There’s plenty of division between formula feeding and breastfeeding, but the fact remains that there are clear differences between the two. Not only in terms of nutrition and development, but also the way the different feeding methods influence babies’ growth, behavior, future eating habits and more.
For moms who are new to breastfeeding, it can be a bit unpredictable at first. It helps to know what’s normal when it comes to odd nursing baby behavior, because some of the behaviors you’ll see might worry you. If you’ve only formula fed before, you might have expectations about your baby’s eating and sleeping schedule that are way off base. Of course, some babies are just easy, but others can quickly make their strong personalities shown when it comes to things like the flavor of their milk or how often they want a bit of a snack!
Not every breastfed baby “symptom” is a pleasant, one either, and some of them might have you poised to call the doctor. But here are 20 things breastfed babies do that formula fed babies don’t—many of which may give you peace of mind, knowing that there’s a huge range of what’s normal.
20 Get Bigger Slowly
From the beginning, breastfed babies are usually slower to increase in size. This is because a mom’s milk doesn’t normally “come in” for at least a day or two, sometimes more. And while babies are getting their moms’ colostrum in the meantime, it’s not making them pack on the pounds (technically, ounces!) at first.
Breastfed babies also tend to be smaller overall, although plenty of them become quite pudgy just with mom’s milk alone! You can expect your breastfed baby to gain more slowly than typical growth charts at the doctor’s office, however, because those are usually based on formula fed babies rather than tots grown on breastmilk.
19 Nurse On Non-Moms
From the moment your little nursling comes home, he or she will probably want mom constantly. And it’s about more than just instincts. Sure, babies recognize their moms’ scents more readily than dad’s—that’s because mom still smells like amniotic fluid and milk!
But babies may want to nurse almost constantly in the early days, and that means dad may not get as much hands-on time as he’d like.
Of course, when he does hold the baby, it’s quite likely the breastfed tot will try to latch onto him at some point, especially if the baby is really hungry.
18 Recognize Where Milk Comes From
If you’ve never breastfed a baby before, this one might be a bit surprising. But babies who are breastfed often recognize where the milk comes from, and they’ll be super-interested in not only the bra department at your local store, but also the mannequins modeling the undergarments.
Plenty of nursing moms have snapped pics of their babies trying to latch onto mannequins or pointing at bras and exclaiming that they’re full of milk-makers. It’s hilarious but also endearing because it’s clear that babies understand what organ makes the milk, and they don’t mind sampling other “milk” just for kicks.
17 Notice Round Shapes More Often
Even if you’re not the nursing mom who makes your one-year-old a cake made to resemble your milk-makers, you’ve likely noticed your baby picks up on the shape of things often. From trying to latch onto a ball to checking the chests of their baby dolls, even young babies seem to recognize that round shapes mean milk.
Part of it might be teething, but don’t be surprised if your baby tries to latch onto every ball, squishy toy, or food that is a sphere just because he thinks it looks like it might have milk inside. The funny thing is that while plenty of babies notice shapes and similarities, they may still be reluctant to latch onto a bottle that’s shaped “appropriately”—go figure!
16 Fight The Bottle
Although it can be tough for new moms to learn how to breastfeed their babies, once you get the hang of it, it’s usually smooth sailing. But what happens when a mom needs to leave her baby for a few hours, or go back to work full time? Pumping isn’t fun on its own but combine that with a baby who doesn’t want to drink from a bottle, and you might have a serious struggle on your hands.
While plenty of babies notice and appreciate “round” shapes, some babies are downright picky and only want mom to feed them—not the artificial imposters!
15 Go Days Without Going #2
Although most breastfed babies keep moms on their toes with how often they go number two, that’s not always the case. Breastfed babies can actually go a few days without pooping—long enough to freak moms out! It’s because breastmilk is so easily digested, so in many cases, babies don’t have any “leftovers” to dispose of via a bowel movement.
