By Mayo Clinic staff
Jay Hoecker, M.D.
Breast-feeding is the optimal way to feed a newborn. Depending on the circumstances, however, various factors may lead you to consider formula-feeding. Here, Jay Hoecker, M.D., an emeritus pediatrics specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers important questions about breast-feeding and formula-feeding.
How long are mothers encouraged to breast-feed?
Breast-feeding until your baby is age 1 is recommended. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby and boosts your baby’s immune system. Breast-feeding is also the most convenient and least expensive way to feed your baby. Breast-feeding after age 1 continues to support your baby’s growth and development.
Is any additional nutrition necessary?
If you’re exclusively or partially feeding your infant breast milk, consult your baby’s doctor about vitamin D supplements for your baby. Breast milk may not provide enough vitamin D, which is essential to help your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.
What factors promote successful breast-feeding?
Taking care of yourself can go a long way toward promoting successful breast-feeding. Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. To boost your confidence, learn as much as you can about breast-feeding. Keep the environment calm and relaxed. Look to your partner and other loved ones for support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Friends who’ve successfully breast-fed may be a good source of information. Lactation consultants are available at many hospitals and clinics. Your baby’s doctor can help, too
Is it risky not to breast-feed?
Breast milk is the best food for babies. If breast-feeding isn’t working for you, however, your baby may not receive adequate hydration or nutrition. In this case, your baby’s doctor may suggest supplementing with formula. The need for adequate nutrition and dehydration outweighs all other considerations.
Does infant formula pose any risks to a baby?
Commercial infant formulas don’t contain the immunity-boosting elements of breast milk. For most babies, breast milk is also easier to digest than formula. When prepared as directed, however, infant formula supports healthy babies who have typical dietary needs.
Can mothers combine breast-feeding and formula-feeding?
Many mothers successfully combine breast-feeding and formula-feeding — especially after breast-feeding has been well established.
How can mothers who choose not to breast-feed handle feelings of guilt?
Instead of feeling guilty about your decision, focus on nurturing your baby. You might also share your feelings with your doctor, your baby’s doctor or others in your support circle. Remember, parenting is an adventure that requires choices and compromises. What counts is doing the best you can as you face this new challenge.