Essential Tips for Feeding Your Infant

mother holding an infant with a bottleAs a new parent, you face many decisions about how to best care for your infant. One of the most important areas to learn about is feeding and providing optimal nutrition for your new baby. In a recent HealthyWomen survey of neonatal and maternity nurses, 90 percent of maternity nurses said they counsel mothers about feeding options during their postpartum recovery. So it is a good idea to ask for advice while still in the hospital or talk to your obstetrician or pediatrician even before giving birth.

Health experts say there are only two safe and nutritious feeding choices for infants less than six months old: breast milk or infant formula. Breastfeeding is considered by health professionals as the ideal infant feeding, and infant formula is the only safe and nutritious alternative.

Choosing what to feed your baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of four months but preferably for six months. Breastfeeding should be continued, they say, with the addition of complementary foods, at least through the first 12 months of age and thereafter as long as mutually desired by mother and infant. Breast milk provides virtually all the nutrients your baby needs to be healthy. It also contains many substances that benefit your baby's immune system, including antibodies, immune factors, enzymes and white blood cells.

However, some women cannot breastfeed or choose not to. For their babies, infant formula is the only safe, nutritious and recommended alternative that is proven to help infants grow and develop into healthy children. Infant formula provides the caloric, protein, carbohydrate and fat values needed for proper infant nutrition.

Many mothers supplement their breastfeeding with infant formula, which is called supplementary or mixed feeding. They breastfeed for some feedings and prepare bottles of formula for others. This common practice works well for most babies.

Selecting baby formula and bottles
The AAP recommends starting with an iron-fortified cow's milk-based formula. There are three forms to choose from: powdered formula, liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed liquid.