Why Formula Feed?
Newborn babies need feeding morning, noon and night - and many times in between. Fortunately you don't need to get cooking just yet. Babies are sustained on formula or breast milk alone for the early months of their life (usually until they are 6 months old, see our section on weaning for more on when to wean your baby). Formula or breast milk will then continue to provide a significant source of energy and nutrients for your baby after they are weaned.
This means that your first decision is whether you will feed them breast milk or formula, or a combination of the two. There are a huge number of advantages to breastfeeding but here we explain the benefits and attractions of using formula instead.
What is Formula?
Infant formula is cow's milk which has been treated so as to make it nutritionally suitable for babies. It is designed to replicate human milk as the sole food for infants before they are weaned onto solids and then as a supplement to solid foods until they are at least 12 months old. From the age of 12 months you can give your baby whole cow's milk, but until then their milk feeds should be either breast milk or specifically designed formula for babies.
What are the Benefits of Formula Feeding?
A safe alternative to breast milk.
We all want to give our babies the best possible start in life, and when it comes to nutrition the experts agree that breast milk is the best option for babies. However, many women are unable to breastfeed or choose not to for a variety of reasons, and infant formula provides them with a safe and nutritionally balanced alternative.
Feeding responsibilities can be shared.
A bottle fed baby doesn't need to be fed by Mum, which means that you have more freedom to leave your baby with a babysitter or to hand over to Dad for the night feeds once in a while. It also means that you can return to work more easily and leave your baby with family or in childcare without having to express and store breast milk.
Formula can satisfy a baby for longer.
This is not always the case but it is often thought that a baby can go longer between feeds when fed with formula because formula is harder to digest than breast milk. This can be a particularly appealing factor to parents when it comes to night feeds.
You can monitor their feeds with accuracy.
Making sure that your baby is fed properly is one of the key concerns for parents, which is why bottle feeding is often cited as the preferable method for some people because they can see how much food their baby has had. Of course, expressed breast milk can also be monitored in the same way. Remember that the best way to monitor whether a baby is getting enough food is to have them weighed regularly and to check that their weight is gaining at the rate it ought to (your health visitors will provide you with a chart to plot your baby''s growth on if you don't have one already).
Not as physically demanding.
Breastfeeding a baby can be physically draining. It burns a lot of calories and it can be painful or difficult, particularly in the early days. At a time when you are recovering from either a natural delivery or a caesarean section (as well as caring for your new baby) the appeal of a feeding method which does not require anything extra from your body is obvious.
A chance for Dad to bond.
Breastfeeding has obvious bonding benefits between mother and baby, but, unless the mother expresses breast milk so that it can be bottle fed, it does exclude Dad from this special time. It is easier for fathers to get involved in regular feeds if the baby is bottle fed, and feeding your baby as a parent is an intimate and very special experience.
Dress for you!
Bringing together breast and baby is easy enough when you're at home in your dressing gown, but allowing your baby to locate your nipple discreetly is more of a challenge when you're wearing a tight t-shirt or a back-fastening dress! There are plenty of clothes that do allow discreet breast feeding, but one advantage of formula feeding your baby is that you aren't restricted in any way when it comes to your wardrobe.
Save the red cheeks.
Once you get the hang of it, most mothers are quite comfortable feeding their baby in public, but the early days can be understandably daunting - let's face it, before we have babies, getting our boobs out at the dinner table is considered to be pretty unusual behaviour, even with the closest of friends! Feeding your baby formula saves you the embarrassment of fumbling with your bra straps and breast pads in front of other people, although unfortunately it won't stop the baby being sick over your shoulder or having nappy explosions on your lap so it can''t promise an "embarrassment free outing"!
You can take the combined pill.
Talk of birth control inevitably raises a titter amongst new mothers - most are getting next to no sleep, every waking minute seems to be devoted to feeding, changing and soothing their newborn, natural delivery and caesarean sections both leave their painful reminders for some time after the birth and so, unsurprisingly, sex isn't top of their priority list. However, for some, sex is easier to get back in to. Conception can, and does, happen very quickly for some women after giving birth, so it is wise to take precautions. Breastfeeding women can take a contraceptive pill, but it is usually only the progestogen-only pill (sometimes known as the mini pill). Not breastfeeding means that you have the choice of using either the mini pill or the combined pill.
No dietary or medication restrictions.
There are no rules about what you can and can''t eat when you are using formula to feed your baby. Most breastfeeding mothers wouldn't describe themselves as 'constrained' in terms of their diet, but there are some restrictions that they need to be aware of. For example, breastfeeding mothers should limit the amount of caffeine they drink, they must drink little or no alcohol (unless expressing milk in advance), and they should not smoke (although really no mother should smoke given the amount of time they spend in close contact with their baby).
An easier return to the bedroom.
Women who are breastfeeding may find that the slower readjustment of their hormones affects their desire for sex, and it can also leave their vaginas dryer than normal, making sex uncomfortable - although lubricating products will help this. Women who do not breastfeed will often find that their feelings towards sex, and their enjoyment during sex, return to normal more quickly. Breastfeeding mothers may also feel uncomfortable about their breasts in the bedroom - seeing them in a sexual manner can seem unnatural at a time when you are using your breasts to nurse your child. Of course you can choose to just keep your breasts under wraps until you are no longer breastfeeding. Some women are embarrassed by idea that they may leak breast milk during sex, but there are lots of couples find they can deal with the occasional dropped breast pad or leaking boob with a good dose of humour!