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Whether to breast or formula feed your baby is a big decision that requires serious consideration. It's best to decide even before your baby is born since starting with formula and then switching to breastfeeding can be difficult, or even impossible if you wait too long. On the other hand, if you start out breastfeeding and then decide that you don't want to continue, you can switch to formula at any time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates breastfeeding babies until they are at least one year old, longer if possible. The reason: breast milk is ideal for babies because it has just the right amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Studies indicate that breastfed infants have fewer gastrointestinal problems and upper respiratory infections because the mother's antibodies in breast milk help protect them. Nursing your baby may also protect her against ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, SIDS, allergies, colitis and obesity. Plus, breastfeeding is convenient, the milk is always served at the right temperature, and it's economical. Breastfeeding is also a wonderful way to bond with your baby.
One potential drawback to breastfeeding has just been uncovered: A new study from St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto in Ontario found that infants can be exposed to peanut proteins through their mother's milk--which increases the baby's risk of developing a peanut allergy. Not all children exposed to peanuts will develop an allergy, but researchers advise women, especially those with a family history of peanut allergies, to avoid eating peanuts while breastfeeding.
Another point to consider: Breastfeeding can put increased demand on a mother's time because nursing requires longer and more frequent feedings than bottle-feeding does. Pumping and storing breast milk provides a way for moms to get a little more flexibility in their schedule but takes dedication.
If you can't or prefer not to breastfeed, infant formula provides perfectly adequate nutrition for newborns. And by cuddling and talking to your baby while feeding him, you can easily duplicate the feeling of closeness that breastfeeding provides. Plus, dad and siblings can also bond with the baby through bottle feedings.
Some parents feel more comfortable with bottle-feeding because they can monitor precisely how much food their baby is taking in. While formula does provide the nutrients a child needs, it doesn't offer the antibodies that only breast milk contains. There are three preparations of infant formula: ready-to-use, which comes prepared in a sterile bottle, and is the most expensive; ready-to-pour which comes in a can and can be poured into your own bottles; and powdered, the least expensive, which needs to be mixed with boiled water. Ask your pediatrician to recommend the brand that's right for your baby.
In addition to the preparations above, there are three types of formula.
Cow's milk-based formula. About 80 percent of the formula sold is based on cow's milk that has been specially treated by heat and other methods to make the protein easy to digest. This type of formula is also offered with added iron.
Soy formula. Formula based on soy protein is often recommended for babies unable to digest lactose, the main carbohydrate in cow's milk. Soy is also given to babies who are allergic to milk.
Specialized formula. There are formulas made especially for premature babies and for infants with certain disorders or diseases. Parents of special needs children should ask their pediatrician to recommend the right type.