Breast Milk vs Formula

Updated on December 06, 2011
K.K. asks from Fredericksburg, VA
22 answers

Hi Moms!

I am not a mom as of yet, but I do often work with babies and children and of course love advice. I just wanted to ask who uses breast milk or formula or even both? I see a lot of mom's who do not breast feed or have breast milk in bottles, they just use formula. I was wondering, what is the real difference? Doesn't breast milk have nutrients in it as well as formula? I'm sure there are some moms out there who cannot breast feed due to certain problems...but doesn't everyone have to pump anyhow? IDK just confused. If you don't feed your baby any breast milk, don't you have to pump milk out anyhow? Not trying to be picky here or rude. Just want to know whats best for what situation and all.

PS one mom told me she breast fed her child till he was 3 years that possible?!

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answers from Norfolk on

Hi, Dancer:
In the hospital, women are given shots to
dry up the milk in their breasts. Sometimes when
are even given pills to dry them up after they leave
the hospital.
Hope this helps.

More Answers


answers from Tampa on

I do not mean to offend or belittle those who truly tried to breastfeed...

Having said that:

Formula is a foreign protein, one that even adults have issues digesting (cow's breastmilk) as well as many synthetic and harmful compounds which STATE they are helpful with nutrition but in fact are not in the correct formulation in order for the body to actually absorb and metabolize for nutrition. Formula has a long history of harming babies and killing babies, not just in the USA but worldwide. The formula companies are interested in making profits and lots of it, not in doing what is best for both the Mother and Baby.

Breastmilk has the human proteins, much needed antibodies that are continuously being given to your child, human specifc fats, sugars and amino acids - not to mention specific complex natural formulations of the needed vitamins and minerals. The contents of breastmilk changes with the baby - it actually changes it's nutritous ratios to what the child needs vs the stagnation of formula.

I breastfed my first until she self weaned at 4.5 y/o. She's not clingy, not shy, she's very outgoing, stellar academic, a leader (bordering on bossy) and is everyone's friend. I didn't pump much with her, I had a hard time getting breastfeeding going and had to return to work at her 6 week mark... but she refused bottles of formula and would wait for me to come by on my lunch breaks and at pick up to eat... nursed on demand while I was with her.

2nd baby (8/8/2011) went right to NICU, was force fed formula and breastmilk - I pumped like a fiend to ensure he got as little of the formula as possible and once he returned home after 10 days - has been formula free since. I do pump for him, because my job as a Nurse I don't usually GET a lunch break nor can it be scheduled. So I pump so he can eat that when with a caretaker.

Here is a website that tells you the ingredients of both formula and breastmilk.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on's possible.

Look, here's my short and sweet take on it:
You need to feed your baby.
How you do that is your choice.
Do what you decide for your own reasons.
You don't need anyone's permission to do what you feel is right.
What's right for someone else could be wrong for you.
Formula is not poison, as many will imply.
Breast milk will not cure cancer or ensure baby's Mensa status, as some will imply.

If you do not BF, or you do then stop, your milk will dry up.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You have some good questions. I'll take your last one first: yes, it's possible to nurse until three or longer. It's not for everyone, mind you, but it is possible.

Breastmilk has lots of good things in it for baby. Along with the mother's immunities, which are passed through the milk to help protect baby, the chemical changes that occur within the mother as she nurses help her to relax and bond with baby. That said, there are plenty of moms who bottle feed who are also very bonded with their babies. Breastfeeding passes along great nutrition (better than formula, IMO) and many babies tolerate their mother's milk very well. (But, then again, there are some that don't...)

Some women choose to nurse exclusively, some pump to supplement between nursings, and some mothers use formula either to supplement or exclusively. Some moms do enjoy nursing, some don't. I had no problem getting lots of milk when I pumped, but some women don't have that experience either. If a woman chooses not to nurse, a doctor or naturopath/midwife can give her medications or herbs to help her 'dry up'.

