I want to formula-feed my baby, but everybody says it's better to breastfeed. Is this true?
Both formula feeding and breastfeeding are valid, healthy choices for your baby. The decision to do one or the other – or a combination of both – is purely personal and depends on what's right for your family and circumstances.
Breast milk gives your baby the best possible nutrition, protects against infection, and even adjusts to meet your infant's nutritional needs (something formula can't do). You benefit too: Breastfeeding helps you bond with your baby, and research suggests it may even lower your risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
If possible, you may want to try nursing, at least for the first month, so your natural immunities can be passed to your child.
Or, consider a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding. If you're nursing, it's okay to give your baby formula once a day as long as your breast milk supply is well established, which usually happens within a month of giving birth. Some women supplement this way because formula feeding gives them a break (especially in the middle of the night) and lets their partner help feed the baby.
That said, exclusive formula feeding – either right from the start or after a period of nursing – is also a healthy way to feed your baby. Formula even has some vitamins and other nutrients that breastfed babies have to get from supplements, like vitamin D.
If you're concerned about your choice, try to separate the medical facts from the political and cultural rhetoric. Your child's doctor will work with you to make sure your baby is getting all the nutrients she needs and chart her growth to make sure she's growing well. In the end, the most important thing you can do for your baby is love and nurture her – and that includes feeding her whichever way you choose.
There are plenty of reasons women choose to formula-feed. Among them are having a baby with a poor sucking reflex (common in premature babies), prolonged mother-infant separation, painful nursing, the fear that your baby isn't getting enough milk, the need to return to work, a health problem that requires medication that's not safe for a nursing infant, and a desire to let other family members help feed the baby.
Which type of formula should I use?
Most formulas are made from cow's milk or soybeans. There are also specialized formulas for babies who are allergic to milk or soy proteins, and for babies who are premature or have a low birth weight. Any formula you choose should be iron-fortified to prevent anemia. To find out more about choosing the right formula for your baby, see our article and talk to your baby's doctor.
Why can't I just feed my baby cow's milk?
Never feed your infant cow's milk. It's just not recommended until after your baby's first birthday because it doesn't have the proper nutrients in the right proportions for a growing infant. It can also cause digestive trouble.
Find out more about when to transition your child to regular cow's milk and how to make the switch.
What are follow-up formulas, and should I switch to one?
Follow-up formulas are specifically designed for babies 4 to 12 months old who are already eating some solids. Follow-up formulas contain more calcium, iron, protein, and calories than infant formulas.
Most babies don't need follow-up formula. Doctors encourage parents to introduce solid food (baby cereal, pureed meats, fruits, and vegetables) to their babies at 4 to 6 months, rather than fill them up with formula.
Still, it depends on the individual child. Babies with food allergies, those who are very sensitive to different foods, and those with a history of poor growth may benefit from follow-up formula. Talk to your doctor about what's best for your baby.
I'd like to supplement breast milk with formula. How should I do it?
Lactation consultants suggest waiting to introduce a bottle until the baby is 4 weeks old. By then, breastfeeding is usually well established, but your baby's not yet likely to resist a new kind of nipple. (Nursing and taking a bottle require different types of sucking.)
It's best to have someone else give the first bottle because your baby can smell you and your milk and may refuse to take a bottle if you're nearby.
If you plan to use formula for occasional feedings, don't offer more than one bottle every 24 hours. Otherwise, your milk production could slow down. If you're returning to work soon and plan to have your caregiver give your baby formula while you're away and nurse when you're home, ease into it by replacing one feeding with a bottle every three to four days.
Get more tips on supplementing with formula.