From the minute you became pregnant you have been making decisions that affect you, your baby, and your family. To make the best decision about breastfeeding, you will need good quality information. This website provides parents with information about breastfeeding. Take a look at the ‘Breastfeeding versus Formula’ section for information about the differences between breast milk and formula. Also, review the ‘Importance of Breastfeeding’ section to learn about the importance of breastfeeding for you, your baby, and your family. Parents should be aware that formula companies try to sell their products and their advertisements are designed to encourage parents to use formula.
If your baby needs to be supplemented, it is best to give your baby expressed breast milk. There may be a medical reason why a baby may need formula, such as a medical condition, or the mother may be unable or unavailable to breastfeed or express breast milk for her baby.
By knowing what to expect and planning ahead, you can be more confident about breastfeeding. Learn about the breastfeeding resources and services in your community by contacting your local health unit.
If you choose to use formula, get help from your physician or local health unit. Health professionals can provide information, resources, and support for all of your infant feeding needs at all ages and stages.
Breast milk is the natural food for newborns. It contains everything your baby needs. No question, no debate, no doubt. The Public Health Agency of Canada, the Dietitians of Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the College of Family Physicians of Canada agree:
Just as the placenta nourished and protected your baby in the uterus, breastfeeding will continue to nourish and protect your baby. Breast milk provides your baby with everything he needs for optimal growth and development.
All mammals make milk to nourish babies to help them grow. Each type of milk made is different and meets the needs of the particular mammal. Human milk has evolved over thousands of years to meet the needs of human babies. For that reason, no other milk compares with human milk. It is recommended that human babies be fed human milk.
Exclusive breastfeeding means the baby is fed only breast milk (the baby can be given vitamins or medications if needed). Most mothers are able to establish a milk supply which meets their baby’s growth and developmental needs. Breast milk has all the nutrients needed for your baby during the first 6 months of life. A daily supplement of 400 IU (10 μg) of Vitamin D per day is recommended for infants and young children who are breastfed or receiving breast milk.
It is recommended that mothers and babies continue to breastfeed after complementary foods are introduced to 2 years and beyond.
Breastfeeding is not just for young babies. Breastfeeding remains important for older babies, young children, and their mothers. The longer a mother and baby breastfeed, the greater the health protection against illnesses and diseases. The nutritional content of breastmilk changes over time to meet your baby’s needs. Although, it is recommended that nutritious complementary foods be introduced to your baby around 6 months old, breastmilk remains an important part of your baby’s diet. Additionally, the immune properties in breastmilk are very important to older babies and young children as they explore the world and are exposed to many germs in their environments.
Mothers who breastfeed their older babies often talk about the “bonding” and closeness they feel with their child. Babies and young children are so much fun to be with and watch develop and grow. Breastfeeding is part of the experience and the breastfeeding relationship grows and changes with age. You and your child will enjoy the calm and relaxed moments you share while breastfeeding. As your baby or young child explores the world and builds his independence, he will benefit from returning to your safe and trusting arms to be nourished emotionally and physically with breastfeeding.
Support from family and friends is very valuable to mothers who are breastfeeding their older babies. You many find it helpful to provide them with information on the continued importance of breastfeeding an older baby and how they can support you (see “supporting mom” page for more information). Many mothers find breastfeeding peers to be a great support, visit the “Friends” section on the “Everyday Life” page for more information on finding breastfeeding peer support groups in your area.
Breastfeeding an older baby means, breastfeeding through the teething stage. This is a normal part of breastfeeding and is not usually an issue for mothers and babies. See the “Teething, Solids and Weaning” section on the “Everyday Life” page for more information.
Some older babies and young children like to breastfeed while falling asleep or during the night. This may be fine for the mother and child. It is important to take care of your baby’s teeth to prevent dental caries. Dental caries are cavities which can occur in young children’s teeth and often develop when there is pooling of milk in the mouth for long periods, such as while sleeping. Proper mouth care and monitoring your baby’s teeth can decrease the risk of this occurring. Speak to your dental or health care provider for more information.
