Skip to main content

Breastfeeding vs. Bottle-Feeding: Read This Before Baby Arrives

Weigh your options when deciding whether to feed your baby infant formula or breastfeed.

Breastfeeding vs. Bottle-Feeding: Read This Before Baby Arrives

No matter how many parenthood prep classes you attend or how many books you read, there is nothing like real life to inform you about feeding a baby. Yet, one of the most crucial feeding decisions typically comes before your baby arrives. That's when parents ponder whether to feed baby infant formula or to breastfeed.

Don't worry if you don't know a lot about either way of nourishing your infant. Nobody is born with that knowledge, and up until now, you've had little reason to concern yourself with the subject. The time has come, however. Before baby arrives, investigate each feeding option. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each so that you can decide what's right for you and your family.

You'll need some time to get familiar with breastfeeding or with infant formula. Couples choosing breastfeeding should attend a breastfeeding education class before delivery and brush up on the basics with a lactation consultant while in the hospital, if possible. Leave some time before you deliver to learn about breast pumps and to make an informed purchase. You'll also need to load up on nursing pads as part of your baby supplies.

Parents who decide on infant formula may want to check out the different kinds (see Formula Feeding) and purchase some to have on hand when baby comes home. Don't forget to buy baby bottles and nipples. Educate yourself about preparing and handling infant formula.

Friends, relatives, and, yes, complete strangers will try to sway you to one feeding option or the other. Forget what others say about the way babies should eat. You should choose the method that's right for you, but only after considering all of the pros and cons regarding breastfeeding and infant formula. Likewise, refrain from transferring your experience with feeding your other children to this baby. For example, if you had difficulty nursing your first child, don't assume that you'll experience difficulties this time around as well.

There's no reason to believe that you cannot breastfeed a baby just because your others got formula. I'll never forget the couple in the breastfeeding education class I attended before Hayley was born. They came to learn the basics of breastfeeding so that the mom could nurse their third child. Even though the couple chose formula for their first two children, they were committed to breastfeeding the third. I don't know how it turned out for them, but I suspect it went well because they were open to breastfeeding without being fearful of it.

Can you change your mind about what to feed your baby after she's born? Perhaps. Plenty of women begin with breastfeeding and switch to infant formula. But it doesn't usually work the other way around. So if you're entertaining any thoughts of breastfeeding, I urge you to give it a try. For detailed explanation of breastfeeding and its myriad benefits, read Deciding to Breastfeed.

In My Experience: Your Schedule or Mine?
While some babies quickly establish a feeding "routine" of sorts, infants typically go by an inner schedule that often mystifies their parents. Despite the annoying nighttime wake-up calls for comfort, it's wise to respond to your baby's cues to be fed or held at 2:00 A.M., rather than to try to make him conform to your need for order or for sleep. Forget the tired adage that picking up a newborn too often will spoil him. There's no reason in the world why a small baby should be allowed to wail. Why not? Babies cry to communicate. It's the only way they have to tell you that they need something. Newborns who are picked up promptly and cared for in a responsive way, including being fed on demand, often become contented beings as they head into their second six months of life, and beyond.

When baby needs to eat two times a night, it can be quite tiring for the new or experienced parent. Yet, when you try to get a newborn to feed according to your sleep schedule, it can backfire by interfering with her ability to fully develop the sense of trust she needs to flourish.

Does that mean around-the-clock parenting on your part is what it takes to have a happy, secure child? Not necessarily. There's no reason why any parent should do all the work when there is another adult to shoulder some of the load. For example, delegating feeding duties cuts Mom's stress. Dad can give baby a bottle during the night just as easily as Mom can provide the breast. For all three of our children, my husband encouraged me to pump enough milk so that he could feed the baby during the night a couple of times a week. For me, those few hours of uninterrupted sleep boosted my sagging energy levels and gave me the stamina to be a better parent during the day.

Subscribe to Family Education

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.