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Formula vs. Breast Milk: Which One Is Best for Your Baby?

If you’re a new mom, or have a little one on the way, you may be debating how to feed your newborn. Some say breastfeeding is the only way. Others argue formula. If you’re new to the subject, you may not know there’s a raging debate about it. The amount of information available can be overwhelming and everyone seems to have their own opinion on what’s optimal. At the end of the day, from this new mom, fed is best.

Your options

Breast milk

It’s no secret breast milk is powerful. It contains an abundance of vitamins and nutrients as well as disease-fighting elements. If you want to breastfeed, you can choose to nurse, pump, or try a combination of both.
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Feeding my daughter, Emma.
For some, nursing is a snap. For others, nursing can be difficult to master for both mother and child. It takes practice and a lot of patience. Thankfully, there are excellent resources for nursing mothers. I attended a breastfeeding 101 class at Henry Ford West Bloomfield hospital. The class was free for me and the information I received was invaluable. There are also lots of support groups online and in person to offer additional help – like the breastfeeding support groups and lactation consultants at Henry Ford hospitals, which just earned the prestigious Baby-Friendly® designation.  
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Search breastfeeding classes at Henry Ford Health System here
Others wishing to get the same benefits as breastfeeding may choose to pump. Pumping gives nursing moms flexibility to go back to work or to let someone else give a bottle. Other women choose to exclusively pump. Some mothers are unable, or don’t want to nurse but still want to feed their child breast milk. Pumping allows mothers to give their newborns the same benefits of breast milk, just delivered another way. Under the Affordable Care Act, breast pumps are typically covered under your health insurance plan.
0891 Pro Tip DesignCheck your benefits online to see if breastfeeding equipment is covered under your plan. Log in or register and click “Benefit Coverage Policies.” Then use the Policy Search tab to search “breast pump.”
If you aren’t able to produce enough breast milk to feed your child, you can also get donated breast milk from mothers who have produced too much. 
If you’re interested in receiving donated breast milk, contact your hospital or one of the many milk banks across the country. All donated breast milk from hospitals and milk banks in the U.S. are intensely vetted and follow strict guidelines to provide quality breast milk from healthy moms screened and approved by their doctor.


Not all women can breastfeed — some due to health factors, physical inabilities or their baby is unable to latch properly. My sister, who has an inoperable benign tumor on her pituitary gland, was unable to breastfeed her daughter due to the medication she needed to manage the size of her tumor. Because of this, she fed her daughter formula, and my niece turned out to be one healthy, intelligent little girl.
You can choose to feed your newborn formula exclusively, or supplement with formula, which means giving your child formula to make up for a lack of breast milk. Either way, formula feeding is a healthy way to feed your baby and includes some vitamins breastfeeding moms must supplement, like vitamin D, which isn’t transferred from mother to child through breast milk. All infant formulas sold in the U.S. are required to meet specific nutrient standards mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.
Formula comes in three main varieties:
  1. Dairy-based
  2. Soy-based
  3.  Protein hydrolysate (broken down protein optimal for babies with allergies to cow’s milk and soy)
It’s available in different forms as well:
  1. Powdered
  2. Concentrated liquid
  3. Ready-to-use formula  
Just remember that babies will respond to formulas differently. Your newborn may experience more gas and discomfort when using one formula over another. Try using formula samples first to see what your baby likes and doesn’t like. You can get formula samples online, from your doctor or hospital, or by joining most formula brands’ family programs for free.

One option doesn’t fit all

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My husband, Mike, bonding with our daughter during her feeding.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. After my daughter was born, I was fortunate to have her latch right away, which made breastfeeding relatively easy for both of us. With my HAP insurance, I received a pump with no out-of-pocket cost. My husband was even able to pick up my pump in the hospital after I delivered. 
I exclusively nursed the first month. In the second month, I began to pump after each nursing session, and then I chose to switch to pumping exclusively. I made the decision to stop nursing and only feed my daughter breast milk from a bottle so I could make an easier transition back to work. She was still getting all the rewards of my breast milk without having to nurse. This also put less stress on me since she could be fed by others, like my husband and parents, who were able to bond with her during feedings as well. 
After a few months of breastfeeding, I needed to begin supplementing with formula because I wasn’t producing enough milk each day. Today, my daughter is healthy and growing strong.

Ultimately, you’ll find what works best for you and your family. Just know that you have options. Consult your doctor, educate yourself, and be flexible. 

Visit hap.org/maternity for more pregnancy tips and resources. You’ve got this!


Read more maternity stories:

Your Pregnancy Resource Center: Essential Articles for Parents-to-Be

Being pregnant can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help.

Categories: Get Healthy