Breast vs Bottle: A reflection on infant feeding methods

So, did you know that babies need feeding. Yep, that’s a thing. They need feeding pretty frequently actually. In fact, there is no real set schedule for when they need feeding but they will give very obvious cues to indicate when they desire sustenance. Crying, as I was often told, is the final way babies use to communicate this.

'Breast vs Bottle' or just 'Feeding baby'...

‘Breast vs Bottle’ or just ‘Feeding baby’…

Okay, we all know babies need feeding but the real topic of this post is the old debate of breast versus bottle. Don’t inwardly groan, we all know about this debate and everyone involved feels pretty emotional about the whole thing. I’m not entirely sure why but it does seem to ruffle feathers.

Once upon a time, pre parenthood, I didn’t give a rat’s bottom about how anybody chose to feed their baby. In fact, I had never even questioned the two methods that I was most familiar with. I knew you could breastfeed and I knew you could bottle feed. And that was all that I needed to know because I had other more important things to worry about like painting my nails.

Now, on the other side of parenthood, I actually found myself becoming a little obsessed with the topic of Infant feeding (to the point where I may have said some douche like things, well nothing new there then…).

At this point I should disclose how I chose to feed Pudding but I almost feel like I’m betraying the tone of what I want this post to be about. If you have read earlier posts then I think it has been inferred my chosen feeding method, but for now I will omit it from this post. I will focus on facts and not opinions as, actually I think that is what is most essential in a topic about infant feeding so this will be the stance from this point onwards.

So, to the facts.

For a long time now, mammals feed their offspring, it is genetic and the natural way to feed infant mammals, until they grow to the stage they can hunt for their chosen food source. Human beings are mammals, and like the great apes, big cats and cows we produce milk after the birth of our offspring. This is a fact. This is as nature has evolved – the biological norm. nurse the baby

Another fact, not all women can breastfeed. This is true and can cause issues. Back in the day, if a mother couldn’t feed her baby it would starve and die. Awful. However, thank goodness for wet nursing (now known as cross-breastfeeding). Wet nurses would step in and breastfeed a baby with their own milk. This was vital, this was life saving. This was a beautiful gift.

But we, in the western world, don’t tend to wet nurse any longer. Why is this? Well this is because science is a marvellous thing. In 1867, the first commercial formula was developed by a chemist called Justus Von Liebig, Liebig’s Soluable Food For Babies. Also, around this time, roughly 140 years ago, a gentleman called Thomas Morgan Rotch created the percentage method that outlined a formula for a breastmilk substitute that could be made up at home (at the time this combined items such as cow’s milk, cream, water and honey).

Now, we don’t need to depend entirely on the breast. Babies can be fed an alternative. This in itself is quite a massive thing – suddenly the burden isn’t physically placed solely on the mother. nestle marketing

A fact – this method of feeding does have implications for the child, such as bacterial infections and diet related illness. This is where mass produced formula feeding comes in. By 1920 evaporated milk formulas are being produced by companies to be marketed to the masses. Another fact – parents were encouraged to add orange juice to formula to prevent scurvy which was commonly attributed to formula fed babies.

Commercial formulas came to the fold in the 1950s. These were the formulas that were/are trying to replicate breastmilk – they are breast milk substitutes. They had names like ‘simulated milk adapted’ or SMA. These milk formulas were and still are made by companies that make a profit from selling breast milk substitute formula.

By this point, breastfeeding was associated with poorer mothers who could not afford formula so had to feed their child with the old fashioned, free method. A fact – anyone can feed a baby a bottle. Only lactating mother’s can breastfeed. A fact – these mothers can express their milk into a bottle. A fact – sometimes mother’s need a break from breastfeeding. A fact – breastfeeding is hard and can cause illness like thrush and mastitis to the mother. A fact – you can see how much food a baby is taking when it is fed from a bottle. A fact – sometimes father’s like the satisfaction they get from feeding their babies with a bottle. A fact – some mother’s enjoy breastfeeding, others do not. A Fact – some mother’s enjoy bottle feeding.

bottle warmerMore than 50% of babies at this point (1950s) are fed on formula milk. This leads to a change in culture, obviously. This also leads to changes in attitudes about breastfeeding and bottle feeding. The old method is being replaced with the new. This leads to mass marketing and promotion of formulas that one could describe as aggressive (semi opinion here but I’ve kept it pretty factual so far).

By the 1970s formula bottle feeding is common, most babies may start life breastfeeding but will eventually end up on formula.

Since 1995, in the United Kingdom, infant formula advertising has been illegal. Baby follow on milk (the same thing but marketed differently) is legally advertised. One wonders why. Mothers question why there are no offers on formula, why is it so expensive when babies need it to feed. Perhaps ‘need’ is the wrong word to use here….

