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 recommended 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, Minnesota, answers important questions about breast-feeding and formula-feeding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months after birth — and breast-feeding in combination with solid foods until at least age 1. Extended breast-feeding is recommended as long as you and your baby wish to continue.

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.

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.

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.

If you're struggling, ask a lactation consultant or your baby's doctor for help. If your baby's doctor is concerned that your baby isn't receiving adequate nutrition or hydration, he or she might suggest pumping and supplementing with expressed breast milk or formula.

Breast milk is the ideal food for babies — and the best way to keep a baby healthy — but proper nutrition and hydration are absolutely essential for your baby.

Commercial infant formulas don't contain the immunity-boosting elements of breast milk. For most babies, breast milk is also easier to digest than formula. When prepared as directed, however, infant formula supports healthy babies who have typical dietary needs. A baby who has special nutritional needs might require a special formula.

Exclusive breast-feeding is recommended for the first six months after birth. A diet of breast milk only provides the best nutrition. Formula supplementation can disrupt breast-feeding as well as affect milk supply. However, some mothers are able to combine breast-feeding and formula-feeding — especially after breast-feeding has been well-established.

If you're considering formula-feeding, do your research so that you can make an informed decision. Then focus on nourishing and nurturing your baby — instead of dwelling on negative emotions. You might also share your feelings with your doctor, your baby's doctor or others in your support circle.

Remember, parenting is an adventure that requires choices and compromises. What counts is doing the best you can as you face this new challenge.

April 23, 2015