If you’re pregnant, you have lots of decisions to make before baby arrives. One of those decisions is about how to feed your baby in the first six months. You may be getting mixed messages from friends, family and the media about what is “normal” when it comes to infant feeding. Breastfeeding is the normal way to provide infants with the nutrition they need. It’s the way women have been nourishing babies’ healthy growth and development for as long as we’ve been giving birth!
Health Canada recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.
Weighing the risks and benefits
By learning about breastfeeding and getting support, most women can breastfeed successfully. However, there are some reasons why women can’t, or choose not to, breastfeed. Every woman needs to weigh the risks and benefits of this decision for herself and her baby – this is called informed decision-making.
Importance of breastmilk
- Has living cells that are constantly changing so that your baby receives exactly what he or she needs to be healthy
- Is easily digested by your baby
- Contains many antibodies that can protect your baby from illness, infections, diabetes and some cancers
- Is readily available and is always the right temperature
Women who breastfeed:
- May lose their pregnancy weight faster as more calories are used in making breastmilk
- Often go longer without a menstrual period
- Have natural birth control for the first six months that is 98% effective; known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM)
- Have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers and Type 2 diabetes
- Create an extra-special bond with their baby
- Save money
- Can continue to breastfeed after they return to work
- Are helping the environment because no garbage is created
Risks of formula feeding
Many people do not know that there are risks when formula feeding. Mothers who are breastfeeding usually find that they have trouble establishing and maintaining their milk supply if they give their baby formula. If you stop breastfeeding, your milk supply will naturally decrease, making it difficult to go back to breastfeeding.
Additional risks of feeding formula
- Medical studies show that babies who are fed formula are at a higher risk of for allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity, diarrhea, lung and ear infections, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Babies who are fed formula have a higher risk of getting sick and being hospitalized during childhood and as an adult. This is because formula changes the lining in your baby’s stomach and does not provide any immune protection for your baby.
- Formula can contain harmful germs picked up from manufacturing, preparation or storage.
- Formula is expensive and produces more waste.
- Women who do not breastfeed are at higher risk for increased bleeding in the days following childbirth, delayed return to pre-pregnancy weight, breast and ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
Introducing solid foods
Around 6 months your baby will begin to show signs of readiness for solid foods. Here is how your baby will show you that they are ready to start solid food. They can:
- Hold their head up steadily
- Sit up and lean forward
- Open mouth wide when you offer them food
- Let you know when they are full
- Pick up food and try to put it in their mouth
In addition to breastmilk or formula your baby now needs solid foods, especially those high in iron, for their continued growth and development. Feeding Your Baby: A guide to help you introduce solid foods (PDF, 28 pages, 5.3 MB) will help you decide on what foods to introduce, when to introduce them and how much to offer as you begin this new stage in your baby’s life.
For more information about feeding your baby
Our FREE online prenatal program gives you lots of information! You can also ask a public health nurse questions about pregnancy and parenting over the phone by calling Let’s Talk Parenting at 1-800-265-7293 ext. 3616. Your healthcare provider is another source of information for you.