Although there have been plenty of studies looking at the differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding, things still aren’t always black and white. Overall, no matter what babies are fed—no matter what they’re fed—society is still ending up with plenty of healthy toddlers, kids, and adults.
Beyond overall health, there are a lot of differences between feeding a baby formula and feeding them mom’s milk. There are even some differences between pumping and feeding milk versus nursing directly.
Whatever method (or methods) a mom chooses to feed her baby, there are plenty of unknowns out there. While there are a lot of things that are affected by nursing versus formula feeding, no mama can predict how her kiddo will turn out.
Of course, in the early days of a child’s life, it’s the one thing that moms stress out about the most. There’s not much that can help that, except to remind them to take things one day at a time. Apart from that, it’s all up to chance—and some of these trends.
From the way a nursing mom’s parenting methods develop differently than a formula feeding mom’s, to the way their bodies deal with the postpartum time, here are 20 seemingly random things that are affected by how the baby eats.
20 How People Perceive Mom
This is the number one thing that’s affected by how moms decide to feed their babies: what other people think. It’s pretty sad that the way a new mom is perceived is affected by how she chooses to (or is forced to) feed her baby. After all, most new moms want to do things “right”—no mama intentionally mistreats her baby or does anything that could be unsafe. We all make mistakes, sure, but most new moms are on board with whatever keeps their babies healthy and happy. So why the judgment on moms based on how they choose to feed their little ones? It’s pretty nonsensical and yet it happens all the time.
19 Mom’s Postpartum Cravings
Moms who have nursed a baby know that it can do some crazy things to your body. And while every postpartum mom is probably ready to get her grub on—eating all the things she denied herself during pregnancy—nursing moms are still at the mercy of hormones. Even after the postpartum stuff calms down a bit, nursing moms often have cravings based on what their babies need because their bodies are telling them what nutrients to ingest. Of course, there’s also the fact that nursing makes moms extra super hungry, right? Basically, both formula feeding and nursing moms just get to eat whatever they want, but nursing moms’ cravings are directed by someone other than her own body!
18 Baby’s Rate Of Development
By now it’s been explained over and over that babies who breastfeed exclusively gain pounds a little differently than formula fed babies. After all, formula has the same amount of nutrients in every serving, whereas breastmilk production and composition depends on the mom, the baby, and a ton of environmental factors, too. So clearly, the baby’s development will be affected by what they eat. Exactly how, however, is sort of up for debate. In general, most breastfed babies follow a lower growth curve than formula fed babies, but they catch up at some point later in development. Contrary to popular belief, babies don’t all grow at the exact same rate.
17 What Benefits Mom Gets
You would think that when a mom has a baby, all the services she would receive would focus on both her and the newborn. But in many cases, the way a mom feeds her baby determines what kinds of benefits she gets. Think about WIC, for example—the program that gives moms and their children nutritional assistance until the kiddos turn five years old. Moms who nurse get extra food for themselves, and then when the baby starts eating table food, they get an allowance for the tot. Moms who formula feed might get help with purchasing formula (hallelujah!), but they won’t get more food for themselves or as much baby food as nursing moms.
16 Mom Gets Out Of Responsibilities
As a mom, it’s quite convenient to use your baby as an excuse when you don’t want to do things. It’s particularly helpful if you’re a homebody who’d rather Netflix it up than go out somewhere you need actual pants to get into. But for formula feeding moms, unfortunately, the benefits are fewer. For nursing moms, for example, you can get out of jury duty for up to a year following your nursing child’s birth. There’s no exception for if you nurse longer than a year, but hey, getting out of jury duty at least once is nice. Moms who formula feed aren’t given that same allowance, though, which is a bummer.
15 Pre-Work Prep
Lots of mamas talk about how much work it is to formula feed—and a similar number of mamas talk about how much work it is to nurse. But when it comes down to moms who work outside the home, there’s a clear winner here. For moms who formula feed, getting out the door in the morning sans baby is as simple as waltzing on out. For moms who nurse, they not only need to feed the baby (or pump) before leaving, but they’ve also got to pack a bunch of stuff for pumping at work. After all, even forgetting one part can mean the difference between the baby having lunch or not for tomorrow.
