The benefits of a mother's milk are unparalleled -- it contains every nutrient your baby needs, is easily digested, boosts immunity, and is linked to lower rates of asthma and other chronic illnesses later in life. But some women can't nurse or choose not to, and countless others supplement the breast milk they feed their baby with formula. In all, a whopping 85 percent of new mothers use formula. Although how to bottlefeed may seem like a no-brainer, many parents have questions and concerns. The first and foremost: Is formula really okay? The experts fill us in.
1. I breastfed for four months, but my work schedule makes it too crazy to pump, so I've gradually switched over to formula. I feel guilty, though -- is formula good enough for my baby?
There's no reason to feel guilty. Some of the most intelligent, healthy people were bottlefed as infants, according to Nancy Krebs, MD, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) nutrition committee. Although they can't pass along the resistance to infection that breast milk does, formulas do provide adequate nourishment for a growing baby. Formulas contain a comparable balance of protein and sugar and match the calorie content in mother's milk. And just like breast milk, formula gets about half its calories from fat, which is crucial to brain development. Formulas are also supplemented with various vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and vitamins C, D, and K.
Of course, no infant formula exactly duplicates breast milk. Human milk is incredibly complex, notes William Klish, MD, head of gastroenterology and nutrition at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. According to Dr. Klish, "Just being able to identify all of the ingredients in breast milk -- there are hundreds -- is a challenge. And then we don't know whether all of those substances play an important biological role or if they just happen to be there."