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Advantages and Disadvantages of Formula for an Infant

author image Krista Sheehan
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Formula for an Infant
A mother feeds her infant on a train. Photo Credit Morgan David de lossy/Hemera/Getty Images

Although breastfeeding certainly has its benefits, there’s no denying that infant formula still provides essential nourishment for an infant. And while disadvantages to using commercially prepared infant formulas exist, the choice to formula feed also has specific advantages. But one thing remains clear -- once a mother makes the decision to feed her infant formula, she needs to embrace her choice and focus on nurturing and bonding with her baby rather than feeling guilty.

Advantage: Convenience

A formula-fed infant can be fed by anyone -- whether it’s mom, dad, grandparents or other caregivers. The convenient feeding plan allows the parents to share feeding duties, which is particularly beneficial when both parents are struggling to get enough sleep during the first few weeks and months of the baby’s life. The new mother can also return to work after her maternity leave with no need to pump breast milk or arrange breastfeeding times. And if the baby gets hungry in a public place, a bottle can be given without privacy concerns. Once mixed, formula can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, although it should never sit at room temperature for longer than one hour.

Advantage: No Maternal Restrictions

Since certain substances can pass through breast milk, breastfeeding mothers need to pay careful attention to the types of foods and fluids they consume. But a mother who is formula feeding her infant can eat and drink anything she pleases. Breastfeeding mothers also have to be careful about the types of medications they take, as these substances can also pass into breast milk. Mothers who provide their infant with formula can take medications without concern for effects on the baby.

Disadvantage: Not Individualized

Commercial infant formula is carefully prepared with a complex combination of protein, fat, sugar and vitamins. While it’s made to closely replicate the ingredients in breast milk, it could never completely match the composition because breast milk is slightly different from one mother to the next to meet the individualized needs of each baby. Additionally, infant formula lacks antibodies, which protect the baby against infection.

Disadvantage: Digestive Difficulties

Although breast milk and infant formula contain the same types of protein, the ratios vary between the two options. The BabyCenter website explains that breast milk contains more whey protein, while infant formula contains more casein protein. Since whey protein is more easily digested by the infant’s immature digestive system, infant formula tends to be more difficult on the stomach and intestines because of the increased casein content. These digestive difficulties can lead to greater incidences of gas and diarrhea.

Disadvantage: Cost

While breast milk is free, formula can be quite costly. Powdered formula tends to be the least expensive, while ready-to-eat formulas tend to be the most expensive. Specialty formulas, such as soy or hypoallergenic preparations, are also more expensive than traditional preparations. A 2013 estimate on the American Pregnancy Association website suggests that infant formula costs roughly $50 to $100 per month, depending on the brand and preparation.

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