Does Combination Feeding Both Breastmilk and Formula Hurt Baby Tummies?

Will feeding my baby both breastmilk and formula hurt my baby’s tummy?

Any amount of breastfeeding, for any amount of time, is a wonderful gift to your baby.

Breastmilk has many incredible properties that can benefit the gastrointestinal health of your baby and development of the gastrointestinal system of your baby.  Not everyone can or wants to breastfeed exclusively, but any amount of breastmilk can provide health benefits to your baby.  

A few components of breastmilk that help with healthy gastrointestinal development:

  • Anti-inflammatory factors
  • Antioxidants – can help neutralize free radicals and protect cells from damage
  • Immunoglobulins – antibodies that can identify and destroy bacteria and viruses
  • Probiotics – healthy bacteria important for the immune system and digestion
  • Prebiotics – support the development of the healthy bacteria in the stomach
  • Growth Factors – support the growth and development of the cells that line the intestinal tract

Premature Babies and Newborns

It is especially beneficial for premature infants and newborns to be fed breast milk and this has been shown to prevent a common complication called necrotizing enterocolitis.  Necrotizing enterocolitis is an inflammatory condition of the bowel that can be deadly.  By feeding newborns any amount of breastmilk, you can reduce the risk of your baby developing necrotizing enterocolitis.  Exclusively feeding an infant mother’s own fresh milk has been shown to provide the most protection.

Colostrum is a highly concentrated liquid that starts being produced around 20 weeks gestation.  It is a baby’s first food and has an even higher concentration of immunoglobulins and growth factors.  Even if a mom isn’t able to or chooses not to continue to breastfeed, newborns can greatly benefit from receiving even a small amount of colostrum.

Newborns and premature infants have immature immune systems and are particularly vulnerable to infections.  It has been shown that breastmilk can help protect babies from gastrointestinal infections.  The anti-inflammatory properties make the intestinal tract less permeable to bacteria and viruses providing a layer of defence.   Breastmilk also has antimicrobial properties in the form of immunoglobulins that help protect babies from bacteria and viruses that cause gastrointestinal infections.

About Formula

Infant formula is heavily regulated to ensure it is safe and meets the needs for infant growth and development.  Infant formula tries to mimic the composition of breastmilk as closely as possible. Most formulas are made from cow’s milk, or soy.  There are some specialized formulas available made from amino acids, goat’s milk, or rice based.  Some of the properties of breast milk such as the immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that help with gastrointestinal health and development cannot be replicated in formula.

Allergies and Sensitivities

For babies that have sensitivities, proteins that can be found in breastmilk from the mother’s diet can cause inflammatory reactions in an infant’s gastrointestinal tract.   Two of the most common sensitivities that babies can have are to milk and soy which are what most infant formulas are derived from.  Often babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy will have cross-reactivity to both soy and goat’s milk.  In these instances, if a baby has a sensitivity to cow’s milk or soy both the breastfeeding parent will need to remove all sources or dairy and soy from their diet.  If the baby is also receiving formula they would need to move to a more hydrolyzed or amino acid based formula.  Working with a knowledgeable lactation counsellor or IBCLC can help to rule out other causes and identify if there is a sensitivity or allergy.

So, will feeding your baby a combination of breastmilk and formula hurt their tummy? Any amount of breastmilk that you are able to give your baby will provide them with many benefits to their gastrointestinal health and development.  If you cannot exclusively breastfeed, know that you have given your baby an incredible gift by breastfeeding for any amount of time.  If you are experiencing challenges with supply, latching, bottle feeding or allergies, contact your local Mama Coach for support.

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