In 2016 The Lancet publishes it’s report on Breastfeeding stating that ‘Increasing breastfeeding worldwide could prevent 800000 child deaths a year’. Some facts from the report include: 1 in 5 children in high-income countries are breastfed to 12 months, whilst only 1 in 3 children in low and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. It also states that ‘boosting breastfeeding rates for infants below 6 months of age to 90% in the USA, China, and Brazil and to 45% in the UK would cut treatment costs of common childhood illnesses (eg, pneumonia, diarrhoea, and asthma) and save healthcare systems at least US$2.45 billion in the USA, US$29.5 million in the UK, US$223.6 million in China, and US$6.0 million in Brazil’.

In our present time, breast feeding is heavily promoted prior to the birth of children. The NHS goes to a great deal of effort to promote the message ‘Breast is best’, there is pressure on feeding choice. This can make people feel awkward and stressed. Again, one wonders why the NHS pushes this message so fervently, what is the motivation behind it?

Breastfeeding isn’t really taught. Many find it difficult and experience pain. Some feel this is a sign that something is wrong. There is a lot of mis-information about breastfeeding. There is a lot of emotion linked to breastfeeding, some feel like failures, some feel skilled, some feel natural, some feel uncomfortable. Terms like ‘bressure’ are banded about. Some mothers who feed formula from bottles feel judged. Really, we’re all being judged or judging but we never choose to see it that way.

The report also states that only one in 200 women in the UK – or 0.5% – is still doing any degree of breastfeeding after a year when compared to 23% in Germany, 56% in Brazil and 99% in Senegal. A fact – I found this surprising and wondered why this was. I thought on this, no one likes to see a breastfeed toddler, again I wondered why this was. Are babies expected to be weaned by one? Modern society seems to think this should happen. Society seems to dictate many things for many people. Odd how what society preferred 50 years ago can seem shocking and crazy in the modern era, perhaps society only holds the views of the moment and we shouldn’t always do as it suggests. Things fall into their contexts….

The report also suggests that there is a “widespread misconception” that breastfeeding was beneficial only in countries that are deemed poor. Again I wondered if this was what mothers really thought. I also questioned why this was the case… who creates the ‘misconception’.

So those are some facts and some random musings, now to the feeding.


Does it matter how you feed your child? Perhaps, but at the end of the day it matters more if you don’t feed your child.  Do both have their issues? Yes – both breast feeders and bottle feeders can feel judged and intimated, like their method of feeding somehow reflects the type of mother they are. There are stereotypes for both – the militant who are judgy and preachy, the lazy formula feeders who are selfish and unnatural . Do have their benefits? Yes – physical closeness, weight loss, reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers for one method and freedom, inclusion and accessibility for the other.

What we perhaps should be aware of is the facts, these are what they are. They can’t be changed. It is this that makes us all feel upset. Breast milk is the best for any child because the human body produces it for the child. It is personal, unique and bloody amazing when you think about it. The mother’s body is designed to feed the child and prepares for 9 months to continue this process. Your baby is expecting to eat it when it arrives in the world – the mother’s body has fed it during the gestation period, it is to continue this in the child’s early infancy. That fact can’t be changed but it doesn’t mean that formula doesn’t hold a place in the world. Or that it isn’t providing nourishment and comfort to many a happy, little rascal. As a bottle fed baby herself, I don’t feel that it did me any harm. I don’t think my mother feels that way either.

every mother should

Why is there such a fuss about the two feeding methods? This is the question and I put it down to defensive nature of mothers. No one likes to feel, that as a parent, they are doing the wrong thing for their child, especially when they would saw off their right arm and throw it to the lions if it would protect their child. Plus, we don’t want to feel like we aren’t doing the absolute best for our child.

For those that breastfeed it must feel upsetting and unsettling when they are self concious about exposing their nipple to feed their child and may see a look of disgust cross an individual’s face. This is due to the sexualisation of the breast and, sadly, that is how some in society view breasts – purely for sexual gratification and enjoyment. If you’re not bothered though that’s even better.

For those that bottle feed formula, it must feel upsetting and unsettling when you feel people are judging you for not feeding your baby from the breast, when you wanted to yourself and it didn’t work out for you.  If you’re not bothered that’s even better.

However, really, it doesn’t matter how you choose to feed your child as long as you are happy and comfortable with your choice and that your little baby is growing big, healthy and strong. Own your feeding decision – you are really the only person that allows yourself to feel the way you do about it. What we all need to remember is not to be defensive and to all be supportive. Plus there is always combi feeding – these mums have it sussed and feel no judgement or stigma from anyone.

As for me, I chose to feed Pudding using ……


  1. Mrs Mum NZ says:

    Wow! This a very equal sided approach. And you have kept your feelings out of it. Not easy. We’re terrible at judging others aren’t we?! But you’re right. Absolutely because we want to feel like the choices we made are the best choices.

    • thegooglingmum says:

      Thanks! I did try to be balanced – I think there’s so much out there that tries to create the hostility between the methods when really we should all just be supportive! A fed baby equals a happy baby!

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