The disadvantages of formula

Me with Marie Biancuzzo

I just got back from taking a lactation review class from Marie Biancuzzo. She really helped me get ready for the lactation exam. I have been pondering the disadvantages of infant formula. Most breastfeeding literature concentrates on the advantages of breastfeeding, but, let’s face it, breastfeeding has been proven for eons. We are mammals. One of the distinctive features of mammals are their breasts and how they nurse their young. As a proud mammal myself, I have been putting together a list of disadvantages of formula feeding.  Some of them come from my friends.
Formula is costly, breastmilk is free.
Marie Biancuzzo reminded us that formula is not a physiologic fluid and breastmilk is. When a baby swallows breastmilk down the wrong pipe (into his lungs), his lungs absorb the fluid. Formula is not absorbed by the baby’s lungs.
Human babies have to adjust their bodies to formula, human breastmilk is tailor-made for human babies.
Formula is not close to equal to human milk:

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pediatric-nutrition researchers at Abbott Laboratories, one of the largest manufacturers of commercial infant formula, recently conceded that creating infant formula to parallel human milk is “impossible.” These scientists, writing in the March, 1994 issue of ENDOCRINE REGULATIONS, state, “[It is] increasingly apparent that infant formula can never duplicate human milk. Human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins and compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated in infant formula.” (From

Formula has been recalled numerous times, breastmilk is not recalled.
Formula is generic and breastmilk is immunologically, as well as in other ways, specific for your child.
Formula always tastes the same (yucky, try it); breastmilk changes throughout the day, weeks and months that a child nurses.
Formula increases the risk of your baby having otherwise preventable diseases:

  • Mortality – this applies in Western countries as well as developing countries. For example, according to Lucas and Cole (1990), if all the preterm babies in British neonatal units were fed breast milk rather than formula, 100 deaths a year from necrotizing enterocolitis would be prevented.
  • Asthma and allergy
  • Acute respiratory disease
  • Childhood cancers
  • Nutrient deficiencies: e.g., fatty acids, essential for brain development, and amino acids, essential for central nervous system development, as well as calcium and iron, are not in the correct proportions and/or as easily absorbed from formula as breastmilk.
  • Infection from contaminated formula
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic diseases
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Otitis media – inflammation of the middle ear
  • Urinary infections
  • Sudden infant death syndrome
  • Necrotizing enterocolitisis – an infection or inflammation that causes destruction of the bowel or part of the bowel.

as well as

  • Reduced cognitive development

Read more at Suite101: The Risks and Disadvantages of Formula Feeding: Facts About Breastmilk Substitutes Used in Bottle-Feeding Infants

Why write about this at all? Because we are still a formula feeding culture. We think nothing of hounding pregnant women into quitting smoking and drinking alcohol, but we worry about pressuring moms about breastfeeding. I believe it is not because we are afraid of pressuring new moms, clearly we aren’t. We pressure them about how to care for their baby with prenatal checkups, where it is safest to give birth, what kinds of monitoring their labors should have and many, many other pressures. Instead, I think we are still fixated on breasts as sexual attractions rather than as the normal means for a mother to feed and nurture her baby. Yes, normal and time-tested. Breastfeeding is best, and infant  formula is about 4th or 5th best for babies and for mothers, too!

By Teresa Bailey

Teresa Bailey is a master doula in Pittsburgh

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