Which milk is best?

Health professionals the world over recommend that babies be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. The Canadian Paediatric Society, Dieticians of Canada, and Health Canada all echo this recommendation. Once babies have started eating solid foods, it is recommended that they continue breastfeeding until the age of two years or more.

Today, close to 85% of Québec mothers breastfeed their babies at birth, and close to 50% continue for six months or more. You can decide to breastfeed for a few days, a few months, or over a year. It’s up to you.

Some women find that breastfeeding doesn’t work for them, despite the benefits. Others find that breastfeeding is not what they’d expected or hoped and decide to give their babies commercial infant formula.

It is recommended that babies who are not fed breast milk be given cow’s milk that has been processed and adapted into commercial infant formula.

The baby formula industry processes cow’s milk to make its nutritional content closer to that of mother’s milk. But commercial infant formulas still can’t match mother’s milk. They don’t contain the same proteins, they don’t supply antibodies, and they don’t provide immune factors, growth hormones or white blood cells (see The composition of human milk). Babies who aren’t fed with breast milk have a higher risk of ear infections, gastroenteritis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia and other problems.

For babies who are not fed breast milk, the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada all recommend using an infant formula enriched with iron up to the age of 9 to 12 months. Cow’s milk is completely inappropriate for babies under 9 months.

However you feed your baby, your baby needs you, your attention and your love. You can fulfill his need for warmth, security and affection by holding him in your arms when you feed him and maximizing skin-to-skin contact, particularly in his first few weeks. You can also massage him, take a bath with him and use a baby carrier to help you “stay in touch.”

Antibodies: Substances made by the body to fight off disease. Also called immunoglobulins.