14 Diaper Bag Size
On that same note, moms who nurse or pump might need to lug a pump around, but when they’re with their babies, the food is usually ready to go. Formula feeding mamas, however, may find themselves requiring a substantially larger diaper bag to go anywhere! Depending on where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, you will need sets of bottles, containers of formula, water for the bottles—kept warm somehow if it’s a long day or trip—and supplies to wash the bottles if it’s longer than a day trip or you don’t have enough bottles to not reuse any. Oh, and you’ll probably need quite a few burp rags, too. Nursing moms, though? Maybe a burp rag, just in case.
13 How Much Storage For Milk
For moms who use formula for their babies, buying in bulk is usually the way to go. And if you get WIC assistance, it’s often the only way—they make the vouchers for multiple cans of formula in one go. But storing a few cans of formula isn’t usually bad—especially when you can put them in a cabinet or in the pantry. When you’re storing pumped breastmilk, however, things can get messy. You’ve got to choose either bottles or bags, then make space in the fridge and freezer, label everything, rotate stuff so no milk goes bad, and make sure to keep up on bottles outside the fridge that you can actually feed the baby from. Whew!
12 Baby’s Future Palate Preferences
Food is food, right? But what babies eat in infancy can have a long-term impact on their taste buds. One study researched the eating habits of preschoolers based on whether they were formula fed or breastfed, and the results were pretty cool. They showed that breastfed babies were usually more adventurous eaters—and that’s probably because when babies nurse, they get different flavors at every feeding based on what their mom is eating. Formula fed babies, on the other hand, get the same flavor in every bottle. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in the study, that meant they were likelier to be picky about their palate in the preschool years.
11 Mom’s Not A Fan Of Some Flavors
Another way that flavors come into play is in terms of what moms want to eat. Think about your pregnancy cravings, or the foods that you absolutely couldn’t stand. Odds are, your taste buds probably changed during pregnancy. And while mamas who formula feed are back on their own hormones and whatnot after the postpartum phase, nursing moms continue to be at their baby’s mercy. That means if you were averse to certain foods during the pregnancy, you’ll probably keep staying away from them—which can feel weird because you’re just you again, but your baby’s nursing habits still have an effect on your body.
10 Baby’s Noggin Size
Another study looked at babies who were formula fed versus breastfed, and the results were kind of unexpected. The study found that babies who were breastfed tended to have larger noggins. There’s a lot of natural variation anyway, but this result was a bit unexpected because breastfed babies usually follow a lower growth curve than formula fed ones. Basically, parents can usually expect breastfed babies to grow a little slower or be smaller than formula fed babies. Then later in childhood, things even out, and there’s not usually a noticeable or measurable difference later in life. Just their noggins measured a bit differently—enough to make a statistical difference.
9 Full-Grown Future Size
Yet another way that formula feeding and breastfeeding affect a baby’s life in a random way is their projected size as adults. Most people are familiar with studies that highlight that breastfed babies are less likely to become obese as adults, but there are many theories as to why that is the case. And just like any other study result, you can interpret the data in a few different ways. But overall, it’s thought that babies who are breastfed learn to self-regulate their eating habits better than formula fed babies. Then again, parents who pace feed with formula are mimicking the more regulated eating habits of nursing babies, which is a healthy way to bottle feed from the start.
8 Contractions When?
For some moms, nursing their babies right after birth is actually downright uncomfortable. As much as lactation consultants say that nursing shouldn’t hurt, new moms’ nursing parts are a bit unfamiliar with the whole feeding 24/7 thing. And in addition to that discomfort, there’s also the fact that the newborn nursing causes the mom’s uterus to continue contracting. It’s like nature’s postpartum Pitocin (the stuff that induces contractions), and the function of that is to keep moms from having postpartum complications from their uterus not returning to its normal size. So yeah, for nursing moms, postpartum contractions are thing.