There are no guarantees in anything regarding life as a mom, and nursing/feeding is no exception. Some moms want to nurse, but find they can't for one reason or another. Some moms find that their workplace makes it difficult to pump and maintain a breastmilk-only diet for their infant. Some moms nurse out in the open with no cover, some nurse in the back room. Some babies are poor nursers in that they don't have a good 'latch' onto the breast. Some babies are medically fragile for the first while and will only know breastmilk through a bottle. There are all kinds of scenarios.

Two books to recommend (check them out from the library): The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by the La Leche League and Andy Steiner's "Spilled Milk: Breastfeeding Adventures and Advice from Less than Perfect Moms". This book explores a cross-section of moms-- what does it mean to breastfeed, or not?

Me personally, I nursed my son exclusively and formula never entered the picture, but I was lucky to be able to do that too. I was home with him, could nurse on cue/on demand, and had no problem producing for the pump. Each mother has her own experience...

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

It is possible. My DD was 2.5 and I think it was Michael Jordan who was nursed til he was 3 (Reference: Nursing a toddler is typically different than a newborn. My DD at the end only nursed before bed.

My DD did not get any formula. She got pumped milk when I was at work. When I left that job and when I was home with her, I did not pump. I only pumped on work days. If you don't nurse at all, you need to dry up and not pump. They all have nutrients, yes, but breastmilk is natural. There is nothing exactly like it. No formula can match what nature provides. has some really great info on breastfeeding:

As for formula, it has a place, but I think more women should try breastfeeding first. I was on the fence, but then I researched and got support from my nursing friends and am really glad I was able to nurse DD for as long as we did. I didn't set out to nurse her that long, but it ended up being right for us. I know people who use both, so it doesn't have to be all or nothing. My sister pumps for her son and gives him bottles (he's a preemie) when her son won't latch, so there's all sorts of ways to make things work for you and your child.

You need to do your research, but consider this: 1) breastmilk is free and 2) you can always stop nursing but it's a lot harder to start if you don't start in the first place.

I also want to add that my DD took pumped bottles from about 10 weeks old. I WAS able to leave her with a sitter, her father or daycare. I went back to work FT when she was 12 weeks old. I didn't give her solid food til 6 months, but she got bottles AND nursed well before then.

And it is true that your milk changes based on what you ate. Further, breastmilk changes for the needs of the child, which is how a 6 mo old and a 10 month old may still both be drinking 5 oz of pumped milk vs a formula fed baby's 8 ounces. Your fat content changes. I thought that was pretty cool.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Breast milk is created by demand.... if a woman chooses not to breastfeed, the milk DOES come in, but if she isn't nursing, it quits being produced. Women who breastfeed get engorged after birth just like women that are planning on breastfeeding.

Formula is created to mimic breastmilk as closely as possible, but a factory can't completely replicate mother nature. The breastmilk also has immune-fighting aspects that formula can't hope to replace. I have even heard it said that a preemie's M. produces more of some elements that are very good for her preemie... that is why they neonatal doctors encourage the M. to pump and bring the breastmilk to the NICU....

Breastmilk tends to be easier on a baby's system than formula.... it is easier to digest.

I breastfed all 4 of my children until about 1 year of age... and yes, it is very possible to continue to breastfeed older children.... you will hear plenty on this board that do.

Any breastfeeding you do can benefit your child... my daughter had a lot of problems breastfeeding, but still managed for a few months and then switched him to formula. Some women, whether by choice or difficulties of some sort, don't breastfeed their babies..... for them, it either isn't what they want, or it just isn't possible. There is no criticism there from me....

My babies wouldn't take a bottle... it was either M. or nothing!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Breastmilk is great for babies because it provides antibodies that help build baby's immune system. That's the main difference between breast milk and formula.

