they’re getting. If your baby wets his or her diaper at least five times a day and is putting on weight, all is well.
  • Take care of your nipples. Especially when you’re starting out, this area can become cracked and sore. That doesn’t help anyone, and makes breastfeeding painful. Try rubbing a little breastmilk on them after each feeding. There are also creams made for this purpose. For tips on breastfeeding, search for a lactation consultant in your area or reach out to your public health branch as many offer breastfeeding clinics.
  • You have to drink a lot of water. This is pretty self-explanatory, but when your body is producing milk, you’re going to need to stay hydrated.
  • Notably, breast milk doesn’t contain much vitamin D, so it’s recommended that breastfeeding moms give their babies a vitamin D supplement. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist first to ensure you are giving the correct dosage.

  • Iron levels stores begin to deplete as your baby nears six months so you’ll want to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how to add iron into your baby’s diet. Proper dosing is important. Too much iron can cause you baby to become constipated and is potentially toxic.

Getting the most out of bottle-feeding

Remember that the benefits are relative, and there are other ways to make sure your baby gets the nutrients he or she needs. If you do opt for formula instead of breastfeeding however, follow these tips to get the most out of it:

  • Skin is in – Skin to skin contact is very important for your baby’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Even if you feed the baby with a bottle, try to make sure to have plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your baby.
  • The gas must pass – Bottle-feeding tends to create much more gas in babies than breastfeeding, because they take in a lot of air. This can be uncomfortable, even painful. Make sure to take a burp break every 2 to 3 ounces of formula.
  • Keep it cool – It’s understandable that you would want to serve your baby a warm meal, but a room temperature bottle, or even one straight out of the fridge, is better than one that’s too hot. Avoid the microwave as it can warm the bottle unevenly and lead to burns. If you want to warm the formula, it’s better to let the bottle sit in a pot of hot water for 5 minutes or use a bottle warmer. Always shake the bottle of formula or swirl the bottle if heating breastmilk, and always test the temperature of the milk on your hand, with your finger or on your wrist before you give it to baby.
  • When in doubt throw it out – If the bottle of formula is left out for hours, sits in the fridge for more than 24 hours or there is some leftover from the last feeding, throw it out. Bacteria from your baby’s mouth can sour the formula.
  • Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize – Bacteria and germs can quickly grow inside bottles, which can put your baby’s health at risk if not washed thoroughly. It is recommended that bottles and all parts that come with the bottles be washed with warm, soapy water and boiled in water to kill bacteria.

Remember, fed is best

Whether you choose to feed your baby formula or breast milk is a very personal decision, and there’s not one answer that’s right for everyone. If you have concerns or questions, your doctor or pharmacist can give you more suggestions to help make this time in your life as happy and healthy as possible for you, and your precious baby.