International Parenting: Breastfeeding vs Formula


There are many hot button issues when it comes to parenting. It doesn’t matter what the issue is but you know you will have one opinion and someone else will have a differing. SEEK has interviewed moms from around the world because we are curious about their cultural and personal views on certain issues.



By Becky Horace

Breastfeeding vs formula feeding…. What a touchy subject, especially for me. As a new parent four years ago, I would hear “breast is best” almost to the point where anything else I might consider giving my child would almost borderline as child abuse. To be honest, I figured the boob was free so that was the plan for my son and our family. We were on a budget, I was trying to finish my Masters, and we weren’t planning for a little addition anytime soon so free was perfect. No one mentioned to me that sometimes the body might not work with your desired plan to breastfeed and you might not produce milk. I figured if you are a woman, had a baby, and a boob milk would come forth like the rushing waters of a mighty river cutting through the earth’s landscape.

I had a pretty traumatic experience with breastfeeding. I couldn’t produce anything but at the same time we had no idea that our son wasn’t eating in the first few days of his life. He was on there and working hard and our “lactation consultant’s support” was the total opposite of supportive. She told me “Don’t worry about it. Babies know what to do, he will eat and be fine” then she walked out of my hospital room and that was the last we saw of her. What a dirty lie that was. We were back in the emergency room at 5 days old because the poor kid hadn’t really had any food. After that my son was so angry with me that I couldn’t produce anything he refused me. No problem, I understand! I will pump and put it in a bottle because BREAST IS BEST! AT ANY COST! I was determined to make this happen for my son but I could only produce a little bit of milk. We tried prescriptions, natural remedies and one day months later my doctor told me “It’s ok sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”  What do you mean not work out!? I don’t sleep! I feed the kid a bottle, I pump, I clean the equipment with enough time to sleep for 30 minutes before the kid is up again!? Little did I know the words “sometimes it just doesn’t work” was the freedom to use formula and the liberation I needed to be a better mom. I was a basket case trying to make this work; due to the stress I felt like I was barely able to enjoy having a child and being a new parent when all I could do was worry if he was getting enough food. Our pediatrician reassured me with my decision to stop by saying “If it wasn’t for formula, babies around the world wouldn’t make it. You are doing the right thing.”

From the science standpoint if you are interested, there are many studies to support that breastfeeding is best. Just on a simple Google search of “breastfeeding is best” on Science Daily you can see that there are studies showing breastfeeding can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, a study showing why breastfeed kids are so smart, if you breastfeed your kid is less likely to have ADHD and so on. Click here for those studies.

There are also studies that have been performed to show that there really is no difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding. This study published in Social Science & Medicine was done between siblings with one being breastfeed and one was formula fed. Here are the highlights from that study:

  • We use sibling comparisons to estimate the effect of breastfeeding on long-term child wellbeing.
  • Outcomes include BMI/obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, attachment, compliance, academic achievement and competence.
  • The effect of breastfeeding on 10 of the 11 outcomes is substantially attenuated when comparing siblings.
  • Our results suggest that typical estimates of the impact of breastfeeding on child wellbeing may be overstated.

To read more on that study click here.

I wanted to do the “best” thing for my child and it turns out breast is AWESOME if it works out for you and your child but what is actually BEST is that the kid eats. Plain and simple, it’s our job as a parent to feed the kid. Put our feelings and our determination to do something aside and simply help the child to grow without losing our minds. With my second child, as a family we decided we couldn’t manage the trauma of trying to work through breastfeeding again. We decided the best thing for our family was a mentally happy and healthy mommy to take care of a newborn and a toddler so we will be formula bottle feeding and now we will  know for a fact that our baby will get exactly what she needs to thrive.

Breast or formula? It doesn’t matter! Just keep the kid’s belly full and you are an awesome mom!


  • bangladeshCultural: “Breastfeeding is the norm in my culture. Mainly because formula is quite expensive and not available everywhere, especially if you are not in a big city. Recently however with the increase in the rate of working moms or nuclear families who don’t have support of maids, nannies or family members, bottle feeding is also increasing or expressed breast milk fed in a bottle but formula feeding is still a bit frowned upon in my culture.”
  • Personal: “My baby was on a combination of bottle and breast feeding mainly because I had some complications post-delivery and was not able to breastfeed exclusively but now I do EBF (exclusively breastfeed) most of the time and we rarely use formula. Had I been able to I would go for breastfeeding exclusively.”