But here's the truth: breastfed babies do wonderfully. Formula fed babies do wonderfully! There is A LOT of pressure to breastfeed, and it's a great thing to do. That said, if you want or have to formula feed, do what you think is good for your baby.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

Breast milk has been scientifically proven to have hundreds more nutrients in it than formula. Formula makers are not able to recreate the nutritional value found in breastmilk. That's not to say that formula is bad or anything like that, but it's a fact that breast milk is better for babies. Studies have also been done that show that breast fed babies have stronger immune systems, spit up less frequently, have less gas, eat more often, have fewer digestive problems, don't tend to overeat, and when they do start eating solids, tend to be more capable of adjusting to different foods than formula fed babies.

The other benefits to breastfeeding is that it's cheaper! It comes right from you! There's a lot of bonding that occurs when nursing a baby, and of course you can bond with your baby from a bottle, too, but it's also really special to nurse.

I breastfed both my babies. It hurt quite a bit when I first started nursing my first baby, but after about 2 months, it stopped hurting completely. I am so glad I stuck with it! With my second, it didn't hurt at all. I also went to the lactation consultants at the hosptial and they were wonderful and really helpful, too.

I did both the breastfeeding and the pumping and so when the babies were about 4 weeks old, I introduced them to a bottle. They both took to it just fine and they would both nurse and drink from a bottle either way. I used breastmilk that I pumped in the bottle. My milk supply was such that I wanted to pump so I had an extra supply when I had to work or when I wanted to go out and leave the kids with my hubby or a babysitter. Some moms take their babies whereever they go and nurse whereever they are, so they don't need to pump at all. So, you don't have to pump at all if you don't want to.

Last up, your body is gonna make milk as long as there is someone drinking it. So, yeah, it's physically possible to nurse a child up to age 3. I think that is gross and not really healthy for the mom or child, but it is physically possible.

Last up, I just want to say that it isn't right to judge moms who either breastfeed or don't breastfeed. It's a very personal choice and for some moms depending on their child's birth, or things going on in their lives, or stress or an unhelpful partner, it can be more challenging to breastfeed. The most importrant thing is that the baby is loved and snuggled and fed when he or she is hungry! But, it's great to get educated about the benefits of breastfeeding. Here is a helpful website: (La Leche League International). It's a source for breastfeeding and how -tos, groups and people that can help. Someone from the local chapter even came to my house when I called them with questions about nursing.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Breast milk is best, there is no doubt about that. It is natural & made by humans, for humans. Formula is not as good, as it is man made, but it is definitely an acceptable option.

Moms that don't nurse, will still begin to lactate soon after giving birth, but either a) lose their milk supply because there is no demand (aka, baby nursing) for it, or b) she has taken measures to cease milk production. Therefore, they don't need to pump, because there is no milk being made.

I think that we all do what we feel is best for our children. There is no right or wrong. While one method may be somewhat better, nutritionally, there is nothing wrong with either. What's important is that our babies are fed, healthy & loved. Everyone has their reasons for the choices they make.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

This post will set off a fire storm.

I chose not to BF well before the birth of my very healthy, smart 16 yr old.

No, I did not have to pump. No I had no pain other that the BF'rs at the hospital trying to force me to bf and try to guilt me.

There was no problem as soon as husband alerted security and my Dr banned them from my room.

Everyone has a choice and if you are a bf'r that's great, I would never force my opinion to someone who is a die hard bf'r . I was insulted with being bombarded with the bf'rs harping on me. I made my choice for my baby and me... That's what it is all about. You make that choice best for you.

I don't like seeing moms bf in public. I just look the other way. Some, not all, use it as a way to get attention for thier cause while others are quite legit about ehat they are doing . Yiiu can tell the attention seekers from others. Most certainly if a kid is old enough to walk, be potty trained, etc The only reason they are on the boob is because mommy can't let go and she becomes a pacifier.

Now I wait for the hate mail of the day, lol

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Oh my dear you have unwittingly stumbled into one of the most passionate and polarizing debates of motherhood!

