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Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

Of all the battles in the "mommy wars," none may be more fiercely fought than breast vs. formula.

If you breastfeed your baby, you may catch flack for nursing in public. If you formula feed, you may be scolded that you're not feeding your baby "nature's perfect food" -- breast milk.

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Welcome to mommy guilt. No matter what you decide, other people will surely have an opinion. Only one thing really matters: Which choice is right for you?

Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast milk as the best nutrition for infants. Babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months, according to the AAP. After other foods have been introduced, the AAP encourages mothers to continue to breastfeed until baby is at least a year old, and as long after that as both mother and child are willing.

Breast milk is good for your baby in many ways:

  • It provides natural antibodies that help your baby resist illnesses, such as ear infections.
  • It's usually more easily digested than formula. So breastfed babies are often less constipated and gassy.
  • It may lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in the first year of your baby's life.
  • It may raise your child's intelligence. Studies show breastfed babies have higher levels of cognitive function.
  • Breast milk may even help your child in later years, by reducing the risk of being overweight, and of developing asthma, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, and lymphoma.

Breastfeeding is good for moms, too. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer.

But let's not forget a key reason many new moms want to breastfeed. It's a wonderful bonding experience with your baby.

Formula Feeding

Formula feeding is also a healthy choice for babies. If you use a formula, your baby will get the best possible alternative to breast milk. (You should not attempt to make your own formula or feed an infant cow's milk.)

Many moms choose formula for a variety of reasons:

  • It's convenient. Formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time.
  • It's flexible. You don't have to fit pumping into your work schedule. Instead, you can simply leave formula for your babysitter or day care center.
  • Your partner can help out with nighttime feedings and share that bonding experience with your baby.
  • Scheduling feedings may be easier. Formula isn't digested as quickly as breast milk, so formula-fed babies don't need to eat as often, especially in the first few months.
  • You don't have to worry about what you eat. Moms who breastfeed may have to avoid certain foods that her baby can't tolerate.
  • You can have a glass of wine or a cocktail once in a while. Alcohol is a no-no for women who breastfeed because they pass on tiny amounts of it to their babies. 

Whichever way you choose to feed your baby -- breast milk, formula, or a combination of both -- the most important thing is that your baby is well fed, well cared for, and loved. So ditch the mommy guilt!

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD, FACOG on May 24, 2012

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