Is Breast Milk Always Better than Formula?
If you’re thinking of trying formula for the first time, or you’ve been struggling with breastfeeding, you might be wondering whether breast milk is always the best choice, or whether it's OK to give your baby formula.
It’s always OK to give your baby formula. While it’s true that breast milk is the gold standard, high-quality formula is the next best thing. And for some moms, it’s the only viable choice, whether for practical or health reasons.
For example, using formula can make it much easier if you’re at work – especially if you find pumping difficult, as many moms do. It allows you to share the load (whether with dad, grandparents or daycare) without tying up hours with a pumping regime on top of feeding.
Is formula or breast milk more filling and nutritious?
Both formula and breast milk will meet your baby’s nutritional needs and fuel their growth, play and development.
It’s important to know that, just like formula, breast milk isn’t all the same nutritionally. The first few drops of colostrum that babies get post-birth are tiny, but packed with high-quality protein to kickstart their growth, and antibodies to help protect them from disease while their immune system develops.
When you breastfeed, your baby will usually get the thinner, more watery milk that pools near your nipple first. This is more diluted, lower-fat milk left over from the previous feed – known as foremilk. During the feed, the higher-fat hindmilk comes through. Sometimes, babies that don’t drain the breast fully at each feed or leave long gaps between feeds won’t get enough of the richer hindmilk, so try and get your baby to take a full feed each time.
With formula, you’ll find differences between brands and products. European organic formulas in general are nutritionally balanced and designed to be as close to breast milk as possible. But some are better than others for babies at different stages and with different hunger levels.
Some formulas, such as HiPP German from Stage 2 onwards and Holle, use maltodextrin or starch to thicken the formula, giving it a creamy texture and making it satisfyingly filling. Other formulas, such as HiPP Dutch and HiPP UK, Loulouka and Lebenswert, are starch-free, making them easier to digest for babies with sensitive tummies.
It’s not possible to say that formula or breast milk are more filling – it’s about finding the right milk (or mix) for your baby.
How do I know if my baby’s getting enough milk?
If you’re breastfeeding, you might be worried that your baby isn’t getting enough milk, especially if they’re fussing at the breast, are colicky or don’t sleep well. Many moms question whether their milk supply is enough and may be tempted to switch to formula simply so they can be sure their baby is getting the right amount of milk.
Most of the time, your body will produce the milk your baby needs, as long as you feed on demand during the first few weeks while you establish feeding.
If your baby is gaining weight in line with the growth charts and has at least six wet diapers a day, they’re probably getting the milk they need.
Can I combine breast milk and formula?
Absolutely. Once breastfeeding is established, it’s not either/or. If you have a good milk supply, it’s possible to mix-feed for as long as you want to. Some moms will see their supply begin to dry up after a time, but others can keep mix-feeding until 12 months and beyond.
And it’s important to remember that any amount of breast milk is likely to help boost your baby’s immune system, decrease their risk of allergies, asthma, ear infections and respiratory viruses.