Breastmilk is, for most babies, nature's perfect (and free) food. It has more nutrients than science has been able to identify or replicate. It is a living, changing food with antibodies, nutrition such as iron that is uniquely designed to be absorbed by a baby's digestive tract, varying amounts of wonderful, brain-building fats to fit the stage of a single feeding and baby's development over time, etc. It really is amazing stuff, and encouraging more women to try to breastfeed and continue to breastfeed is a wonderful thing. Even better are laws that support breastfeeding, especially for women who work outside the home. Being able to pump at work and deduct the cost of a pump as a medical expense are two great ways to encourage extended breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is encouraged for at least the first year and second year, and yes it certainly is possible to breastfeed to age three or later. If there is a demand, the body will supply.

Of course, there are women who can't or choose not to breastfeed. For some it's a problem like the baby can't latch on to draw milk, or perhaps the baby has an allergy that can't be fixed with mom eliminating foods from her diet. Some women don't produce enough milk, or any milk. Some women need to take medication that is not healthy for a breastfeeding baby. Some women find it draining, demanding or unpleasant and stop, and some choose to never start at all. Luckily for those babies, there is formula available that is, by and large, a safe and nutritious (albeit messy, expensive and inconvenient) substitute.

If a mom doesn't breastfeed, her milk will come in a few days after delivering but then it will dry up in a few days. It's uncomfortable but in the grand scheme of pregnancy and childbirth, not a big deal. If the body senses that there is no demand for the milk, it stops producing it and it just gets absorbed back into the woman's body.

When it's time for you to make this decision for yourself, you will find that there is a wealth of information available. I would encourage any new mom to commit to breastfeeding for at least 3-4 weeks. If you can get through those few weeks, you are through the most awkward, uncomfortable, and painful part and can then actually enjoy the benefits of it later. It's easy to give up because while it's natural, it takes mom and baby some time to get to know each other and get into a rhythm that works. If there is something that happens that will prevent full breastfeeding, you'll know it pretty early on and can then try other things until you find what works best for you and your baby. Some women feed bottles of pumped milk, some breastfeed directly but supplement with pumped milk, some supplement with formula, and some move to 100% formula feeding. At the end of the day, it's best for each of us to figure out what's best for our babies and not judge other women's choices.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You've gotten some great answers and some interesting ones and I just have to clear up a response that you got. If a mother breastfeeds it doesn't mean the baby can't have a babysitter until the baby is 6 months or older. A baby can have pumped milk from a bottle well before then. Most doctors and books say to start giving the baby a bottle at 4-6 weeks old. Mom can pump and sitter can give baby a bottle. The general rule of thumb is for a BF mom to pump once for every nursing session she misses & baby gets a bottle. Lots of BF moms go to work after their baby is 6 or 8 weeks old and pump at work and provide breast milk for baby while baby is with the sitter. When mom gets home she resumes nursing. There are lots of ways to feed your baby and combinations of ways. Breastmilk provides your child with anti-bodies and immunities that you've already acquired which is nice. Those are things that your child might not get for months or years if formula fed. Nutritionally speaking formula and breast milk are about the same. Breast milk is free and formula is EXPENSIVE!! Holy cow was I shocked! Some women aren't comfortable nursing, are unable to, the baby won't, the list is long as to why someone might choose formula over breast milk. Both ways are perfectly fine and normal and your kid will be fine either way. Each mom does what's best and what works for them and their child :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You can breastfeed a baby/child for as long as they'll eat from the breast and you produce it. Cybill Shephard fed her child until he/she was 5 years old, not my cup of tea, but it can be done. If you don't feed your child from the breast after they're born your milk will eventually dry up and this is true too when you stop breastfeeding after a period of time. It's not the most comfortable experience when your milk is being used and starts to dry up because you get engorged. Breastmilk is better for baby especially in the beginning because you give the baby colostrum which is important for boosting the baby's immune system so if you breastfeed at all the first few days are the most important. Usually mom's feed their babies until they are a year old since at a year old they are allowed to drink cow's milk, but it's a personal choice whether or not you want to continue. Sometimes it's even just an issue of you don't want to let your baby go and this is the last thing you and you alone can share with your baby.

