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Should I breastfeed my new baby or use formula?

Breastfeeding

As any new mother knows, one of the most important things to consider in regards to her baby’s nutritional needs is whether to breastfeed or use formula. There are many factors to consider in both cases and, ultimately, it comes down to what is best for an individual mother and her child. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) officially recommends “mothers are strongly encouraged to breastfeed their infants unless there is a medical reason not to.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends breast milk as the best nutrition for infants, saying that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months. However, sometimes there are valid reasons for a new mother to choose not to breastfeed, including medical reasons like illnesses, use of medications, and sometimes an inability to produce enough breast milk. If there are medical concerns, be sure, and consult a physician.

About Breastfeeding

Beyond the obvious nutritional advantages, breastfeeding can provide a wonderful bonding experience between a mother and her child and the skin-to-skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between mother and infant.

Breastfeeding can also be helpful in many other ways:

  • Breast milk can provide an immunity boost, providing natural antibodies that help your baby resist illnesses, such as ear and respiratory infections.
  • Breast milk is typically more easily digested than formula, resulting in less constipation and gas for the baby.
  • Breast milk may lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in the first year of a baby's life.
  • Breast milk may raise a child's intelligence. Studies have shown breastfed babies have higher levels of cognitive function.
  • Breast milk may also help a child later in life by reducing the risk of being overweight,  developing asthma, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, and lymphoma.   

Breastfeeding can also help with mom’s health. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, breast, and ovarian cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. Breast milk can also be pumped and bottled which allows a new mother to feed a child in public as well as allowing other family members to help with feeding.

On the subject of family feeding, if a new baby has older siblings in the house, they may become very curious about what mother and the new baby are doing. A new mother should explain the breastfeeding process in simple language—that you are feeding the baby and that it is a natural process between a mother and child. Often, older children may want to watch the nursing process or climb on the mother’s lap. It’s a very natural reaction and a new mother should explain that what she is doing is a healthy way to feed the new baby.

About Formula Feeding

Choosing to feed a new baby with formula is also a healthy choice for babies. Commercially prepared infant formulas provide a nutritious alternative to breast milk—and even contain some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements. Manufactured under sterile conditions, commercial formulas provide an alternative to mother's milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins that aren't possible to create at home. So if you don't breastfeed your baby, it's important to use only commercially prepared formula and never attempt to make their own formula or feed an infant cow’s milk.

There are many advantages to formula feeding, including:

  • Formula feeding is convenient. A baby can be fed formulas by anyone at any time.
  • Formula feeding allows flexibility. A new mother does not have to worry about fitting breast pumping into her work schedule. Instead, the mother can leave formula for a babysitter or at a daycare center.
  • A spouse, partner, or another caregiver can help out with nighttime feedings and share that special bonding experience with a newborn.
  • Scheduled feedings become easier to plan. Because formula isn’t digested as quickly as breast milk, a formula-fed baby does not need to eat as often—especially during the first few months.
  • Moms can have less restrictive diets. Moms who breastfeed may have to avoid certain foods passed on through breast milk that a baby can’t tolerate.

The bottom line is that breast milk and formulas both provide all the nutrients that a new baby needs—and sometimes a new mother will choose to do a combination of both. The most important thing to remember is to give a newborn all the nutrients and nurturing they need so they can get a healthy start in life.

For more information on breastfeeding, be sure and consult your physician or visit www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding.

Resources

Tips on choosing the best formula

Learn ways to increase breast milk production


By ABC Quality Team on November 11, 2020