We weigh the pros and cons of breastfeeding and bottle feeding to help you decide which is the right option for you and your baby.
One of the many things you'll need to consider when you're preparing for your baby's arrival is how you plan to feed your little one once they arrive. There can often be a lot of pressure on Mums-to-be from partners, friends and family to either choose breast or bottle feeding, however, ultimately, you will need to make your decision based on what you feel is the best thing for you and your baby.
So, to help you decide whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding is going to be the right option for you we weigh the pros and cons of each.
Breastfeeding - the pros and cons
In the world of medicine there is little doubt that breast milk is the best food for your baby. In fact, the 'official' recommendation is that you breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months of their life. The documented benefits of breastfeeding are many and varied and include:
Breast milk contains all of the nutrients that your baby needs to thrive.
What's more, as your baby grows, the composition of your breast milk changes to meet their advancing nutritional needs. This helps to ensure that they are getting all of the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats & proteins they need to develop a strong and healthy body.
Breastfeeding your baby helps them to be healthy.
A certain level of natural immunity against disease is passed from mother to baby through breast milk. The antibodies carried in breast milk help to reduce the chance that an infant will suffer from digestive problems such as gastroenteritis, respiratory problems or infections of the inner ear. The likelihood of a breastfed infant developing allergies and allergy-related conditions such as eczema and asthma is also significantly reduced.
Breast milk reduces tummy problems.
As breast milk is nutritionally designed to suit your baby's sensitive digestive system it is far easier for them to cope with than formula milk. As a result, breastfed babies are less likely to suffer with tummy problems such as constipation, wind and diarrhoea.
Breastfeeding helps to reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes in later life.
As breastfed babies have more control over how much they eat during each feed they start to identify 'hungry' and 'full' signs and learn to control the amount they consume at an earlier age. They tend to put on weight more gradually than bottle fed babies during the first year of life and as a consequence tend to be less likely to develop obesity or type-2 diabetes in later life. Other health benefits such as lower blood pressure and cholesterol have also been demonstrated.
Breastfeeding has health benefits for Mum.
Women who breastfeed often find it easier to lose weight after having a baby as breastfeeding uses up calories and helps the womb to contract after the birth. Breastfeeding also helps to reduce the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, type-2 diabetes and postnatal depression.
Breast milk is always 'on tap'.
Aside from the health benefits associated with breastfeeding it's also incredibly convenient (no getting up in the night to make up bottles or worrying whether you've sterilised something properly) you need minimal equipment, you never have to worry whether the milk is the right temperature or whether you've mixed it up correctly and to top it all, it's completely free.
Breastfeeding can help you bond with baby.
Many mothers who breastfeed believe it helps them to form a special closeness with their baby that they would otherwise not have experienced.
Breastfeeding can take a while to master
While breastfeeding may seem to be the most natural thing to do for your baby it isn't always as easy as it looks. Learning how to encourage baby to latch on properly and negotiating potential issues such as cracked nipples and leaky breasts can often make breastfeeding a bit more challenging than Mums-to-be expect. Having said that your health visitor, GP and other support organisations will be on hand to help you overcome any difficulties you experience while you're learning.
Breastfeeding can be a tie
Breastfeeding can sometimes be quite a strain on a new Mum, particularly in the very early days when you're the only one that can feed your hungry baby. While it can seem a lot of responsibility to begin with, as your baby grows and starts to feed less often and you master the art of breastfeeding it becomes far easier to cope with. Remember, you do also have the option of expressing and this can relieve you of some of the responsibility and help your partner and other members of the family to get involved in feeding baby too.
Breastfeeding mothers need to keep an eye on their diet
Just as when you were pregnant you'll need to keep an eye on your diet while you're breastfeeding too. This is because some elements of the foods and the drink you consume are passed on to your baby through breast milk. You'll also need to make sure any medication you take is suitable for breastfeeding mothers.
It can be difficult to monitor how much baby is eating
When you breastfeed the only way you are able to monitor how much your baby is eating is by keeping an eye on their weight and ensuring that they are growing and developing healthily. While regular checkups and weigh-ins should help to put your mind at ease, some parents find this uncertainty a little unnerving and prefer to keep an eye on exactly how much their baby is consuming.
Some women don't feel comfortable breastfeeding
Not everyone feels comfortable breastfeeding, whether in public or at home and this is something important to consider when weighing your options.
The most important thing to remember is that breastfeeding is only the best thing for your baby if it's the right thing for you too. Having a relaxed, happy Mum is ultimately going to be the most important thing for your baby however you decide feed them.
Bottle feeding - the pros and cons
Bottle feeding lets you share responsibility
If you decide to bottle feed your baby you are immediately able to share the responsibility of feeding your baby with your partner and other members of your family. This not only means that you get to doze through your fair share of night time feeds but also that your partner can feel more involved in nurturing your baby too.
You can monitor exactly how much your baby is eating
When you bottle feed your baby you are able to see in definite terms exactly how much milk they have consumed during any one feed. To some parents this can be incredibly reassuring as it completely eliminates the worry that baby may not be getting enough milk.
You have more flexibility
When you're breastfeeding your routine is completely determined by your baby's wake, sleep and feed pattern, particularly during the early weeks. If you decide to bottle feed you have flexibility of being able to enlist some help with the feeding and taking some time out away from baby while someone else takes care of the feeding. This can be particularly helpful if you decide to return to work soon after having your baby.
You may enjoy more sleep
As formula milk isn't as easily digested by infants, bottle fed babies can sometimes sleep for longer periods than babies who are breastfed as they don't need to wake quite so often to eat. This is by no means set in stone though and really shouldn't be the determining factor in your decision as to whether to breast or bottle feed.
You'll feel comfortable feeding anywhere
Some new Mums feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in front of others. Bottle feeding prevents this from being an issue when you are out and about (although remember that you can always choose to express and bottle feed your baby breast milk when you're around others if you'd feel happier doing so).
You lose the health benefits
The main disadvantage of choosing formula over breast milk is that neither you nor baby will benefit from the numerous short term and long term health advantages that breastfeeding brings.
You miss out on the bond
Many Mums that choose to breastfeed believe that it helps them to develop a special bond with their baby and by bottle feeding you may lose out on this unique opportunity.
It's not free
While breast milk is free and quite literally on tap any time your baby is hungry, formula milk comes at a cost as you need to buy all the equipment as well as the formula mix itself.
It's not as easily digested
Formula milk isn't as easily digested by babies so they're more likely to suffer with tummy problems such as constipation and diarrhoea.
It's more time consuming
Bottle feeding is far more time consuming that breastfeeding as you need to factor in the time it takes to wash and sterilise all the necessary equipment not to mention the time it takes to mix up the feed. You'll also need to be more organised to ensure that you have sufficient milk with you when you're away from home.
Have you decided to breast or bottle feed? Do you feel pressure to choose one over the other? Whether you want to ask experienced parents about feeding or fancy a chat about something else why not visit the AskBaby forums?