Font Size


Breastfeeding Facts

Breastfeeding or bottle feeding your newborn baby is a personal decision. If you choose to breastfeed, it will be helpful if you are in a supportive environment and have resources to assist you with questions you may have or breastfeeding problems that may develop. The following breastfeeding tips may also be helpful:

  • Consider attending a series of La Leche League meetings or reading La Leche League's book on breastfeeding (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding) before the birth of your baby.
  • Ask other breastfeeding mothers for advice.
  • Join a supportive network including other like-minded mothers to help with the commitments of this style of feeding.
  • If you are undecided at birth time, consider a one-month trial. It is easier to go from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding than the reverse.
  • The first month of breastfeeding is the most difficult, so if you get through that period, the rest will be easier.

How does breastfeeding compare with formula-feeding?

  • The ideal food for human infants is human milk. Human milk contains all the right ingredients - protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water - in just the right balance. No formula can make that claim. Infant formula manufacturers attempt to artificially duplicate human milk. Formula feeding is a practice that is relatively recent - about 60 years - compared to the beginning of humankind (not to mention all other mammals) relying on breast milk.
  • Formula does not contain the disease-fighting factors or the digestive enzymes that breast milk has. The nutrients in formula are more difficult for a baby to digest and absorb than the nutrients in human milk, requiring the baby to handle excess waste. Some formulas may have a less than optimal composition by containing too much salt and/or not enough cholesterol, fats, lactose, zinc, and iron, among other nutrients.
  • Some infants fed a cow's milk-based formula may develop allergies to the proteins in the cow's milk. Infants who are allergic to cow's milk often are also allergic to "hypoallergenic" (non-allergy-causing) soy formulas.
  • During the early months, a formula-fed baby may develop signs of allergy to or intolerance of a particular formula. These signs may include the following:
    • Bouts of crying after feeding
    • Vomiting after most feedings
    • Persistent diarrhea or constipation
    • Colic with a distended tense painful abdomen after feeding
    • Generally irritable behavior
    • A red, rough sandpaper-like rash especially around the face or anus or in both places
    • Frequent colds and ear infections
    • Red itchy rash especially in the folds of the elbow and knee joints
      • These signs, or the baby's preference, may lead you through a series of different formulas, often each more expensive than the last.
      • Formula-fed infants may be exposed to a variety of environmental substances used during the preparation of the formula or carried as a minor contaminant from which breastfed infants are protected.
      • The protein in formula (cow's milk or soy-based) may be too large for infants to digest and may lead to stomach discomfort and intolerance to formula.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
Medical Author:

Must Read Articles Related to Breastfeeding

Amenorrhea Amenorrhea, the absence of menstrual ble...learn more >>
Breast Lumps and Pain
Breast Lumps and Pain Breast changes are common. From the time a girl b...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding - Prepare for Breastfeeding

How did you prepare for breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding - Positioning and Latch-on Skills

Did your baby have trouble latching on for breastfeeding? What did you do to improve feeding?

Breastfeeding - Home and Medical Care

Did you experience complications from breastfeeding? What treatment did you use to remedy the situation?

Breastfeeding Benefits

With rare exceptions, breast milk is the preferred feeding for infants and confers unique benefits.

Breastfed babies (for at least six months) may be at reduced risk for many acute and chronic diseases, including gastrointestinal tract infection (like diarrhea), irritable bowel syndrome, lower respiratory tract infections (like a cold), urinary tract infections, otitis media (ear infections), and allergic reactions (like atopic dermatitis and asthma). Breastfeeding also has been shown to reduce pain in infants undergoing painful procedures.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Counseling the Breastfeeding Mother »

In the time before managed care and "drive-through" deliveries, the vast majority of newborns remained in the hospital for several days after birth.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary