Breast or formula: the facts

Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby. Using artifical milk carries risks for both babies and their mothers. BUT that doesn’t mean that breast is best!  The best way to feed your baby is to make a fully informed choice. Weigh up the risks of formula with your needs as a mother and a family and chose what’s right for you! You should be supported 100% however you decide to feed your baby! 

I came accross a poem written by Grainne Evans on her page The Breast s of Rhymes Which sums this up quite nicely:

Someone give this woman a medal, this is awesome! 

What breastfeeding does for your baby

Research shows that babies who are exclusively formula fed, in comparison to babies who are exclusively breastfed:

  • Are around twice as likely to develop ear infections
  • Are 3.6x more likely to be hospitalised with a respiratory infection
  • Are 2.8x more likely to develop gastrointestinal infections
  • Are 1.6x more likely to develop diabetes
  • Are 2.4x more likely to develop Necrotising Enterocolitis if born prematurely
  • Are at a 2.1x higher risk of SIDS
  • Are around 1.7x more likely to develop athsma and eczema 
  • Are around 1.2x more likely to develop leukemia 

Citation: Alison Stuebe, Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology

The brief look at the science beind the facts

Breastmilk is a bioactive fluid, constantly changing to meet your baby’s needs in response to their health, their age, time of day, and even the weather. Infant formula contains adequate nutrition for your baby and it is certainly a life saver for many. However, there are lots of things in breastmilk which are impossible to imitate artificially. Here are just a few of the components of breastmilk which are not found in formula:

  • Antibodies: our body’s natural defence against infection. When our bodies detect a pathogen (disease causing organism) it produces antibodies to fight them off. When you’re breastfeeding, these antibodies pass to your baby through your milk, giving them protection against infection
  • Lactoferrin: this deprives harmful viruses of their iron, which kills them. Lactoferrin also helps to stop the growth of cancerous cells. 
  • Alpha-lactobulmin: a protein with pain relieving properties and the ability to kill cancerous cells
  • AHA- a fatty acid which promotes brain development and reduces pain and inflamation
  • Leptin: the appetite control hormone which helps babies to recognise when they are full and may prevent obesity in later life
  • Oxytocin: the hormone of love, bonding, and relaxation
  • Lipase: an enzyme which helps babies digest fat which isn’t found in any other mammalian milks except gorilla milk
  • Beta-endorphin: a protein which binds to opoid receptors in the brain and reduces pain. This is found in the highest concentrations in colostrum, to help babies recover from birth
  • Epidermal growth factor: promotes growth and healing of the digestive system. Found in higher concentrations in women who’s babies are born prematurely. 


Catherine Field, the immunological components of breastfeeding, Journal of nutrition

The Human-milk infographic

Counselling the nursing mother text book, Lauwers and Swisher 2016

What breastfeeding does for you

Research shows that women who exclusively formula feed, in comparrison to mothers who exclusively breastfeed:

  • Are around 2.4x more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer
  • Are around 1.3x more likely to develop ovarian cancer
  • Are around 1.3x more likely to develop diabetes

Citation: Alison Stuebe, Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology

There is also some evidence to suggest that women who breastfeed are less likely to experience PND.

A few other perks of breastfeeding

  • It helps you to bond with your baby
  • Breastmilk is always on tap and at the right temperature
  • You can breastfeed in your sleep
  • No extra washing up
  • It uses up around 500 calories a day (hello? Extra chocolate!)

What breastfeeding does for everybody else

The formula industry has a huge impact on the environment. Creating 1kg of formula uses about 4,000L of water, and all the farming, manufacturing, packaging, storing and shipping of formula carries a massive carbon footprint. Learn more about that in this report by the International Baby Food Action Network.  Breastfeeding, on the other hand, has zero water impact and produces no waste at all (other than your baby’s poop!). 

The cost on the NHS of treating just 5 of the illnesses linked to not breastfeeding stands at around £48billion. Breastfeeding is free for you, and it also saves the NHS money. 

Parents of breastfed babies miss less days of work due to caring for sick children.

Your baby, your boobs, your choice! 

Some women choose to breastfeed directly from the tap, some chose to exclusively express, some choose to formula feed, and some choose to do a mix of them all. I did a mix with my first baby and exclusively breastfed my second. How you decide to feed your baby is your choice, and you should never allow other people to make you feel judged or unsupported in your decision. If breastfeeding isn’t for you, you can find more information on how to formula feed here