December 21, 2021
One of the most important decisions an expecting person must make is whether to feed their newborn baby breast milk or formula. Both approaches have pros and cons worth considering and there are many factors that can impact this decision. For these reasons, it’s important to support new parents in whatever choice they ultimately make.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents feed their infants breast milk exclusively for six months after birth, and then keep it in their diet for at least a year as new foods are introduced.
Breastfeeding can offer both a parent and child significant physical and mental health benefits. The major benefit of breastfeeding — beyond naturally providing all of the nutrients needed for an infant to grow into a healthy toddler — is passing on the antibodies contained in breast milk that help protect babies from common childhood illnesses as well as health complications later in life. Through breast milk, babies are also exposed to a variety of food flavors that may help them more easily accept solid foods in the future.
For the parent, breastfeeding can make it easier to lose weight after pregnancy and may also reduce their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Breastfeeding also produces stress-reducing hormones that can help sooth a nursing parent, and helps form an emotional bond with the baby through skin-to-skin contact.
Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding, it's not always an option for new parents. Frequent feedings at all hours and the need to pump during working hours can make it almost impossible for many to meet their babies’ needs with only breast milk.
Some health conditions can result in a low supply of breast milk and can even make breastfeeding unsafe. Others may find it uncomfortable, and even painful. Formula feeding can provide the flexibility needed to navigate many of these challenges while still ensuring that the child receives the nutrition required for healthy development.
Ultimately, the choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding comes down to personal preference and many factors often outside a person’s control. What’s most important is that a choice is made in consultation with a healthcare provider in a way that accommodates both the needs of the parent and child.