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Formula feeding

Are there risks with formula feeding? If so, what are they?

The compositions of breast milk and formula have important differences. Babies are at greater risk of infection with formula, as people may:

  • use ineffective sterilisation techniques
  • use unsafe water
  • reconstitute formula incorrectly
  • store milk powder and/or reconstituted milk incorrectly.

Breast milk:

  • varies in composition over the lactation period and during a single feed to meet the child’s individual and varying appetite and thirst (and hence nutrition and fluid requirements)
  • contains many beneficial bioactive components that assist in baby's gut maturation, physiological development and immunity
  • provides nutrients (eg, protein, calcium and iron) that are more easily digested than those in formula
  • contains the polyunsaturated fatty acids required for retina and brain development
  • contains taurine for fat absorption

Because of these important differences, infant formula does not decrease, and may increase, the risk of infectious and chronic disease.

Use formula – never cows’ milk

Whole cows’ milk is not suitable for babies under 12 months. Use breast milk or formula as the main drink until baby is a year old. Infants fed cows’ milk before one year of age are at particular risk of developing depleted iron stores.

Most infant formula is based on cows’ milk. The Food Standard Code for infant formula requires that infant (< 6 months of age) formula meets the complete energy and nutritional for a healthy full-term infant up to six months of age. Around six months of age, an infant should also be receiving complementary foods.

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