Also, breastmilk is a natural dieuretic so baby is less likely to constipated like they can on formula (granted like you said some women can't breastfeed so I don't want this to sound like I'm judging anyone). Another nice thing is if you get sick and your baby gets sick you share with your baby the enzymes/proteins to fight off the cold for which your body has already started producing proteins to fight the cold. What I've enjoyed about breastfeeding is that it's always available, it's inexpensive, and if I want my husband to feed him I can just pump off and put it in a bottle. this is of course a VERY heated debate and again it's a choice. Breastfeeding isn't for everybody, it's hard especially in the first month after the baby is born. I don't care what anyone says, it's hurts that first couple weeks as your breasts get used to the "use," but once you're past that point it's easy and great.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

Oh yikes.....

I took my now daughter in at ten days old, really no option for breast milk at that point and I don't know if I would have chosen that. That said, she could not be a healthier child nor could we be more bonded. Period.

Do what's best for you! Your child will not be poisoned if you go the formula route. Yes, it will be less expensive to breastfeed but formula companies are not non-profit companies...just like Kellogs, Target and every other company out there.

In my experiences, children who breastfeed when it's time to go to kindergarten or soccer practice seem to have some issues (and the mother too). Is it the mother who is unwilling to give up the nursing when there are numerous ways to continue bonding and eat or is it the child?

**Added - To those that think that physicians get big fat bonus checks from formula companies or pharmaceutical companies need to get up to date on the Stark laws. No longer is it the days where there are golf and spa trips and lobster's not the '90s any more. They are samples and coupons for mothers who chose formula (options for mothers). I work for a national laboratory and am permitted to provide patient literature and $250 per year to spend on the physician and his/her office. That is really one lunch brought in to educate them on testing. Anything different is considered buying the doctor. The exception is if the physician is a hired thought leader to speak at events.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I tried breastfeeding my first. Realized that it was not working for my baby or for me. I didn't even try to breastfeed my 2nd. She was straight formula. Yes I had some soreness, but if you keep a tight bra on for a few days, your milk doesn't come in.

Yes it is possible to breastfeed a 3y old, but I don't agree with it.



answers from Richmond on

breast milk or formula ? which is best ? depends or whether you ask a doctor, ( who by the way is getting a big fat bonus check from the partcular formula company that he "recommends"), or whether you ask a breastfeeding mother. i produced breastmilk for my baby the first six weeks of her life, then my supply dried up due to stress. breastmilk contains antibodies that the baby desperately needs, formula is typically made up of soy milk, sugar, and trace amounts of vitamins..dont believe me, read the label closely
K. h.
"nutritionally, breastmilk and formula are about the same", REALLY, can you prove it ??and can you prove it WITHOUT using any money or "freebies" from a formula company ??as i said before, doctors make alot of money thru "freebies" and bonus checks from formula companies, if they didnt make any money off of it, they wouldnt be pushing it so hard, now would they ??



answers from Washington DC on

I currently breastfeed my 5 month old daughter, but do pump while I'm away at work for her bottles the next day. I haven't had to supplement yet. With my son, I also breastfed him up until 1 year old, but supplemented with formula (mixed what I expressed from the breast and formula). And there are mothers that breastfeed until their child goes to school (or later)'s really a personal choice. My goal has always been for 1 year if I can last that long with no major issues and that's about it. But if a mother has chosen not to breastfeed and use formula, then no she doesn't have to pump, she can let her milk dry up and that'll be the end of that.



