Monday, May 12, 2008

The Great Formula Debate

There used to be a huge debate among givers of parenting advice about when and how to feed infants formula. Fortunately, most of the dust has settled as the quality of research has improved during the past few decades.

To me, the three most important results of research are:

First, a newly lactating mother will produce colostrum for a few days, which is what a newborn most needs. Besides being nutritionally appropriate, it coats the digestive tract (sort of like Pepto Bismol) in a helpful way. Any mother who can feed her newborn colostrum should do so.

Second, breast milk is marginally healthier for infants than formula, most notably in how it boosts the immune system. For the sake of the infant, feeding with mother's milk is better than feeding with formula. However, formula is a healthy alternative is the mother's milk is not available or other issues arise. Moreover, there is no major "coats the digestive tract" benefit to breast milk after the colostrum days, so mixing breast milk and formula is a possible alternative.

Third, the nipples of bottles do not move as a mother's nipples do, nor do they complain when bitten. During an infant's first three weeks of life nursing is a developing skill and habit. If a mother plans to nurse, then to make this early nursing as smooth and pain-free a learning experience as possible any exposure to bottles should be delayed if possible until the baby is three or four weeks old.

We are breast feeding our son, but he has had formula a few times during the past two weeks.

We already had a "shaped like mom" kind of bottle for when he had nursed completely and still wanted an additional ounce of breast milk from our supply of pumped breast milk in the refrigerator.

Why any formula? During a growth spurt our son sometimes is very hungry but has already eaten more than a usual amount for a meal. Since our backup supply of breast milk in the fridge is not yet ever more than a few ounces, we are hesitant to use much of it at one feeding, and this is where formula shines.

So when he nurses completely, drinks that additional ounce of stored breast milk, and still wants more even after a few minutes to realize if he is full, we'll feed him an ounce of formula. If he was more full than he realized and spits some of it up, no problem!

Also, since the proteins in cow's milk are more difficult and thus slower for an infant to digest, a baby fed formula often sleeps longer after a meal, which is nice for my wife (and her milk production) during our son's growth spurt days because then she can get a good nap in also.

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