  • Cultural: “I think in France the majority will switch from breast to bottle as I did. You also have many women who just don’t want tofrance do it, so they will start on bottles from day 1. We tend to hear too much “you do not have enough milk” and I hate this, and to me those saying such silly things have never tried it. As a mother, I am convinced that we have what baby needs it’s just a matter of understanding how it works, what is the best position, getting the right support, etc…”
  • Personal: “My opinion on this is just do whatever works best for mummy and baby! Breastfeeding was so obvious for me to start with, and I did it for my 2 kids during my maternity leave (16 weeks). I made sure that before I went back to work they were on formula, probably more for convenience because I travel a lot for my job – working with farmers. I struggled a lot with my first child, and people pushed hard on me to stop breastfeeding when I was in France at the time. For my second in Thailand, it was so great I didn’t want to stop but I had to go back to work. Probably with time and experience I was more relaxed so it worked better.”

United Kingdom

  • Cultural: “There is pressure and/or expectation to breastfeed from medical staff but the reality is it’s almost ukperceived as a class divide with middle class women breastfeeding and working class women choosing to bottle feed. I suspect the pressures are different in both camps. Most of my friends who are working women in professional jobs began by breastfeeding and then moved to bottle feeds. There certainly isn’t the culture of expressing and storing like I have seen here in Bangkok. Culturally, women are moving toward more breastfeeding in public areas and spaces created for that purpose in shopping centers; but there is still a lot of issues around it, there was an incident in Claridges where a woman was given a napkin to hide her baby from other dining guests. Bottle fed babies are frowned upon by medical staff and the media but breastfeeding is deemed inappropriate in public. Once again, women are caught in the middle. My mantra, do what’s best for you and your baby.”
  • Personal: “Breast is only best when it works and for some mums, this isn’t a choice. I had no choice much to the disgust (albeit cultural) from my mum. If bottle feeding means your baby and you thrive, then that’s as good as breast. It’s all about informed choices for your lifestyle and the health and happiness of your family. I intend to bottle feed again because going back to work after six months maternity leave will be traumatic for all concerned. In that respect, I have no choice but I am happy with it.”


  • Cultural: “Both are okay, but breastfeeding is strongly recommended. As soon as you have your baby the swedenmidwives support you to get the right technique and make sure it works before you leave hospital. I guess there is a strong pro-breastfeeding movement so sometimes bottle-feeders feel a bit criticized or not understood. Breastfeeding in public is okay as long as you cover yourself a little if you are in a restaurant.”
  • Personal: “Since my milk didn’t come in properly for three weeks with my first son, I breastfed him first and then topped it up with formula until my feeding was enough. Second baby, the milk came right away and I solely breastfeed her.”


  • Cultural: “My culture is open to both. Breastfeeding is certainly wonderful, but many women cannot for variouUSs reasons (work, baby doesn’t cooperate, etc). However, I do think that it makes some people uncomfortable when women breastfeed in public. There is a lot of media attention to this, trying to make people more comfortable.”
  • Personal: “My daughter was pre-mature and had breast milk via bottle for her first few weeks. Then, I had the wonderful task of trying to switch back from bottle to breast. Luckily, we were successful!  I breastfed her until she was 9 months. When she was 9 months, I had the stomach flu became dehydrated and at the same time she had an ear infection and didn’t want to nurse.”


  • Cultural: “Some mums breastfeed, some give the bottle, and some do both. Usually children are breastfeed venuntil one year old and the ones who do use bottles do it until approximately 3 years old. When the child starts eating solids regularly, they give bottle only before bedtime.”
  • Personal: “I did both since the beginning but stopped breastfeeding when my daughter was seven months. I wanted to do it a bit longer but my daughter was not interested. I don’t think that moms who choose not to breastfeed are bad moms although I agree that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice. I also think it’s a matter of choice as long your kid is receiving the nutrition they need.”


  • Cultural: “I was surprised that there wasn’t any advice from my mother or mother-in-law on the importance of breast feeding. I find many Indians prefer bottle feed, there are a few advertisements to encourage breast feeding but they are not enforced. My thinkingindiawas more influenced by all the articles and books I read and it has nothing to do with growing up in India. In fact, I personally felt discouraged by opting to breast feed, it is not a convenient option in India.”
  • Personal: “I have personally always believed in breast feeding and encouraged many friends to do the same. I find it very convenient and easy and I think it definitely reduces the risk of babies getting tummy aches and falling sick. I read so many articles on how breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions and it perfectly suited my lifestyle so I chose to feed my daughter’s for almost 18 months.”

A big thank you to the moms who were able to help us with this interview.

Check back next week when we discuss the issue of baby wearing and attachment parenting! 

photo by Thomas Leuthard CC BY 2.0

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