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Will my newborn thrive on canned milk vs. infant formula?
Q: I am 7 months pregnant with my second child and wondering if my new baby will have to drink formula when he/she is born or if I can feed canned milk mixed with water. My first child did not do well with formula. I was not fed formula; neither were my aunts and uncles, as my greatgrandmother just gave us half canned milk/half water.
A: Dear Trisha,

You haven’t mentioned the best food for your baby – your own milk. Human milk is designed to provide the perfect balance of nutrients for newborns and also provides antibodies, which can protect your baby from infection and illness. There are no substitutes for human milk which are as perfectly suited for your child. Furthermore, breastfeeding provides benefits for mothers as well: there is no need to purchase or prepare formula and no need to sterilize water or bottles. Your own milk is always fresh, warm and available. Breastfeeding also allows you to burn 500 extra calories a day, which can help you lose the extra pounds gained during pregnancy. Each mother makes milk that is unique for her infant’s needs, with nutrients in the proper proportions for her growing baby and germ-fighting antibodies that are tailor-made for the baby’s environment.

There are some situations in which breastfeeding is not possible or advisable. Mothers who may need to use formula include: women who are HIV positive; women who are taking medications that are not safe for a nursing infant; women who have had breast surgery which scarred the milk ducts.

If you cannot breastfeed, or choose not to breastfeed, you should always use formula rather than diluted canned or fresh cow’s milk. Pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce cow’s milk until your baby is at least 12 months old. Canned milk does not have the right balance of nutrients for optimal development of your baby, and may cause digestive problems. Baby formula manufacturers begin with a base of cow’s milk or soy, and then attempt to simulate the composition of breast milk. As researchers learn more about beneficial components of breast milk, newer formulas are being manufactured to include additional supplements. For example, some infant formulas now contain essential fatty acids after research revealed the important role these fatty acids play in brain development. However, no formula can contain all that breast milk can offer, nor is it as uniquely designed for your own baby as the milk your body produces.

I advise you to talk to your pediatrician before your baby is born to discuss your concerns about breastfeeding, and to discuss the problems your first child had with formula. If you decide to use formula, your pediatrician can recommend whether to try cow’s milk formula, soy formula or special hypoallergenic formula for babies who are allergy-prone.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist