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Babies can be breastfed or have formula. Learn about both feeding options.
Prepare for labor and delivery with our online birth class. See all 51 videos in this series.
Linda Murray: At some point during your labor and delivery, your caregivers will ask you whether you’re going to breastfeed. It’s worth thinking about ahead of time because your baby will most likely show he’s ready for breastfeeding soon after he’s born. Several major organizations recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months or longer, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
If you don’t want to breastfeed or it turns out you can’t breastfeed exclusively, your baby will drink formula. There are pros and cons to every approach, and people around you may offer strong opinions on which to choose. You need to make the decision that’s right for you and your family.
Let’s talk about what to keep in mind. There are several good reasons to choose breastfeeding. Medical experts strongly recommend it because not only does breastmilk contain the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs, it can help protect him from disease. Studies suggest that babies raised on breastmilk are less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal trouble, respiratory problems, ear infections, allergies, obesity, and several other conditions. Breastfeeding is good for you too. It can help you lose weight, lower your stress, reduce postpartum bleeding and decrease your risk of some types of cancer and osteoporosis.
Finally, breastfeeding is much cheaper than formula feeding. You may need to buy a breast pump and some bottles, but your baby’s meals are free. Almost three-quarters of U.S. moms say they plan to breastfeed their babies. But things don’t always go as smoothly as planned. Even though breastfeeding seems like it should be the most natural thing in the world, some women and babies have trouble getting the hang of it. If this happens, ask for help. Nurses, doctors, midwives, and doulas can all provide basic support. There are even breastfeeding specialists called lactation consultants who can help if you’re having a more challenging problem.
If the act of breastfeeding is causing trouble, but you can use a breast pump to extract milk, you can always give your baby your breast milk in a bottle. Even if you don’t plan to breastfeed, most experts agree that it’s worth trying at least right after birth. Most babies show an interest in nursing within the first hour. You won’t yet be producing full-fledged breastmilk, but you will be producing an impressive substance called colostrum. Colostrum is a clear or golden fluid packed with anti-disease properties that help protect your baby and strengthen his immune system.
Finally, remember that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you need to give your baby breastmilk at some feedings and formula at others, that’s okay. If you decide not to breastfeed, can’t breastfeed, or can only do it part time, you’ll feed your baby formula. Infant formula is specially prepared to meet a baby’s needs, but different brands offer different levels of certain nutrients. You can ask your baby’s pediatrician for help choosing one.
There are many reasons why parents choose baby formula. These include having a baby with a poor sucking reflex, which is common in premature babies and can make nursing difficult or impossible; feeling excessive pain during breastfeeding; the need to return to work without being able to keep up a pumping routine; seeing signs that your baby isn’t getting enough milk; the need to be away from your baby for a long time like if you get deployed overseas; a health problem that requires medication that shouldn’t be passed through your breast milk; and a desire to involve other loved ones in the feeding process.