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Breast vs. Formula for Feeding Your Baby

Many new mothers struggle with the decision to breastfeed or use formula to feed their new baby. Here's some guidance to help you choose what's right for you.


Breast milk is the perfect food for infants, with numerous advantages over baby formula, especially in the first four months or so. Here are a few reasons:

  • It's always available.
  • It's free.
  • It contains active infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies that give increased protection against infections in the first months of baby's life, when these infections can be the most serious.
  • It contains the perfect proportion of nutrients that your baby needs, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, and calcium.
  • It is easily digestible.
  • It may protect against allergies and asthma in the future.
  • It may decrease a baby's risk of obesity in the future.
  • It contains some fatty acids that promote brain development.
  • Breastfeeding can help new mothers lose weight more easily.
  • It delays menstruation so that new mothers can retain iron.
  • It decreases mom’s risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.

Additionally, there probably are other beneficial components of breast milk that  have yet to be discovered and so have not been added to formula mixtures.

Formula Feeding

With all these advantages of breast milk, should you feel guilty if you choose not to breastfeed? No, and here's why:

  • Infant formulas have gotten better and better at matching the ingredients and their proportions to that of human milk (although formula lacks antibodies that fight against infection).
  • While breastfed babies may have relatively fewer infections, the vast majority of infants won't get a serious infection in the first months whether breast- or formula-fed.
  • It provides more flexibility; fathers and siblings can feed the baby, providing new moms with a much-needed break.

A happy, unstressed mother is the best mother. If you feel that bottle feeding with formula best fits your needs, then it's the best for meeting your baby's needs, as well.

Some experts recommend at least giving breastfeeding a try. Once breastfeeding is established, the benefits can occur even if you breastfeed only once or twice a day. If you're having trouble breastfeeding, ask your health care provider to recommend a lactation consultant.


Tips for Formula Feeding Your Baby

  • There's no need to heat the formula for your baby. Drinking it at room temperature is fine. If you chose to warm the bottle, do not heat in a microwave, because it could be scalding without you realizing it.
  • Once a bottle has been used but there is still milk in it, toss it. It should not be re-used.




Tips for Choosing a Formula

  • Don't hesitate to pick a less expensive brand of formula if finances are a factor. Most formulas are pretty much the same. More expensive does not necessarily mean better. Oftentimes, your pediatrician or staff in the office may be aware of special formula promotions and sampling. If cost is still a concern, ask your pediatrician about WIC.
  • Select an iron-fortified formula. There is a lot of evidence that iron deficiency in the first years adversely affects brain development. And side effects from iron (gas, constipation, discomfort), while much discussed, are actually very rare.
  • Pick whichever type of formula -- powder, concentrate, or ready-to-feed -- best suits your needs. There is no nutritional difference between them, although there is a cost difference
  • Choose cow's milk formula over soy to start with, unless there is a family history of milk allergy or lactose intolerance. If that's the case, discuss your concerns with your baby's doctor.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 01, 2012

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