Breastmilk or Formula: Which is Best for My Baby?

There are a lot of unknowns about being a new parent, and questions about feeding a baby are usually one of the biggest concerns. The current infant formula shortage has added to the confusion. FEED RD and pediatric expert, Meg Davis answers questions about the formula shortage and helps sort the myths from the facts about feeding your baby.

Infant Feeding Q&A

Are there major health outcome differences between breastfeeding and formula-feeding baby? 

There are many benefits to breastfeeding for a mother’s and child’s health. Breastfeeding your baby can help strengthen the immune system, decreasing rates of infection including respiratory, gastric, and ear infections. Breastfed babies also have decreased risk of developing allergies and chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, breastfeeding can reduce a mother’s risk of developing breast cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

However, it is important to note that breastfeeding is no simple task for a new mom and often is not an option for many. Whether your child is exclusively breastfed, supplemented with formula, or exclusively formula-fed, what is most important is that your child safely gets the daily required nutrition. Remember, fed is best! Consider consulting with your dietitian or pediatrician to determine the feeding plan that is best for you and your child.

How much and how often does baby need to eat?

Feeding frequency and volumes will fluctuate with your baby’s age and development.  As your baby undergoes growth spurts, higher volumes or more frequent feedings likely will be required.  Generally, infants will eat according to the patterns listed below, in order to maintain adequate growth, nutrient intake, and hydration:

  •       0-4 months: ~2-6oz, 8-12 times daily
  •       4-6 months: ~4-6oz, 4-6 times daily
  •       6-8 months: ~6-8oz, 3-5 times daily
  •       8-10 months: ~7-8oz, 3-4 times daily
  •       10-12 months: ~7-8oz, ~3 times daily

Keep in mind, breastfed babies are often fed more frequently than bottle-fed babies. They often “cluster” feed, especially in the first few months of age.  Monitor for your child’s hunger and fullness cues to gauge how much and how often they should be fed.  Some hunger cues may include puckering, smacking, or licking lips, bringing hands to mouth, or turning head towards breast or bottle.  Signs that your child is full may include turning away from the bottle or breast or disinterest in feeding. Please note that these feeding patterns will likely vary from child to child.

Are some brands of formula better than others?

Infant formula in the United States is typically manufactured according to FDA regulations to ensure the formula meets minimum nutrition requirements and safe production practices.  Most infant formula is made to best mimic the composition of breastmilk.  Generally, you should choose the formula that is best for your child based on needs and symptoms as opposed to the formula brand.  For example, if your child has signs of malabsorption (frequent bowel movements, vomiting, failure to gain weight), your dietitian or pediatrician may recommend transitioning to an extensively hydrolyzed formula.  Or if your child was born prematurely, your dietitian or pediatrician may recommend using a formula with higher calorie, protein, phosphorus, and calcium content to support bone growth. We suggest taking caution when purchasing formula from overseas or from various online sources that may sell expired products.

How can I tell if baby is eating enough?

Every baby is different, and energy needs may differ.  You can ensure your baby is getting enough nutrition by monitoring growth and development.  If your child is growing out of clothes appropriately and achieving developmental milestones, nutrient intake is appropriate.  Consult with your child’s dietitian, developmental therapist, and/or pediatrician to ensure adequate growth and development.

How long should babies drink breastmilk/formula?

The CDC and AAP recommend babies remain on breastmilk or infant formula until about 12 months of age, at which point you can start transitioning them to cow’s milk or a nutritionally adequate milk alternative. 

Once your baby turns 6 months of age, it is typically safe to start introducing other foods in addition to formula or breastmilk.  However, it is important to assess developmental readiness. Signs that your child is ready to incorporate solids include: the ability to sit up with or without assistance, adequate head and neck control, move food from the front to the back of the tongue, and safe swallowing.  You can introduce a variety of foods to your child’s diet at this time to complement formula or breast milk intake including cereals and grains, fruits, vegetables, ground meats, and other proteins including fish, yogurt, and cheese.  These foods provide additional important nutrients including iron, zinc, calcium, and B vitamins your baby needs for growth and development.   

If you have additional questions about feeding your baby, contact us! Or CLICK HERE to schedule an appointment with FEED RD.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.