If you don’t breast-feed, need to supplement breast-feeding, or decide to wean your baby before age 1, you’ll need to give him formula. Usually derived from cow’s milk, formula provides a wide range of nutrients but not all the crucial components of breast milk.A healthy newborn is capable of breast-feeding within the first hour after birth. Experts say breast-feeding is the best thing for your baby and may also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As an added bonus, breast-feeding also has benefits for mom—and it’s much more economical than formula. That said, there are plenty of reasons parents opt for formula, including their work situation. Until your child is about 6 months old, breast milk or formula will take care of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and those middle-of-the-night wake-up calls. That’s all your baby needs to grow healthy and strong. Then you can begin adding so-called solid food to the mix—continuing to breast-feed and/or supplement it with formula—until your baby’s first birthday or so, when cow’s milk becomes an option.
Steve Abrams, M.D., a neonatologist at the Baylor College of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Nutrition Committee, says formula-fed infants, on average, will drink 25 to 30 ounces a day for most of their first year. He notes that in the beginning, infants might take only half an ounce to an ounce per feeding. The amount a baby drinks will usually decrease once he starts eating solid foods.The best advice is to try breast-feeding if you can. “Unquestionably, breast milk is far superior to any formula designed for babies, and even more critical for the health of the premature baby,” says Jane Morton, M.D., F.A.A.P., on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The challenge lies in making breast-feeding, or providing a mother’s own milk for her baby, a comfortable, enjoyable, and manageable part of the new mother’s life.”The AAP and the World Health Organization recommend breast-feeding, and doing it exclusively for the first six months. In cases where breast-feeding isn’t working, moms should pump their breast milk and give it to their child in a bottle. The AAP advises that, “Babies should continue to breast-feed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.” (The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that mothers continue to partially breast-feed for up to two years or more.)
Keep in mind that many parents opt for a combination of breast-feeding and formula, adding in bottles once their baby has established a nursing routine.If you decide to supplement breast-feeding with formula, consult your pediatrician about how best to proceed. So your milk supply won’t run out, you’ll probably be advised to breast-feed at regular times each day, such as first thing in the morning and again at bedtime.Benefits of breast-feeding. Nursing is good for babies. Even the infant-formula companies will tell you that, as Similac does on its website: “Breast-feeding is the first and best way you can promote your newborn’s health and development.”Breast milk contains a superior mix of carbohydrates, amino acids, fats (including omega-3 fatty acids), hormones, growth factors, antibodies that optimize the development of the immune system, factors that decrease inflammation, components typically known as probiotics and prebiotics, which contribute to a healthy digestive tract, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that work to give your baby the best possible start. When you’re breast-feeding you generally also don’t have to worry about sterilizing bottles or measuring and mixing formula.
Commercial formula can simulate but not equal breast milk. Breast-feeding may also reduce the risk of a range of infectious diseases, including bacterial meningitis and diarrhea, as well as respiratory, urinary-tract, and ear infections. Gerber, which makes several types of formula, notes that breast milk is “… your baby’s ideal source of nutrition and protection against allergies.”It also might enhance your baby’s brainpower and visual acuity. In addition, the AAP has said that babies who are breast-fed rather than formula-fed may have less risk of asthma, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer through adulthood. They’re also less likely to be obese as they grow up.Breast-feeding protects moms, too. It lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body. At the end of breast-feeding, the body gets rid of any cells in the breast that may have DNA damage, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Breast-feeding moms also may be better protected against ovarian cancer and bone-weakening osteoporosis. The World Health Organization says breast-feeding “reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.” Financially, breast milk is a bargain. The cost of formula, on the other hand, can add up.