How to decide between breastfeeding and formula feeding

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Before you embark on your feeding journey, the fear of the great unknown can be daunting. But like most life skills, once you practice it enough times, you’ll soon have the know-how to master it with confidence. 

That being said, things don’t always go to plan — especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Your bub may have a tongue-tie, your supply may dry up, or your mental health may be on the line… There’s a whole myriad of reasons why you may not end up breastfeeding and that’s totally OK. Fed is 100% best and nothing is more important than mum’s mental health. 

Similarly, you may have a really beautiful breastfeeding journey and be able to feed your bub with ease. 

In Australia, we are lucky enough to have some of the best baby formula in the world and you can still bond with your bottle-fed baby. Every mum and baby pairing is totally different and has their own unique path to navigate together. 

So as you prepare to feed your bub, in whichever way that unfolds, we take a deep dive into your options of breastfeeding and formula feeding and how best to decide. 

Breastfeeding

The decision to breastfeed, and when to stop, is a completely personal one. Personal choice combined with circumstances will make the decision different for everyone. The process of stopping breastfeeding is called weaning.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for six months before being introduced to solid foods or weaning. They then recommend a mix of solid foods and breastmilk up to the age of two years old or beyond. 

No matter whether you breastfeed your baby for two days, two months, or two years, they will benefit from its nourishment and nutrients. Fed is always best and there is no shame if you choose not to or cannot breastfeed.

Choosing how long to do it will depend on several factors, such as:

  • Baby’s age
  • Convenience e.g. returning to work may make it too hard to continue
  • Problems with feeding
  • Baby refusing feeds/self-weaning
  • Personal preference
  • Emotional needs 

Is there anything I can do to promote a successful breastfeeding experience?

Mothercraft Nurse Chris Minogue recommends making sure you establish a good feeding pattern from the start by following a few simple steps. 

“To establish a good feeding pattern and help ensure your little one is getting a ‘full feed’, we suggest feeding on one side first until it has completely softened (emptied), before offering your baby the second side,” Chris says. 

“As your baby gets older, the feeds will become shorter as they become much more efficient. Be sure to keep in mind the technique for giving your baby a ‘full feed’ to avoid ‘snacking’ and keep up a consistent feeding pattern.” 

Chris also advises not to forget about looking after yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup — quite literally. 

“Whilst breastfeeding, remember to also look after yourself. Breastfeeding can be tiring as your body works hard to produce milk packed with nutrients for your baby. Make sure you are eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water – both during the day and throughout the feed,” Chris notes.

A little research also goes a long way. If your hospital offers free breastfeeding classes or a consultation with their in-house lactation consultant, definitely seize the opportunity. When you’re feeding, remember to maintain a healthy diet and stay well-hydrated as you’re sharing all your nutrients with your little one. 

Having a calm and relaxed feeding environment with a supportive partner on hand to help is also crucial. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your GP can put you in touch with lactation consultants in your area. 

Formula feeding

The main benefit of bottle feeding is that you can share the load of feeding with your support person or other family members. More rest for mama is a huge win! 😴 However, the biggest factor to consider is cost. Depending on the brand, a standard 900g tub of formula can cost between $25 to $40. 

At first, the thought of sterilising the bottles can seem overwhelming but once you get a system in place, you’ll be able to do it with your eyes shut (quite literally… hello, 3AM feeds 🍼).

Many people say formula-fed babies sleep better. This is not necessarily the case but may speak to the fact that formula generally takes longer to digest. Your baby’s sleep pattern will mature at the rate of their age, not by the amount that they take in from their bottle.

How do I choose the right formula for my baby?

There are so many options on the market — making it quite overwhelming to know which one is best for your baby. 

Powder is the most commonly used (and cost-effective) type of baby formula, but there are also liquid formulas and concentrates.

Also, options such as cow’s milk-based (modified for human babies to be able to digest), soy-based, lactose-free, hydrolysed, organic, and specialised formulas for babies with allergies, premature babies, or babies with other conditions that require special care are available. 

Because you don’t know what your baby’s needs will be until they are born, it is best to hold off on buying any formula until you need it. It might also take a bit of trial and error before you find one that your baby will drink. You can always speak with your doctor/paediatrician about how to choose the right type or which one they recommend. 

Are there any risks with formula feeding?

As with anything you are giving your baby, you may want to test it with a small amount before giving them a full feed. If you have any concerns about an allergic reaction, stop feeding immediately and contact your doctor. 

Some babies might not like — or their stomach/digestive system may not agree with — certain types of formula, so it can take some trial and error before finding the right one. 

You also have to be cautious when heating the formula so that the liquid does not become too hot that it burns your baby’s throat, so always test the temperature of the milk on the inside of your wrist before giving it to your baby. 

One of the greatest bottle-feeding hacks parents swear by is giving your baby sterilised water at room temperature. That way, your bub never gets accustomed to having a warm bottle and you cut out a whole added step of labour! 

Teat size

Teat sizes will change as your baby grows. A newborn will start with a slow flow teat, which will increase in size as they develop. This is usually based on age and listed on the packaging of the bottle you choose, so be sure to note when it may be time to transition from one teat size to the next.

Remember, it’s a completely personal decision and there is no right or wrong choice. For many women, the choice to breastfeed or formula feed their child is based on many variables beyond their control — from budget to mental health, medical reasons, and lifestyle. 

It is important to note that no two babies are the same and each experience will be different. If your baby is putting on weight and sleeping well, this is a good indication that they are getting what they need.

Wherever you land and however you feed your baby, it’s a beautiful way to bond with them and get to watch them grow and develop. 

The Australian Breastfeeding Association National Breastfeeding Helpline: 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268)

Related Articles
What is mixed feeding?
When should I stop breastfeeding?
Tips For Bottle-Feeding Your Toddler

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