Breast or formula?


Some of you may be clear about how you are going to feed your baby, your mind may have been made up early in pregnancy, possibly even before you conceived.  However, if you haven’t yet made up your mind, this section can help you make an informed decision through learning about the facts and differences between breast and bottle feeding.

What is in the milk?

Breast milk: is tailor made for human babies and  contains water, fat, protein, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins. Human milk contains other important factors that are absent from infant formula, these include hormones, enzymes, growth factors, essential fatty acids, immunological and non-specific protective factors. The make-up of a mother’s milk changes from feed to feed, adapting to the needs of her baby as they grow and providing just the right amount for them. For more information view the Start4Life ‘Off to the best start’ Leaflet’ by clicking here.

Infant Formula Milk: is made from cow’s milk which has been processed to make it “suitable” for babies. (Formulas may also contain, among other things, soya protein, structured vegetable oils and inositol, antioxidants and fish oils). There are several brands of infant formula and different types e.g. first milk, second milk, follow–on milk, etc. If you choose to use infant formula you need to be very careful about which type of milk you use as this could affect your baby’s health. Always read the labels very carefully. For more information view the UNICEF Infant Feeding leaflet or the Start4Life Bottle feeding leaflet.


Breast milk: is the ultimate convenience food. It is always ready, at the right temperature and once you’ve got the hang of it, you can feed anytime, anyplace anywhere!  Plus it’s free.

Infant Formula Milk: Powdered infant formula milk is not a sterile product, therefore it is very important that each feed is made up fresh, as and when required, following the Department of Health guidelines (link below). This means forward planning when you are going out with your baby as more equipment is required. If you go out without your baby, you’ll need to ensure you have shown the carer how to prepare feeds correctly. For those parents who choose to bottle feed: Click link to: Start4Life Bottle feeding leaflet.

Is it easily digestible?

Breast milk: Yes, it is designed for your baby’s developing digestive system. The protein and fat contained in it are used effortlessly by the body and the micro nutrients are absorbed more easily.

Infant Formula Milk: is harder to digest so it sits in the stomach for longer. Babies are more prone to constipation.

Dental health

Breast feeding: While it may not always feel so at first, your baby’s mouth is a perfect match with your breast. This means that with early support and practice your baby will latch on and feed well and at the same time provide the jaw, gums, teeth and palate with the healthy workout needed to develop the best dental health.

Formula feeding: – no benefits.

Protection against illness?

Breast milk: Yes, breastfed babies are less likely to develop infections such as Gastroenteritis, Chest infections, Ear infections and Urinary tract infections. Breast milk makes your baby’s digestive system more acidic, it prevents harmful bacteria from growing which reduces the risk of infections. Growth factors promote the development of your baby’s immature digestive system helping protect him/her against infections. Breastmilk also contains the antibodies you have already produced and these will also protect your baby as required. Research shows breastfeeding also offers some protection against some childhood cancers, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Cot Death) and developing heart disease in later life. Good personal hygiene is always important how ever you feed your baby so before you feed your baby expressed breast milk care must be taken to sterilise any equipment.

Infant Formula Milk: No, infant formula milk does not provide specific protection for your baby against illness. Care must be taken with the preparation and storage of formula milk. Ask your Midwife or Health Visitor about this.

Protection against allergies?

Breast milk: Yes, it is almost always tolerated well by a baby because it is tailor made by you, for your baby. Furthermore evidence suggests babies are less likely to develop asthma and eczema than those who receive infant formula milk.

Formula milk: No, there is no scientific evidence that babies are less likely to develop allergies.

What about the nappies?

Breast milk: Has a natural laxative effect so your baby is less likely to suffer from constipation. Their stools are mustard coloured, very soft and are sweeter smelling!

Infant Formula Milk: Stools are usually smellier than those of breastfed infants. Babies stools are usually firmer and they are more prone to constipation.

The link between feeding and obesity in later life

Breast milk: Research has shown that breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight than those fed infant formula, even as they get older and have stopped breastfeeding. This is because the breastfed baby will feed until he is full and then stops, where as a formula fed baby can always be coaxed to take more than is required. This pattern of breastfeeding lays the foundation for a healthy eating habit for the rest of their life.

Infant Formula Milk: Does not provide any protection and in fact can be the foundation stone for being overweight. This is because a baby can often be persuaded to finish the bottle rather than stopping when they are satisfied, which can establish unhealthy eating patterns for the future.

Time with your baby

Breast milk: Only you can breastfeed your baby and to do this well you need to relax and enjoy your time together feeding. The bond you develop will be strong and lasting.  Breastfeeding gives you the perfect opportunity to rest throughout the day which every new mum needs.

Infant Formula Milk: Feeding your baby is a special time to bond with your baby; however, it is often the first thing that others want to help with. If someone else is feeding your baby it means that you are often doing other household chores rather than taking time to rest.

Are there any benefits for you?

Breastfeeding: Yes, there are many short and long term health benefits. You will get your shape back quicker as breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day and your womb shrinks back to its pre pregnant size more quickly which helps to reduce your blood loss. You will get a better sleep at night as you don’t need to get out of bed to make up a formula feed and you will find it easier to get back to sleep after a feed. In fact, breastfeeding helps you rest for periods throughout the day whether you feel you have the time or not. It gives you time to rest, catch up with friends or have a cuddle with your toddler.

There are numerous health benefits including reducing your risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancer. It also reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Infant Formula: There are no health benefits for mum.