New parents want to give their babies the very best. When it comes to nutrition, the best first food for babies is breast milk. Experts recommend that babies be breast-fed for six to 12 months. The only acceptable alternative to breast milk is infant formula. Solid foods can be introduced when the baby is 4 to 6 months old, but a baby should drink breast milk or formula, not cow’s milk, for a full year. Cow’s milk contains a different type of protein than breast milk. This is good for calves, but human infants can have difficulty digesting it. Bottle-fed infants tend to be fatter than breast-fed infants, but not necessarily healthier.
Human milk contains at least 100 ingredients not found in formula. No babies are allergic to their mother’s milk, although they may have a reaction to something the mother eats. If she eliminates it from her diet, the problem resolves itself.
Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development as well. It’s harder work to get milk out of a breast than a bottle, and the exercise strengthens the jaws and encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth. The baby at the breast also can control the flow of milk by sucking and stopping. With a bottle, the baby must constantly suck or react to the pressure of the nipple placed in the mouth.
Initially, a breast-fed baby will need to be fed 8-12 times in a 24-hour period, especially since both baby and mother are getting used to the process. Breast milk is more quickly digested than formula, which is another reason why more frequent feeding is necessary. Another reason for the constant suckling at the breast is to stimulate the mammary glands to produce more milk for the baby’s growing appetite. But the extra time spent feeding the baby that first year is well worth it as breast milk passes along the mother’s immunities and delivers the highest-quality nutrition for a developing baby.