Formula-Fed Babies Are Just As Smart As Breastfed Ones, New Study Suggests


It’s time we stop criticizing new moms who choose to bottle-feed their babies. The debate over breastfeeding vs formula-feeding has sparked controversies. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it. Quite often, mothers who decide to stop breastfeeding face flak and undergo mom-shaming. This is often a result of the pressure imposed by medical professionals on new mothers to breastfeed. Adding to that are the existing societal expectations of being a nurturing and sacrificial mother who breastfeeds her child despite personal inconveniences. We’ve all heard the phrase “breast is best” and guess what, it’s time to stop!

It’s true that mother’s milk is the best source of nutrition for babies. But what we seem to forget is that at times breastfeeding can prove to be a challenge for the new mother. A new mom often finds herself struggling to make the right choice: whether to cater to her personal needs or the baby’s health and well-being. In circumstances where a mother is unable to produce enough breast milk, for a variety of reasons, we have to rely on formula feeding to make sure the baby doesn’t go hungry (1). So, all the mothers out there who feel that they are being judged by others for not breastfeeding, know that there is no need for any shame in this. A mother’s health is as important as the child’s. Let’s have a discussion on how and why formula feeding totally works.

What Is The Cost Of Breastfeeding For New Moms?

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Breast milk not only satiates your baby’s hunger pangs but also boosts their immunity helping them cope with infections and diseases (2). While breastfeeding offers a host of benefits for the child, at times it comes at a cost for new moms. New mothers who are facing certain health problems might not be able to produce sufficient levels of milk. This is especially the case when she has to nurse twins or triplets. Also, the suckling of milk can be painful to the mother, accompanied by soreness and dryness of the nipples. All this combined can have quite a detrimental effect on the health of a recovering mother.

So to pass any sort of snap judgment on a mother who is unable to breastfeed is quite wrong and uncalled for. Struggling new mothers who are already suffering health issues should be spared from additional criticisms and judgments regarding breastfeeding. The mental state during pregnancy and after childbirth is also an important factor that comes into play for a mother and her baby. A happy and joyous mother would be better able to nurse and care for her little one.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes mothers who breastfeed in public are frowned upon. Mothers might be hard-pressed to find discreet locations to feed their babies which might be inconvenient for them. While breastfeeding promoters simply ask moms to ignore random glances as they choose to breastfeed in public, it causes distress when they are rebuked or shamed for nonconformity to acceptable public conduct. The inability to meet social expectations can often cause serious mental health problems for new mothers who are already prone to postpartum depression (3).

Results Of The New Study

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A long-term study was published in 2015 in which over a course of 16 years, 11,582 kids were subjected to a total of nine IQ tests. Researchers successfully concluded that kids who were breastfed did not necessarily achieve a higher score in IQ tests in comparison to those who were given formula milk (4).

Another 2018 study suggests that while breastfed babies (for at least 3 or more months) did show a higher IQ of 6.5 as compared to those that were not, it did not have a significant effect on their neurocognitive development in the long run. At 16, when these kids were randomly evaluated on seven verbal and non-verbal tests, there was no significant change in their IQ levels (5). So, mothers who struggle to breastfeed or choose to refrain from it have no reason to be worried about their children being on the lower end of the smartness list..

Is It Bad For A Baby To Be Formula-Fed?

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Formula milk is manufactured following strict guidelines that support the nutritional requirements of a baby. You might be advised to keep a check on how much to feed your baby so that the artificial supplement does not cause excessive and unhealthy weight gain (6). But there is no critical evidence to support the fact that formula milk restricts or hampers your child’s brain development. There is no correlation between a smart kid and the nursing technique followed during infancy (7).

When Can You Shift To Formula-feeding?

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While it is true that even the most advanced formula milk cannot replace or come close to the health benefits that breast milk offers, a shift to bottle feeding does not majorly impact your baby’s development. It is the genetic and environmental factors that contribute significantly to the overall intelligence quotient of children (8). While breastfeeding has plenty of benefits to its credit, bottle-feeding can be a savior under the following circumstances:

  • If you have trouble producing sufficient breast milk.
  • If your baby has difficulty latching on to the nipple or has trouble ingesting breast milk.
  • If your breast milk is contaminated by toxins from medications, alcohol/drugs.
  • Your baby has additional nutritional requirements that formula milk can fulfill.
  • You are a working mother and breastfeeding your child frequently is not an option for you.

The World Health Organization recommends that babies should be breastfed exclusively at least for the first six months after birth (9). However, real life can throw many challenges that might not let mothers breastfeed their little ones. Using formulas in such cases is the next best option. As a society, we must realize that parenting is more than just breastfeeding. It is truly a matter of choice whether parents decide to breastfeed or bottle-feed their baby. While mothers are expected to make compromises as they deal with the challenges of parenthood, the fact that a happy mom raises a happy kid is undeniable. What truly matters is the joy of the mother and the baby. As long as the mom and baby are content, either of these methods of nursing can bring forth a rewarding relationship. After all, what deepens the bond between a mother and her baby is subjective. How has your experience with formula feeding been? Share them with us in the comments section below!


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Why We Shouldn’t Demonize Formula Feeding
  2. Breastfeeding And Its Gamut Of Benefits
  3. Postpartum Depression
  4. Breastfeeding and IQ Growth from Toddlerhood through Adolescence
  5. Breastfeeding during infancy and neurocognitive function in adolescence: 16-year follow-up of the PROBIT cluster-randomized trial
  6. Infant Feeding and Weight Gain: Separating Breast Milk From Breastfeeding and Formula From Food
  7. Breastfeeding, Cognitive and Noncognitive Development in Early Childhood: A Population Study
  8. Effect Of Environmental Factors On Intelligence Quotient Of Children
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Tikendrajit Pegu

Tikendrajit Pegu is a content contributor at MomJunction. An engineering graduate, he also holds a postgraduate degree in management from EDHEC Business School. He gravitates towards writing articles related to sports and adventure, and also has a good understanding of topics related to finance and economics.  Tikendrajit has over five years of corporate experience working on digital projects. Currently, he... more