Of course, you can tell when your baby is constipated or having tummy trouble versus when they’re still eating happily and obviously don’t need to poop. On the other hand, formula fed babies tend to have more to get rid of, and more often, since formula is tougher to digest.
14 Giving Mom A Massage
If you’ve ever had a cat, then you’ll recognize this next breastfed baby behavior. Just the way kitties tend to “massage” the floor, the couch, or any other surface, newborn babies (and older ones) tend to “massage” while feeding. And for cats it comes from the instinct they have as kittens to get their moms’ milk moving.
For infant humans, it’s the same thing—babies “knead” while feeding to encourage the milk to flow. If you’ve ever read that moms should massage while pumping or feeding, that’s where this concept comes from—massaging and squeezing can help empty all the milk ducts, getting more milk into your baby.
13 Help Themselves To A Meal
While moms tend to wake every couple of hours to feed their newborns, older breastfed babies learn to make do on their own. Especially if you co-sleep or bed share, it’s so easy for older babies to help themselves to some milk while mom’s mostly asleep. And while most nursing moms may feel like complete zombies in the nighttime (heck, and daytime) hours, we have instincts that keep us close and responsive to our babies.
That’s why so many experts consider it safe for moms who are sober and non-smokers to co-sleep with their infants. Of course, it’s also less work for mom if her older baby can access the milk without waking her.
12 Taste A Bit Of Mom’s Food
Another big difference between formula fed and breastfed babies’ meals is nursing tots’ ability to taste whatever mom is eating. After all, the food a mom eats becomes the fuel for making her milk, so it makes sense that some of the flavors from her plate will wind up on the baby’s palate.
And exposure starts early for mom’s favorites, meaning her baby is probably more likely to favor cultural foods and spices if mama eats them from the beginning. That’s not to say babies will love every flavor of milk, but it’s not often that a nursing infant will refuse the milk because the flavor is “wrong.”
11 Try More Flavors
Because they taste what mom eats, breastfed babies are less likely to be picky eaters—and if you don’t believe me, just ask the Illinois News Bureau. They reported on a study that noted babies who were exclusively nursed by their moms for the first six months of life were less picky about food once they reached preschool age than their peers were.
The exclusively breastfed babies were 81 percent less likely to reject food, 78 percent less likely to develop a preference for specific food-prep methods, and were 75 percent less likely to develop neophobia, which is the fear of trying new foods. There are also flavorful perks for moms who nurse for at least the first three months—those babies were still less picky than strictly formula fed tots.
10 Eat More Often
While plenty of parents who formula feed find themselves mixing larger and larger amounts of milk for each feeding, breastfed babies often consume less liquid overall. And while you could argue that formula fed babies eat more because parents are so willing to “fill them up” less frequently, the fact remains that all babies have small stomachs and are better off eating small, more frequent meals.
For breastfed babies, this is a built-in feature; breastfed babies often have smaller or shorter feeds throughout the day. Especially for newborns, feeding frequently is helpful for growth but also for helping their moms’ bodies produce more milk.
9 Cry For Mom Constantly
Although many breastfed babies will accept food from anyone, much the way that most formula fed babies do, some flat out refuse. Because many breastfed babies are so used to the way the food comes from mom, they might be reluctant to drink a bottle of expressed breastmilk, even if mom isn’t around. Some picky babies refuse bottles and cry for their mamas instead, or even eat less from a bottle than they would if it was mom doing the direct feeding.
Experts usually recommend that someone other than mom offers the bottle of breastmilk, to get the baby used to eating without her, but sometimes, babies are too stubborn for that to work.
8 Plan Their Meal Schedule
While it’s stressful to have an exclusively breastfed baby who won’t accept a bottle when mom is away, there is a biological solution to the problem. Some babies will cycle feedings to where they eat very little or nothing at all while their moms are away. Then, when mom comes back, the baby will eat a lot more and more frequently.
Plenty of moms who work during the day will notice this; their babies then want to nurse all night to make up for very little or no milk during the day. It’s kind of a neat fix to this breastfeeding problem, though for younger babies, it’s still not exactly healthy, especially if they don’t eat at all while mom is away.
