Breast-feeding vs. formula-feeding: What's best?

The benefits of breast-feeding are well established. Consider ways to support breast-feeding — and how to handle feelings of guilt if you can't or decide not to breast-feed. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Breast-feeding is the optimal way to feed a newborn. Depending on the circumstances, however, various factors might lead you to consider formula-feeding. Here, Jay Hoecker, M.D., an emeritus pediatrics specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., answers important questions about breast-feeding and formula-feeding.

How long should I breast-feed my baby?

How long you choose to breast-feed your baby is up to you. Exclusive breast-feeding is typically recommended for the first six months after birth — and continued until at least age 1 in combination with solid foods. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby and boosts your baby's immune system. It's considered the gold standard for infant nutrition.

Is any additional nutrition necessary?

Ask your baby's doctor about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you're exclusively breast-feeding. Breast milk might not provide enough vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.

What can I do to promote successful breast-feeding?

Taking care of yourself can go a long way toward promoting successful breast-feeding. Eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. To boost your confidence, learn as much as you can about breast-feeding. Keep the environment calm and relaxed. Look to your partner and other loved ones for support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Friends who've successfully breast-fed might be a good source of information. Lactation consultants are available at many hospitals and clinics. Your baby's doctor might be able to help, too.

Apr. 10, 2012 See more In-depth