Bottles Up! (The Differences Between Breastfeeding & Breastmilk-Feeding)


Are you ‘juggling’ bottles and breastfeeding? Photo Credit: Ana & Ivan Lifestyle Photography

**Read more about how to have a great bottle-feeding experience in the next post.**

Breast is Best for All Babies — But Maybe Not for All Moms

Yes, nursing at the breast is best for virtually all babies, and virtually all mothers are physically able to breastfeed (notice I didn’t write circumstantially able). These facts are not a projection of an illusion of perfect mothering to guilt-trip those who rely upon alternative feeding methods. Breastfeeding does not signify perfect mothering, it’s just biologically normal mothering.

However, nursing at the breast may not be best for all moms — and hey, can’t just forget about us moms because we’re pretty darn important too. Those of us who get milk in our babies in alternative ways are certainly not a minority category.

Many women would prefer to nurse with their breasts instead of with bottles. Just as our uteruses (uteri?) start to quiver at the sight of any infant creature during child-bearing years, for most of us, the breasts ache for some baby lovin’ too (though not all of us are so thrilled about the prospect of a barnacle baby perma-latched onto us post-pregnancy).

Still, this is why I do care about how women provide milk for their children; I want them to be able to meet their goals and feel proud of their choices because it’s not only important to babies, it’s also more important to moms than any of us are truly willing to admit (kind of like that well-intentioned mantra “how you give birth doesn’t matter” when we all know it does in ways so deep that we’re discouraged from emoting too loudly about it).

The Differences Between Breastfeeding & Breastmilk-Feeding

Note: The term ‘breastfeeding’ usually describes feeding a baby breast milk via either delivery method, and ‘nursing’ often describes feeding a baby on the breast only. However, to avoid confusion, in this section ‘breastfeeding’ refers to a baby fed on the breast and ‘breastmilk-feeding’ indicates a baby fed expressed, bottled breast milk. For information on bottle-feeding with formula, visit this page.

Breast milk has incredible nutritional benefits as a food source, but breastfeeding is so much more than just breast milk. And that’s where the oft-promised, all-around breastfeeding benefits come from — lots of the boobs, less of the bottles.

When many women insist anecdotally that they notice no difference in health or behavior between breastfed and bottle-fed babies (“my kid was bottle-fed and she’s doing just fine!” or “I was bottle-fed and I’ve never had a cavity!”), it undermines the impact that being close and on the breast can have on a child. “Fine” may be acceptable, but it’s not “normal” and most families in our culture have lost sight of nature’s measuring stick for normal.

So what is the difference?


  • Less of the right antibodies. Close skin-to-skin contact with the breasts is the vehicle of communication to mom’s body about which germs her baby needs antibodies for. Previously expressed milk has immune properties, but it isn’t blessed with these up-to-date germ fighters that help keep common illnesses at bay. Unless mom’s been, er, lazy about keeping that breast pump clean… hey, it happens!
  • Stored milk has a different composition than fresh milk. Freezing and thawing milk actually destroys some of the otherwise living cells and decreases antibody effectiveness in milk. Let baby eat fresh milk as often as possible.
  • Weaker/improper bone and muscle development. The act of feeding on a breast develops a strong, broad jaw, face muscles, and teeth alignment. More bottle-feeding can mean increased likelihood of braces (if you thought pumping bras were expensive, have you seen an orthodontist bill?) and speech problems.
  • Dental caries are associated with bottle-feeding. In the past, dental caries were attributed to breastfeeding. However, it turns out that bottle feeding (whether breast milk or formula) is related to an increased risk of cavities in infants.
  • Milk supply is adversely affected. Feeding directly from the breast supports the supply-demand system of milk production. Mom makes exactly what her baby takes from her. With bottled milk, what she makes depends on how much she can express from her pump or her hands. Many mothers who must pump long-term see decreases in supply because they stop responding to the pump or have limited break times for adequate pumping sessions. Learning to hand-express is an invaluable tool because mothers can do this between pumping sessions to keep up supply.
  • Less bonding time with the baby. Expressing milk requires lots of time — cleaning and setting up the pump and tubing, setting up milk collection gear, steaming bottles and nipples, strapping on the nursing bra, then starting to pump, waiting for letdown, many minutes go by… hopefully you’ve got a few ounces by now… then bottling up, labeling and dating, clearing space in the fridge or freezer for storing milk, and mom does all of this very slowly because she knows the real horror of crying over spilled milk! Then when baby needs to eat, the milk needs to be thawed and the bottle filled, to the tune of a crying, hungry babe who can’t understand why he must wait. When baby is being fed a bottle, mom is most likely elsewhere.
  • Bottle-feeding means you need to find time for skin-to-skin. Feeding at the breast offers plenty of automatic clothing-free cuddle time. It’s certainly not impossible for a bottle-feeding mom to accomplish, but she’ll have to make a point to practice ‘kangaroo care’ at other times during the day or at night. Try baby-wearing or safe co-sleeping.
  • Comfort nursing doesn’t come from a bottle. Non-nutritive sucking is an important part of breastfeeding. Not only does it stimulate milk production, it’s basically the point of natural-term (extended) breastfeeding. It’s the go-to for babies when they’re uncomfortable, hurt, frightened, lonely, or missing social interaction.
  • Increased risk of SIDS. In addition to much other evidence, one Chicago study found that breastfed babies had one-fifth the rate of dying from SIDS as compared to babies who used bottles and pacifiers.
  • Less sleep for mommy and daddy. You can’t bottle-feed to sleep, can you? (Bottles should never be given in bed). If you think getting daddy to take over that 3 a.m. feeding with a bottle is a genius idea, think about the fact that you’ll need to spend your waking time expressing the milk, and when daddy gets less sleep he’ll be less capable of helping you effectively during the day. When breastfeeding at night, you can breastfeed with little to no interruption in catching those priceless zzz’s.
  • Bottles aren’t exactly known for ‘portion control.’ Breastfeeding is the first line of defense against the obesity crisis that confronts our country’s children today. (Read more on overfeeding in the next post).

Bottle Feeding Resources