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19 Challenges to Breastfeeding You Can’t Ignore

If the title of this article ticks you off, you might want to stop now and read my 141 Reasons to Breastfeed article.

The purpose of both of these articles is to give you a comprehensive survey of the research to help inform your feeding decisions.  Unfortunately, we are all subject to “confirmation bias” (which is the tendency to search for evidence that supports our own conclusions or interpret facts in a way that confirms our preconceived notions).

So whether you are leaning toward or away from breastfeeding, here are a few things you should know.

Picture of a baby bottle feeding

1. A substantial study indicates breastfeeding benefits are not from breastfeeding

There is a fatal flaw in the many studies that demonstrate the benefits of breastfeeding. Almost none of the studies have controls for non-breastfeeding factors that influence the health of babies. These factors include fundamental demographics like income, education, access to health care, family structure and career dynamics of mothers.

A study targeting siblings within the same homes comparing children in the same nurturing context that had been breastfed vs formula-fed did not show statistically valid differences in kids aged 4 to 14. The conclusion was that the alleged benefits of breastfeeding have more to do with the demographic that chooses to breastfeed than the breastfeeding itself.  Reference

2. Formula fed babies have less incidence of nut allergies

In an Australian survey of 15,000 parents, it was found that breastfed babies were twice as likely as formula fed babies to have nut allergies. Reference

3. Breast milk may contain toxic chemicals

Some toxins mothers are exposed to in the environment make their way into breast milk. Toxins in formula can be tested for and controlled.  Reference

4. Study found correlations between breastfeeding and lead concentrations

This study compared the duration of breastfeeding with the levels of concentration of lead and found that the longer breastfeeding occurred the higher the lead concentration found in blood. Reference

5. Study found no protective effect of breastfeeding against allergies and childhood asthma

By the age of 6 and a half, this study found no reduction in asthma or allergies in breastfed children.   Reference

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6. Differences in IQ linked to mother and family and not to breastfeeding

This study looked at breast milk and DHA fortified formula and concluded that increased IQ test performance was not so much related to the milk as to the mother’s IQ and other family factors. The study did show higher IQ’s in DHA fortified formulas than non-fortified formula.  Reference

7. The assumption that natural is always best ignores the obvious

Natural is good. But there are millions of manmade inventions including thousands of medications that are good as well. Life expectancy has increased dramatically due to medicines, medical devices and procedures that can in no way be classified as “natural”.   Reference

8. Formula-fed babies sleep better by a wide margin

Numerous studies show that babies of different ages wake up fewer times during the night than breastfed babies. Also, a much lower percentage of breastfed babies slept all the way through the night at the age of 6 months than their formula-fed counterparts.  Reference

9. Lack of sleep is bad for moms, making it bad for babies

Lack of sleep is a cause of post-partum depression, hostility and other negative behaviors that can impact babies negatively.  Reference

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10. Formula feeding doesn’t prevent skin to skin contact

There are a lot of benefits to skin to skin contact with your baby, especially for preemies. But formula feeding doesn’t stop you from taking advantage of this experience.   Reference

11. Breastfeeding is difficult for almost everyone who does it

Just because breastfeeding is difficult in some way for almost everyone who tries it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Almost everything that is beneficial in life has its challenges. However, you need to be aware that if everything goes smooth and painlessly, you are an exception. This lactation consultant says “everyone struggles in the early days”.  Reference

12. Formula is expensive but breastfeeding is not zero cost

Formula costs around $50 per month the first month and $100 after that. You can spend less buying from Sams or Costco, and spend more if you buy non-generic or premium brands.

Breastfeeding moms typically buy breast pumps, bras, pillows, pads, clothes, shawls, covers, etc. Also, that breast milk doesn’t come from the sky. Breastfeeding moms burn 500 calories per day on average, which means they consume more food and also typically take vitamins and may make visits to lactation consultants. All that considered, breastfeeding may be as expensive as formula feeding if you make an honest assessment.

The truth is that every baby has to eat and food is never free.  Reference

13. A combination of formula and breastfeeding may prolong breastfeeding

This study found that babies given supplementary formula alongside breastfeeding in their early days increased the length of time mothers continued to breastfeed.   Reference

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14. Breastfeeding is rarely sustained

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative provided support and encouragement for mothers to breastfeed. Even with this support only 43% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding after three months. Among the mothers who did not receive the support, only 6% were exclusively breastfeeding.    Reference

15. Breastfeeding moms inclined to develop mastitis

Mastisis is an icky breast infection and 20% of the breastfeeding moms in this study developed the condition sometime in the 6 months after delivery. Other studies have shown 10% develop mastitis.  Reference

16. Breastfeeding moms experience more loss of earnings

Having a baby comes with some career compromise. In this study, breastfeeding mothers experienced a greater loss of earnings than formula feeders and those with shorter durations of breastfeeding.  Reference

17. Bottle feeding dads get more baby time and moms get a break

I breastfed two kids and bottle fed two kids. In my family my husband enjoyed the bonding experience during bottle feeding times with the babies. I definitely appreciated the help and the extra sleep. Many other families have experienced the same thing.   Reference

18. Fathers of breastfed babies feel left out

This study showed investigated the father’s role in breastfeeding situations and found that while fathers wanted to be involved and educated in the process, in practice they were not.    Reference

19. Baby formulas are continually improving

Breast milk has amazing nutritional benefits and formula companies continue to introduce elements to baby formula. Many formulas now include DHA and ARA. Others include probiotics and prebiotics. These additions have come about as a result of research into the content of human breast milk.    


1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277953614000549
2. http://lcs.ios.ac.cn/~shil/wiki/index.php/User:Meige906ni
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12055061
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19595371
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17855282
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20133326
7. https://www.timetocleanse.com/natural-isnt-always-best-heres/
8. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/77/3/322
9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16128972
10. https://www.fitpregnancy.com/baby/baby-care/kangaroo-care-9-benefits-skin-skin-contact
11. https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/whenbreastfeedingishard/
12. https://www.dailyworth.com/posts/the-true-cost-of-breastfeeding
13. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/05/105831/early-formula-use-helps-some-mothers-breastfeed-longer
14. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/193490
15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9785526
16. http://asr.sagepub.com/content/77/2/244.abstract
17. http://theweek.com/articles/444673/how-formulafeeding-made-husband-better-father
18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282396/

Becky Hunt

Blessed mother of two boys and two girls, changing diapers and homeschooling for 20 years and counting. I love to research (I'm a CPA). And I really love to help other moms make wise and thoughtful decisions for their families.

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