May 29, 2012
Babies develop normally when they are fed either breast milk or formula, a new study confirms. Babies' brains developed equally well when fed either cow's milk or soy formulas. Those who got breast milk had slightly better learning and thinking skills. The study was based on tests of 391 healthy infants. They received tests of mental development at ages 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. The journal Pediatrics published the study online May 28.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
There are so many decisions to make when you are expecting a baby. What should you name your baby? What color should you paint the nursery? One of the most important decisions new parents must make is what to feed the baby -- breast milk or formula?
Breastfeeding may not be possible for some women. Other mothers may decide breastfeeding is not for them. If not breastfeeding, formula is the next best thing.
The two main types of infant formula are:
Both types of formula let infants grow well. But do infants have normal development when they are fed either type of formula? Is their development as good as that of infants who are breastfed?
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics looks at these questions. Researchers kept track of the development of 391 infants during their first year of life. They compared the infants' development based on whether they were fed:
Researchers documented no differences between the two formula-fed groups. Infants getting soy-based formula developed just as well as infants fed cow's milk-based formula.
The researchers found that all the babies, both formula-fed and breastfed, were developing normally. They also found that breastfed infants had slightly better "cognitive development" than formula-fed infants. Cognitive development includes the baby's ability to:
What Changes Can I Make Now?
If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor about breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics says breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants.
Breast milk is the only "food" a baby needs for the first 6 months of life. Infants should be breastfed for as long as possible. A full year is best. If that doesn't happen, this study shows that these two types of formula can help babies to grow and develop almost as well as breast milk.
Breast milk is best for babies because it:
Breastfeeding also has long-term health benefits for a mother. It can:
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Expect your doctor to encourage you to breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding should continue for as long as possible, at least until your baby is 6 months old. New mothers should also be receiving more support for breastfeeding in the workplace.
Lactation specialists and breastfeeding support groups are always looking for better ways of teaching mothers to breastfeed. They also want to help mothers to be more comfortable breastfeeding and to make the process less demanding. These approaches will be studied to figure out which ones work the best.
Breastfeeding may be painful and challenging at times. Don't be afraid to ask for help! Some resources for breastfeeding mothers include: