Pregnancy & Birth

Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding: The Basics

How should new parents decide between breastfeeding and formula feeding their newborn? Lactation consultant Jaime Burleson, RN, provides information on both options and advice on how to make that decision.

Aug. 12, 2021

breastfeeding formula

Expecting moms are faced with plenty of difficult decisions throughout their pregnancy—one of which is whether or not they plan to breastfeed their newborn baby.

Both breastfeeding and formula feeding are healthy choices and have a variety of benefits. Many mothers choose formula feeding due to life circumstances, dietary issues, and more. For others, breastfeeding is the way to go.

Jaime Burleson, RN, a lactation consultant at Rochester General Hospital, discusses breastfeeding, formula feeding, and how parents can decide between the two.

Benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides high quality nutrition for your baby and is the most commonly recommended way to feed a newborn. Breastfeeding your newborn for at least the first six months of life can provide a variety of short-term and long-term benefits for the mother and the baby.

Benefits of breastfeeding for baby:

  • Reduction in acute illnesses (ear infections, colds, GI viruses) even after breastfeeding is stopped
  • Improved gastrointestinal function
  • Decreased obesity
  • Reduced risk of childhood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • Reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease as an adult
  • Decreased risk of developing diabetes
  • Improved visual and cognitive function but it is unclear if this is a significant difference
  • Improved maternal bonding which may reduce stress

Benefits of breastfeeding for mom:

  • Faster recovery from childbirth
  • Decrease stress – improved maternal-child bonding
  • Enhanced weight loss after pregnancy
  • Reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • Decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease

Breastfeeding guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns breastfeed for the first six months. After that, babies can have a combination of breast milk and solid foods until they’re at least one year old. However, if the baby and mother are comfortable, it’s okay to continue breastfeeding beyond that.

“Breast milk provides newborns with a great balance of nutrients to keep them healthy and growing strong. In some cases, a doctor may recommend vitamin D supplements for the baby. Talk to a health care provider to determine the best option,” said Burleson.

While breastfeeding, it’s best to keep a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, and get good, regular sleep.

Every baby’s needs are different in terms of how much and how often to eat. Keep in touch with your doctor for advice and recommendations. In general, newborns may want to eat every one to three hours. As they grow, they may need to eat less often.

Learn more about Baby Café for pregnant and breastfeeding parents. 

Are there risks to formula feeding?

Infant formulas, while they don’t contain the same elements of breast milk that can significantly improve immunity, do support healthy babies when prepared correctly.

“The most common risk of formula feeding is potential contamination of the formula or bottle, which can lead to possible infections or exposure to environmental toxins.”

Can you combo feed?

In the beginning, it’s recommended that mothers avoid giving formula to breastfed babies unless medically needed.

“This is to ensure a mother’s milk “comes in” as it should. However, there are some circumstances when formula supplementation is recommended—such as if the infant is not gaining weight or not feeding well at the breast,” explained Burleson.

In this case, talk to a health care provider for the best recommendations based on you and your baby’s health. In general, it is best to ease into formula feeding with one bottle a day while your baby is happy and calm.

“Your doctor may have specific recommendations on the type and amount of formula you give your baby. Be sure to stay in touch with them throughout the process.”


At Rochester Regional Health, our obstetric and gynecology practices offer the full range of women’s health services. Whether you’ve come to us for preventive care, pre-pregnancy counseling, relief from urinary incontinence, or one of our comprehensive OBGYN services, our top priority is working as your partner to maintain a lifetime of good health and well-being.

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Rochester, New York 14621
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