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Cassie Kreitner
Senior Editor

5 Myths About Formula Feeding—Debunked

Here’s the latest.

When it comes to feeding baby, everyone has an opinion. And while some of that well-meaning advice may be hard to ignore, a lot of it isn’t based on fact. Since what happens with baby at a young age can impact his future, it’s crucial to get the right info to help you make these decisions. That’s why we spoke with Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, medical director for Mead Johnson Nutrition, North America, the maker of Enfamil® Enspire™, to break down some common misconceptions when it comes to formula. And remember, whether you choose to exclusively breastfeed, formula feed or a combo of the two, ultimately it’s important to do what’s best for you and baby.

Myth #1: Baby won’t bond with you as closely if you formula feed.

Bonding with baby comes down to two important factors—skin-to-skin contact and facial recognition—not just her connection to your breast. “Regardless of how you feed, you’ll bond with baby by nurturing and providing good nutrition,” Valentine says. “All babies love the feeling of skin-to-skin contact, particularly right after delivery and within the first week.” But don’t worry: Even if you’re not breastfeeding, you can still give baby this desired feeling during feedings. Just remove your shirt and bra, especially in the first few weeks, and make sure she can always see your face.

Myth #2: Formula-fed babies won’t be as smart as breastfed babies.

It’s true that when mass-market formula was first introduced there were developmental differences between breastfed and formula-fed infants. But the good news is today’s formulas have come a long way. By gaining a better understanding of human breast milk composition, formula manufacturers have been able to more accurately determine the nutrient types and ratios that contribute to optimal growth in babies. This is important because good development always follows good growth, Valentine says. One of the biggest formula breakthroughs is the relatively recent inclusion of fatty acids like DHA and ARA (docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid, respectively). Previously only found in breast milk, these nutrients have been shown to have positive effects on baby’s visual and brain development and immune system, particularly within the first two years when baby’s brain is rapidly developing. Enspire formula uses these brain nutrients, along with two other components found in breast milk—Lactoferrin, to support the immune system, and MFGM (Milk Fat Globule Membrane), which fosters cognitive development—to create a formula more closely mimicking a mother’s breast milk than ever before.

Myth #3: Mixing breastfeeding and formula feeding will cause nipple confusion.

Any issues with baby fussing or refusing the breast or bottle may just come down to baby’s nipple preference, rather than nipple confusion. “Tongue placement and sucking mechanisms differ whether he is extracting milk from a breast or from a bottle, but many babies adapt and feed accordingly without issues,” Valentine says. The best way to avoid confusion, or deter baby from preferring one type of nipple over another, is to hold off on introducing a bottle until breastfeeding is established (if you plan on regularly doing both), and to mimic the breastfeeding experience as closely as possible when formula feeding. She recommends waiting six to eight weeks before introducing the bottle, if possible, to give baby time to learn a comfortable latching technique for the breast. “At this age, babies will hopefully be adept at breastfeeding and be able to switch between mom’s nipple and a bottle nipple without much confusion.” If feeding is still proving to be problematic, you can always experiment with different nipple shapes to find the one baby prefers.

Myth #4: Supplementing with formula will cause your milk to dry up.

As you probably know, breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand process, so your body makes more milk depending on how often you breastfeed (or pump). But fortunately, it’s not an exact science, so if you need or want to incorporate formula into baby’s diet, your body will adjust accordingly to your new feeding schedule, Valentine says. In fact, a recent study found supplementing with a limited amount of formula for babies with early weight loss can actually help with breastfeeding outcomes when baby gets older. But if breastfeeding as much as you can is your priority (and the AAP recommends it exclusively for baby’s first six months), the way to keep your supply up is to feed for at least 20 to 30 minutes on each side when nursing to allow baby to consume as much milk as possible—particularly the milk with higher fat content expressed at the end of a feeding. (You can even pump afterward if you want an extra stash of milk.) If baby’s having issues when it comes to feeding, growth or jaundice, Valentine recommends following nursing with a short bottle to ensure baby receives enough nutrients, rather than mixing formula and breast milk and serving at the same time.

Myth #5: Formula lacks the complete nutrition baby needs.

Keep in mind that while breast milk is best, exclusively breastfeeding baby isn’t always possible. In that case, a formula like Enspire that offers many of the same nutrients as breast milk is the next best thing. “Through FDA guidance and understanding about nutrition, formula compositions do a really good job in giving baby adequate nutrition for adequate growth,” Valentine says. In fact, “people think breastfeeding is nutritionally complete, but many mothers don’t realize the nutritional content of breast milk can vary based on factors like maternal diet, genetics and geography.” As long as baby isn’t overly fussy, excessively gassy or spitting up frequently, and is growing according to your pediatrician’s recommendations, it’s a good sign he or she is getting enough nutrition—regardless of whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding.

The Bump and Enspire™ present Enspired Beginnings, a sponsored series featuring advice from real moms and experts about bottle-feeding baby. Learn more about Enfamil’s closest formula to breast milk and add it to your registry here.

Photo: iStock