What to Know About Breast Milk and Formula   

What to Know About Breast Milk and Formula

Mother testing the temperature of her baby's breast milk or formula on her wrist

February 17, 2023

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Linda Carroll, MPH, RN, IBCLC

New parents have so many decisions to make regarding their new bundle of joy, one of which is whether to breastfeed or use formula. With more than 80% of new parents initiating breastfeeding, it’s important to learn as much as possible while making this important decision.

There are numerous factors that need to be considered when making the choice. As lactation consultant Linda Carroll, MPH, RN, IBCLC, with Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health says: “Everyone is entitled to make their own decision, and families need to be supported in that decision by everyone they encounter.”

Here are some tips to help.

What to Know About Breastfeeding

Both the World Health Organization and The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusively breastfeeding infants for six months. After this time, children should begin consuming other foods while continuing to breastfeed for 2 years and beyond. 

Studies have shown breastfeeding benefits for both mother and child: 

  • Children who are breastfed receive antibodies that protect them against many childhood illnesses.
  • Children who are breastfed are less likely to be obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. 
  • Parents who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer as well as obesity.

However, there are challenges with breastfeeding. “For some parents, it’s very hard not knowing how much the baby is getting per feeding,” Linda says. 

Breastfeeding is a learning process but becomes an easy and convenient way to feed once any initial issues are solved. Discomfort is not an expected part of breastfeeding, but a signal that help should be obtained to get to the goal of comfortable breastfeeding.  

What to Know About Formula

While science can’t duplicate breastmilk exactly, it does contain the base level of nutrition babies need. Since formula is required to meet specific nutrient standards set by the FDA, it’s a suitable alternative to breast milk. Formula is recommended for infants up to one year of age if breast milk is not available or needs to be supplemented. 

“The mindset of ‘We don’t have to worry about milk production or a lot of these variables that inherently come with breastfeeding’ makes formula an appealing option for some parents,” Linda says.

But formula comes with its own set of challenges, such as finding the one that works for your baby. Formula isn’t quite as easily digestible as breastmilk and may contain allergens, so there may be some trial and error to see what works best. Also, formula is more expensive and, as we’ve seen over the last year, can at times be difficult to find.

An Individual Choice

There are options and resources available to help figure out what works best for you and your baby.

People will always have opinions, but as Linda says, “There is much more to being a parent than what decision you make about feeding the baby. There are so many other aspects to building a relationship with your child. Parents need to embrace their own style of taking care of the baby, which might include formula feeding.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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