Breast milk has special proteins designed for human babies including:
Formula does not have many of the proteins found in breast milk. Formula commonly has cow’s milk or soy protein, which some babies have sensitivities or allergies to. The proteins in formula are harder to digest and absorb.
Breast milk has enzymes, which break down elements in the milk and helps the baby to digest it.
Formula does not have any enzymes to help with digestion.
Breast milk has antibodies, which are also called Immunoglobulins. These are cells that specifically target germs, which cause illnesses. The mother’s body will make these immunoglobulins, which target germs in the environment. These are passed to the baby through breast milk. These cells help to protect the baby from germs and illnesses.
Formula has some immunoglobulins, but they do not target the germs in the baby’s environment.
Breast milk has many live cells, which work to protect the baby. There are high quantities of white blood cells, which work to kill germs. Just as the placenta nourished and protected your baby in the uterus, breast milk will continue to nourish and protect your baby.
Formula does not contain live cells or white blood cells due to the way it is made.
Breast milk has human growth factors, which promote healthy cell growth and help your baby grow.
All growth factors are destroyed in the making of formula. There are no human growth factors in formula.
Breast milk has many hormones, such as prolactin and oxytocin and more. These hormones are important to the baby’s growth and development.
All hormones are destroyed in the making of formula. There are no hormones in formula.
Breast milk has all the needed vitamins for your baby’s growth and development. The vitamins in breast milk are well absorbed. Your doctor will recommend that you give your baby vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by your skin based on sun exposure. Speak to your doctor about your baby’s particular vitamin needs.
Formula has vitamins, but they are less well absorbed. The vitamin content may decrease over time and also from the time between when the formula is prepared to when it is fed to the baby.
Breast milk is mostly made up of water. This is designed to keep your baby well hydrated.
Different types of formulas contain different amounts of water. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure the right amount of water is used in formula. Using too much or too little water when preparing formula can put the baby’s health at risk.
Breast milk has large amounts of carbohydrates such as lactose, the sugar found in milk, and oligosaccharides, which are important for a healthy digestive system. The carbohydrates in breast milk are also important for brain development.
Some formulas contain carbohydrates such as lactose. Others may have corn syrup or sucrose. These are used to replace some or all of the lactose.
Breast milk has fats that adjust to the baby’s needs. The amount of fat is controlled by the baby’s feeding pattern, and age. The digestive enzymes in breast milk help digest fat for easy absorption. Breast milk is rich in cholesterol, which is needed for your baby’s growth and development.
The fat in formula does not adjust to the baby's needs. The fat content remains consistent at every feed and over time. Formula does not contain enzymes to help digest fat. The fat in formula is more difficult to digest than the fat in breast milk. There is no cholesterol in formula.
Breast milk contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, and arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 fatty acid. DHA and AA are naturally found in breast milk. These are important for your baby’s brain growth and development.
Formula does not generally contain the fatty acids DHA or AA. Some specialty formulas have DHA or AA which come from non-human sources.
Breast milk has all necessary minerals and some antioxidants. The minerals in breast milk are well absorbed. For example, iron absorption from breast milk is over 50%. Minerals are provided in the amount specifically needed to meet your baby’s needs.
Formula has a higher amount of minerals, but they are not as easily absorbed. For example, Iron absorption from formula is around 10% or less.
Breast milk is never the same twice. It is specifically designed to meet the needs of your growing baby. Breast milk changes throughout the day and as your baby grows and develops. Mothers who have premature babies have breast milk specifically designed to meet the needs of their preterm babies and it is different breast milk from mothers who have delivered term babies. The flavour of breast milk changes constantly and picks up flavours in the mother’s diet. This may help the baby become familiar with the taste of food when he starts solids around 6 months.
Formula is consistent from feed to feed.