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April 15, 2014

Breast milk and infant formula: What are your options?

Breast milk is widely acknowledged as the best source of nutrition for newborns. For a variety of reasons, however, some mothers choose to give their babies infant formula. Let’s compare these two options.

Breast milk, complete and optimal for baby

Breast milk is currently recognized as the milk of choice for infants. Here is why:

  • Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients babies need (except vitamin D).
  • The composition of breast milk adapts to baby’s needs (it changes during a feeding and throughout the day).
  • It is easily digestible.
  • It is always ready.
  • Its components regulate energy metabolism and promote the development of the digestive and immune systems (breast milk contains antibodies that babies require for protection against infections, viruses, parasites and allergies).

While breastfeeding is a natural process, it does not always come easily. It is a skill that needs to be learned, and both mother and child generally require a period of adjustment. During that time, support from an outside source (e.g. a nurse, breastfeeding coach, lactation specialist, pediatrician), may be useful. Ask the staff at your CLSC: they should have a list of resources available in your community.

Infant formula, the alternative to breast milk

For various reasons – insufficient lactation, latching problems, return to the workplace, personal values, etc. – many mothers decide to feed their babies infant formula. Some of them formula-feed exclusively, while others opt for mixed feeding (a combination of breast milk and formula). According to Health Canada, “If an infant is not breastfed, or is partially breastfed, commercial formulas are the most acceptable alternative to breast milk.”

You’ll find a wide range of infant formulas available today. Here is an overview of products you’ll find on store shelves.

Standard infant formulas

For healthy, full-term babies, standard infant formulas sold over the counter (in pharmacies, for example) are considered a good option. Approved by Health Canada, infant formulas comply with rigorous standards of quality and composition. As a result, they are specifically designed to meet the basic nutritional needs of infants – as opposed to regular cow’s, goat’s or soy milk.

Standard infant formulas contain the essential nutrients for infant growth (proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins and minerals.

For several years now, consumers have also been able to find on the market formulas that are supplemented with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These play a significant role in brain and vision development.

Standard infant formulas come in three forms:

  • Powdered (mixing powdered formula requires special care, since the risk of contamination is greater; that is why it is not recommended for premature babies, whose immune systems are weaker);
  • Concentrate (liquid; simply dilute with boiled water);
  • Ready-to-feed (very handy, but relatively expensive).

Iron-enriched infant formulas

According to Health Canada, “the nutrient content of iron-fortified infant formulas is designed to meet the nutritional needs of healthy term infants until 9 to 12 months of age.” Iron is added to help prevent iron deficiency anemia.

Along with Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Dietitians of Canada also currently recommend iron-enriched formulas until the age of 9 to 12 months.

Good to know!
Cow’s milk is not suitable for infants under 9 months of age. It contains excess protein and mineral salts and not enough lactose, linoleic acid, vitamins, copper, magnesium and iron.

Specialized formulas and therapeutic formulas

You can also find specialized infant formulas, for example lactose-free or soy-based products for babies suffering from food intolerances or allergies. If you need more information about these, ask your paediatrician or pharmacist. Therapeutic formulas are also available by prescription for infants unable to tolerate regular products (due to regurgitation, stomach pain, etc.).

Pharmacy services

Need advice about breastfeeding or infant formulas? Consult your pharmacist for expert advice!

Services in pharmacy are the sole responsibility of pharmacist-owners. Only pharmacists are responsible for pharmacy practice. They only provide related services acting under a pharmacist-owner's name.

The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.