7 Length Of Recovery Time
You might expect that for any mom who’s just given birth, recovery will take just as long no matter how her baby is eating. But as noted above, moms who nurse will often experience contractions for days or even longer postpartum. So clearly, there’s a biological component built into nursing that helps a new mom recover. Not that any of us would really notice a difference, of course—that stuff’s all on the inside! But as far as recovering hormonally and all that, moms who formula feed may not get back to feeling like themselves quite as soon as moms who nurse. Because as much as nursing can wreak havoc on a mom’s body and mind, it is what biology intends, so that means her body sort of expects it.
6 How Teeth Come In
Pediatricians have been pressuring parents of toddlers to give up the bottle for decades. And we know it’s part of a push toward getting our babies to start growing up (although we don’t really want that, right?!), but it’s also about their teeth. Because babies who drink bottles can wind up having issues with their teeth forming improperly or coming in wrong if they’re hooked on the bottle too much. Most of the time tooth issues crop up when a baby goes to sleep with a bottle every night and it sits in their mouth, or if they continue to drink a bottle well into their preschool years.
5 Baby’s Sleep Habits
Speaking of sleeping with bottles in babies’ mouths, sleep is another somewhat random thing that’s affected by bottle versus breastfeeding. In general, babies who nurse tend to not sleep as deeply or for as long of a stretch as babies who are formula fed. It’s mostly because breastmilk digests faster than formula and is easier on tummies—so breastfed babies are hungry sooner. But it also means that parents might give their babies a bottle to go to sleep to make sure they stay full and resting all night. Leaving a bottle in the crib, though, starts kiddos on an unhealthy habit, especially if they tend to suckle through the night even if they’re not hungry.
4 Odds Of Cavities
There’s been a ton of research (and controversy) over studies that link formula feeding with cavities. And while it seems like the headlines keep flip flopping, the last I read, scientists confirmed that breastmilk itself doesn’t cause cavities. So mamas don’t need to worry about nursing their babies to sleep or about nursing through the night. However, while formula pooling in the baby’s mouth all night isn’t a good look as far as cavities go, that doesn’t mean breastfed babies will be immune to tooth decay. What it does mean, however, is that breastfed babies likely have lower odds of cavities than babies who sleep with bottles of formula.
3 How Mom Snacks
We talked about cravings when moms are formula feeding versus breastfeeding, but there’s another random food-related habit that is affected. Nursing moms know very well that they’re often hungry like, all the time. And it’s true that you do need a few hundred extra calories per day when you’re nursing your baby. But nursing moms also tend to eat offbeat things that formula feeding moms don’t even think about. From teas that are supposed to help make more milk to cookies that are full of weird stuff that sometimes tastes funky, there’s an entire market that revolves around lactation support foods. So mom’s snacks are affected by her nursing status, too.
2 Babies Holding Their Own
One of the things that seems really common with mamas who bottle feed is capturing the first time their babies hold their own bottles. When you think about it, it’s sort of like a rite of passage. Some older babies outright refuse to have anyone else hold their bottles, which actually means that moms and dads are freed up to do other things. And while we usually stay with our kiddos while they’re eating, when the tot holds his or her own bottle, it means mom might actually get to eat! Nursing moms, on the other hand, are tied to their babies and can’t just hand them their own meal to eat!
1 What Mom Wears
This one should be fairly evident, since maternity wear is so prevalent, but it’s another random thing that’s affected by moms’ baby feeding habits. Nursing moms will need nursing bras and shirts, obviously, but that means her wardrobe is often severely limited. Sure, there are great nursing clothes available, but they’re usually expensive, and most moms don’t continue to wear them when they no longer need access to the milk makers. And if you don’t buy nursing clothes specifically, then you’re probably stretching out or cutting your clothes to make them more milk-making friendly anyway. Formula feeding moms, on the other hand, get to wear whatever they please—no access issues included.