answers from Washington DC on

I am sure u will get lots of respOnses pro breast feeding. My first child refused to latch on and after a lot of stress I gave her formula. She did fine. My second breast fed for 3 days and then refused when my milk finally came in. Having another small child at home I just didn't have the energy to pump so I gave him formula. He is fine. With my third, she latched on and breast fed well. But I didnt realize just how hard and time consuming breast feeding was. With 2 other kids at home I couldn't have her on the breast 24 hours a day like she wanted so I supPlemented with formula. After a month I had a medical crisis and was put on meds that were incompatible with breast feeding. So now she gets formula only. Formula is designed to be close to breast milk. There are a lot of things that the nurses and probreast feeders will say to guilt you into breast feeding but your baby will be fine either way (and no more or less smart). I did enjoy the closeness of breast feeding but not the pAin. If you don't nurse or when you decide to stop your breasts become sore and hard for a few days then the milk dries up and goes away. If u pump your body will keep making milk.



answers from Norfolk on

you can breast feed for as long as the child willnurse. many years ago woman were wet nurses and would nurse other peoples kids for many different reasons. at this point they probably hadnt had a child of their own for years. no you don't have to pump after giving birth. dr can give a pill to dry you up or after time and not using any milk or making any your body realizes it doesnt need to and stops. besides for ythe most part you only mke milk while the child is sucking not much is just sitting there waiting to be drank. breast milk is better than formula as there are things in it that humanscan't replicate and iif we can it's still not better than the natural thing. this doesnt mean that formula doesn't give baby everything it needs though. just not everything it could get. ive seen on youtube a woman that still nurses her 9 year old...could have been older it's been awhile.



answers from Honolulu on

Um, no, you don't have to pump, you can just breastfeed but then you can't use a sitter until the child is about 6 months old and can take water and other forms of food.

They both do and don't have the me things in them. See breast milk, straight up, has the watery liquids come out first and then the fattier milk comes out as the child nurses. It is like starting you glass with skim and ending it with heavy whipping cream. This makes sure that baby is being hydrated 1st then fed. There are also things in breast milk that don't exist in formula. Examples of this are antibodies. That is right, you are actually feeding jr antibodies to illnesses. This can be helpful in flu season, but then agian, you can also pass viruses to your child by breastfeeding. HIV can be passes in breast milk. So can the flu and tuberculosis. (this is why you should be checked out for these things! Really!)

Did you know that milk changes in taste based on what mom ate that day? It is fun to wonder what broccoli milk tastes like...

Also yes, you can continue making milk as long as someone is nursing regularly or sometimes a woman's body will just stop.

Also a child could be allergic to all formulas on the market. Sure the nutrition is base line the same, but if you child is allergic to cow milk, goat milk, and soy, you are screwed unless you can pump. I was unable to, but we could afford for me to stay home so it didn't matter much.



answers from Charlotte on




answers from Washington DC on

I do think breast milk is best but not always possible. My oldest daughter nursed great for a year. We hardly ever used formula. It was always ready when she needed it, no bottles to clean, formula to mix etc. I had a great experience, as a lot of moms do.

My second daughter NEVER nursed right from day one. I knew from the start something was wrong. She would pass out after five minutes of nursing. At her two week check up the doctor heard a heart murmur and sent her to the cardiologist. She was born with Tetralogy of Fallot and was in heart failure until her open hear surgery at 8 months old. Her heart was working so hard, they said it was like she was running a marathon, so nursing was really wearing her out. She didn't drink enough from a bottle to thrive either, so she got a feeding tube at five months old. I pumped breast milk for her until I had no more milk at about 10 months. It is a lot of work to feed a child every 2 to 3 hours AND pump throughout the day. I think each mom has to do what is best for her child. I still wish I had had such a great nursing experience with my second child. But, at the end of the day, you have to make sure your child is nourished (in our case that led to the extreme of having a feeding tube and all of the trouble that entails).

So, I've had a textbook great nurser and a child with health issues that has always had trouble with feeding, weight gain and thriving.

After my first was such a great nurser, I didn't see why everyone wouldn't exclusively nurse, but after my second and her health issues, I realize that it isn't always a piece of cake! I think the main thing is we have to respect other moms for their educated choices along with their doctors.

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