7 Have Reactions To Mom’s Eating Habits
While babies who drink formula are enjoying the same predictable flavor for every meal, that’s not the case with breastfed babies. Their meals are as unpredictable as going to a buffet and blindly grabbing whatever’s in front of you! But it’s not always a bad thing, since, as we mentioned, breastfed babies are exposed to more flavors and are usually less picky because of it.
But there’s also the possibility for babies to have a reaction to something in mom’s diet—milk and other dairy products are common irritants for breastfed babies. And while mom’s milk is easy to digest, the addition of dairy can cause gas and other problems. Other food allergies can present this way, too.
6 Get Gassy From Milk
Another difference between what breastfed versus formula fed babies do has to do with gas. While formula fed babies are always fed the same kind of milk—powder mixed with water or a liquid pre-prepped formula—breastfed babies are at the mercy of mom’s milk-makers.
This can be a good thing—babies get the milk they work for, since breastfeeding is supply and demand. But there’s also the fact that milk composition can change. For example, if the baby doesn’t nurse for a few hours longer than normal, once they eat, the milk could be more watery—foremilk—and drinking a lot of foremilk can make some babies gassy.
5 Learn To Stop When Full
Since breastfed babies have to actively work for every mouthful of milk, they don’t often over-eat. And it’s more a built-in biological function than the fact that babies “feel” full. However, formula fed babies may have been born with the same stop-when-full instinct, but after a few weeks or months of drinking larger and larger bottles, they can keep eating without really needing to.
In this way, breastfed babies are better at self-regulating their intake, which is one possible explanation for why kids who were breastfed as babies tend to deal with certain health problems less than kids who were formula fed.
4 Eat More Efficiently
Moms who pump know this one well: breastfed babies often take less time to eat than those who are drinking from a bottle. And it often doesn’t even depend on how much they’re drinking, it’s just that breastfed babies tend to be more efficient at getting milk out of mom than they are at getting milk from a bottle.
After all, bottles are engineered after the original milk makers, so it makes sense that some design features are lacking. Things like letdown don’t happen with bottles, so babies have to adapt to a different way of eating, which could be why it takes them longer to finish a bottle than to empty mom’s milk reserves.
3 Get Choosy About Sides
Formula fed babies may not have many options when it comes to how they eat. A bottle is a bottle, after all. But breastfed babies have the tendency to get choosy about where, exactly, they eat. Not only do most breastfed babies have a favorite position for nursing (which often includes pulling mom’s hair or hanging from her, at least for toddlers), but many also have a favorite side.
It’s common for moms to produce more milk on one side than the other, and it’s also possible for the milk to taste a bit different. But once a baby finds their favorite, mamas then find their chest is a bit lopsided. Darn picky babies!
2 Make Their Own Medicine
Another thing breastfed babies do that formula fed babies can’t is make their own medicine. Well, technically it’s their saliva, but you get the idea. According to Science News, a baby’s saliva “signals” the mom’s body to create antibodies in the milk. This happens in response to illness or other issues in the baby.
Of course, milk also changes due to the baby’s age and appetite, as many tandem nursing moms have found once they pump milk and see it in bottles! Often, milk for a sick child will appear more yellow, while the healthy baby’s milk remains your run-of-the-mill white.
1 Drink “Tainted” Milk
Moms who pump know this well, but moms of exclusively breastfed babies might not realize that their infants are definitely doing something weird that formula fed babies don’t. If a nursing mom has an infection or even damage from her baby’s over-aggressive (or improper) latch, her milk can contain blood. It’s also possible for it to get into the milk for other reasons, but moms don’t often notice it when their babies latch on to eat.
Most babies will actually eat it without complaint, although pumped milk with blood looks supremely un-appetizing. Of course, some babies will resist drinking from the tap when the milk is red—leading moms to wonder what’s up.
Sources: Science News, Illinois News Bureau