Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

By OBOS Pregnancy & Birth Contributors | April 10, 2014


I had read all the books about how good breast milk is for babies, and I wanted to nurse my child, but before he was born I still felt a little strange about it. I never had any experience like that before, so I didn’t know what it would be like to have this little person sucking on my breast almost twenty-four hours a day. I was almost wishing deep down that formula was better for babies. Then, after the birth and when we were in the hospital and started trying to breastfeed. I had this total change in attitude. I was like “This isn’t as weird as I thought it would be. This is a bonding thing.”

Many of us find great pleasure and pride in our body’s ability to nourish new life. In addition, breastfeeding offers many benefits to both mothers and babies. Breast milk provides exactly the right balance of nutrients, adapting to your baby’s changing requirements as she or he grows in the first months of life.

Breast milk has unique nutritional properties that benefit infant health and that are not available in formula. Babies who are formula-fed are more likely than babies who are breastfed to develop ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, diabetes, lower respiratory tract infections, and eczema. Both sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and childhood leukemia, though rare, are more common in babies who are formula-fed.

Mothers’ health is also affected by breastfeeding. Women who do not breastfeed are more likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Women who do not breastfeed or breastfeed for only a short period of time are also more likely to experience postpartum depression.

In addition to being good for our babies’ and our own health, breastfeeding has practical advantages: When you breastfeed, you don’t have to spend money on formula or deal with bottles (except when you’re separated from your baby). Breastfeeding means that your baby’s food is always available—at the right temperature and with the right nutrients for growth and development.

In several specific circumstances, breastfeeding is not recommended. In addition, some of us prefer not to are unable to breastfeed. In these circumstances, formula is a vital alternative.

Formula as an Alternative to Breastfeeding

I felt like I was cut loose from the system way before I was ready. I was discharged before my milk had even come in. Some of the people who trained me at the hospital had not even nursed themselves. I felt like each individual tried her best, but it never came together for me. He never latched correctly. I never produced much milk. After a few days, it felt like time was ticking away and my baby wasn’t getting enough to eat. When I finally made the decision to say, “I’m done with this. We’re going to give you some formula,” it was a huge relief. I felt like I could finally start trying to enjoy this new life.

In the not-so-distant past, many nursing mothers felt as though they were singled out for choosing to breastfeed. Now that health care providers and government officials are touting the benefits of breast milk, many formula-feeding mothers now feel that we are judged each time we feed our babies from a bottle.

Many of us who want to breastfeed but can’t for medical reasons, or who lack the support we needed to get off to the right start, feel deeply disappointed that our bodies are not doing what we think they are “supposed” to do. These feelings may be similar to the grief and sense of loss some of us feel when labor and delivery did not go as we hoped.

There was always an assumption that I was going to breastfeed, and every time I pulled out the bottle, I always felt like I had to explain myself. People assume that everyone can nurse their babies. But not everyone can. I don’t want to be judged for that.