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Newborn and Infant Care

Breast milk and formula

12/11/1998

Question:

I cannot breast feed, will my baby still have the same chance to be healthy compared to breast fed babies?, his formula is recommended by pediatrician.

Answer:

Congratulations on your expected baby. It is impossible to predict whether your particular baby will be as healthy as he would have been if he could have your milk. Research has shown over and over that breastfed infants suffer fewer illnesses, such as diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory infections, etc., and they are less likely to have allergic-type symptoms than formula-fed infants.

Human milk contains several different anti-infective properties that decrease the likelihood of illnesses caused by many bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. When breastfed infants do become ill, most illnesses tend to be milder. (Infant formulas do not contain such anti-infective properties.) Because human milk was designed by nature for human infants, it is extremely unlikely to trigger allergic symptoms.

Research has shown that breast is best, bottle-feeding pumped breastmilk is second best, bottle-feeding human milk from an accredited milk bank is third, and infant formulas are the fourth diet of choice for newborns and infants less than a year. (Banked human milk is in short supply.)

You are wise to use an infant formula if breastfeeding or providing your baby with your pumped breastmilk is absolutely not possible. Most pediatricians recommend that babies receive formula, rather than cow's milk, for at least a year--even after they begin to take solid foods well. You will also want to hold your baby for all feedings in a slight semi-sitting position, as propping bottles can be dangerous and a flat position is associated with an increased risk of ear infections. (A nurse or pediatrician should be able to show you how to position your baby.)

Holding a baby during feedings, so that your faces are about 8-12 inches apart, also helps a baby learn to interact and helps both of you get to know and bond with each other. The stimulation of holding helps with brain development too. Using a sling or baby carrier around the house or when out with baby is another good way to give baby's brain this kind of stimulation. Holding and other skin contact, such as infant massage, has been found to have physical and emotional health benefits for a baby. There are classes and illustrated books available that show parents massage techniques that are appropriate for babies.

I am sorry you are unable to breastfeed. It must be difficult if the decision was not yours to make. You don't mention the reason, but there are only a handful of health conditions or their treatments that mean a woman absolutely cannot/should not breastfeed. There are even fewer baby-related reasons that interfere with breastfeeding.

If you need more information or if you would like me to explain any of the above information in more detail, don't hesitate to write again. All the best to you and your new baby.

For more information:

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Response by:

Karen Kerkhoff Gromada, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Adjunct Clinical Instructor
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati