What’s the Best Milk or Formula for Newborn Babies?

What formula or milk is best for your newborn? All of your options – explained.

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What formula or milk is best for your newborn?

That’s one of the questions we’ll be answering. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to feeding your baby. You want to ensure they’re receiving all the vitamins and nutrients they need, so they’re as healthy as possible. And while it’s true that breast milk is the best and most recommended way to feed your child, it’s not always possible throughout the full recommended time frame.

Formula can open up your options and ensure your newborn stays well-fed and healthy, but what’s the best choice for your baby and situation? And if you use formula as an alternative feeding option, what are the tradeoffs you should be aware of when not using breast milk? In this video, we’ll look at the pros and cons of breastfeeding versus formula-fed, the different kinds of formula available, and which option is best for your newborn.

What the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends

Pediatricians everywhere routinely recommend breastfeeding for your newborn. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that women should exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life and into the first year as other complementary foods are introduced.

However, it’s not always possible due to health reasons for mom or baby. In some cases, supplemental nutrition can actually be more beneficial to your newborn. In those cases, formula is available and a healthy alternative to breast milk for your child. While it’s not as complex, it does ensure your child gets the nutrition they need in place of or along with breastfeeding.

While it’s a great alternative, there’s a reason the AAP highly recommends exclusive breastfeeding through the first six months. As with most secondary options, there are tradeoffs to be aware of when solely using formulas.

The benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk is complex and can change as your baby’s needs do. When moms breastfeed their babies, they pass important antibodies to them that can help prevent illnesses or infections like ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and meningitis. Breast milk has also been proven to reduce the risk of developing or experiencing allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Breast milk also contains many of the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs to stay healthy with the exception of vitamin D, which the AAP recommends receiving supplements begins during the first two months and is given until your baby is getting enough vitamin D fortified sources through formula or milk.

Outside of short and long-term health benefits for your baby, it also benefits the mom. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can help lower the risk for breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and may even reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer.

As you can see, it makes sense the AAP recommends breastfeeding through at least the first six months. There are a lot of benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mom.

The benefits of formula feeding

But what about formulas?

Formula is a nutritious alternative to breast milk. It still provides a lot of the nutrients your baby needs and can even be a source of vitamins that most babies need supplements for.

While it doesn’t contain the same antibodies that can prove beneficial for babies, it is a convenient and more flexible alternative feeding option. And, in the case of medical or personal reasons for not breastfeeding or for use as a supplemental feeding option, formula is a great solution.

The different types of formula

Cow’s milk-based formula accounts for 80% of the formula sold. While cow’s milk is the basis for these formulas, it’s been dramatically altered to make it safer and more digestible for your baby. More milk sugar, also known as lactose, is added to make it similar to the concentration of breast milk, and the butterfat is removed and replaced with vegetable oils and other fats that are more easily digestible for babies and contribute to healthy infant growth.

Cow’s milk-based formulas are also fortified with iron, which has reduced iron-deficiency anemia in infants over the last few decades. Some infants don’t have enough natural reserves of iron that are important for growth and development, which is why the AAP recommends iron-fortified formula be used for all infants who aren’t breastfed or are only partially breastfed from birth to one year of age. Some milk-based formulas also have probiotics or prebiotics, which promote a healthy intestinal lining.

There’s also extensive hydrolyzed formula, which essentially means predigested because the protein content is already broken down into smaller proteins that are more easily digested. This type of formula is typically more expensive but it’s easily tolerated by babies who have an allergy to cow’s milk protein.

Another kind of formula available is soy formula, which is sometimes recommended for babies who aren’t able to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate found in cow’s milk-based formula, although you can find some lactose-free cow’s milk formula.

A lot of infants have short periods of time when they can’t tolerate lactose, especially after bouts of diarrhea, but this is usually a temporary problem and resolves quickly without being a cause for a change in your baby’s diet.

It’s actually rare for babies to have significant issues digesting and absorbing lactose. In fact, the AAP believes there are very few circumstances that warrant the use of soy formula in place of cow’s milk-based formula, with the exception of infants with a rare disorder called galactosemia, which is an allergy to one of the two sugars found in lactose, or galactose.

So, you should always talk to your pediatrician before making any changes to soy-based formulas, as any issues could likely be caused by something other than a lactose allergen.

If a true milk allergy is the cause of colic, failure to thrive, or even bloody diarrhea, soy formulas may be a good alternative. However, about half of infants with a milk allergy have a sensitivity to soy protein and may need a specialized formula or breast milk.

In some cases, a specialized formula may be required for infants with disorders or diseases, including for some premature babies.

What’s best for your newborn

So, if you’re looking for alternatives to breastfeeding or are supplementing with formula, the best option for most newborns is a cow’s milk-based formula. But in most cases, breast milk is the preferred and healthiest choice for your baby.

Of course, you should always check with your pediatrician before making significant changes to your baby’s diet so you can ensure they’re getting everything they need to continue growing happily and healthily.

Martin, C. R., Ling, P. R., & Blackburn, G. L. (2016). Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula. Nutrients, 8(5), 279. [https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8050279](https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8050279)

Ip, S., Chung, M., Raman, G., Chew, P., Magula, N., DeVine, D., Trikalinos, T., & Lau, J. (2007). Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evidence report/technology assessment, (153), 1–186.

Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth. (2018). Nemours KidsHealth. [https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/breast-bottle-feeding.html](https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/breast-bottle-feeding.html)

Section on Breastfeeding (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827–e841. [https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3552](https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3552)

Choosing an Infant Formula. (2020). HealthyChildren.Org. [https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/formula-feeding/Pages/Choosing-an-Infant-Formula.aspx](https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/formula-feeding/Pages/Choosing-an-Infant-Formula.aspx)

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