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Formula Feeding - Risks and Costs

It is important to learn what formula is, and the risks and costs of using it, as part of making an informed decision about how to feed your baby.  Parents are often surprised at how much formula and feeding supplies cost each month, so be sure to look at your budget as part of your decision making.

What is Formula?

Formula is usually made from cow’s milk.  Although nutrients are added, it does not contain all the same elements as human breastmilk, and therefore cannot support a baby’s overall health and development in exactly the same ways as breastmilk.  Formula is a suitable breastmilk substitute to support an infant’s growth when breastmilk is unavailable or when families make a decision to use formula.

What are the Risks for Child and Mother?

Child who is formula fed is more at risk of:

Mother who chooses not to breastfeed is more at risk of:

  • Ear, chest and urinary tract infections
  • Infections of the stomach and gut, and diarrhea
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Obesity and chronic diseases later in life (like type 2 diabetes)
  • Some childhood cancers
  • Cancer of the breast and ovaries
  • Postpartum bleeding


Sometimes infants become sick from drinking formula that was contaminated with germs when it was being produced by the formula company, or when it was being prepared by the caregiver. Babies may also get sick if the formula is not mixed or stored correctly.   It is very important to read the directions on the can and follow them exactly.  Also, powdered formula is not sterile, so ask your health care provider if it is safe to give it to your baby.  

Remember, formula fed babies need to be held and touched just as much as breastfed babies, and it can be dangerous to prop a bottle for feeding.  Follow the link to learn more about the importance of skin-to-skin contact for all babies.
Supplementing with Formula - Are there Risks?

If your baby needs extra milk, it is best to give your own breastmilk.  Follow the link to get information about expressing breastmilk.  With the right information and support, you can express all the breastmilk your baby needs. 

Formula companies often give parents samples of formula, even before they have their baby!  They tell parents they should have some formula on hand, “just in case”.  It may seem like a good idea to use this free formula if your baby is fussy or not breastfeeding well, but there are risks you need to be aware of: 

  • When baby receives formula, mother’s breastmilk supply goes down. Breastmilk supply is directly linked to how well and how often baby feeds at the breast.   During times of increased growth, babies feed more often at the breast to increase breastmilk supply.
  • Babies who are fed formula supplements are likely to need more and more formula.  If the breasts are not stimulated enough the breastmilk supply will go down, and the amount of formula needed will go up.  
  • When babies are given formula in the first few weeks of breastfeeding mothers are more likely to stop breastfeeding earlier than planned.
If your healthcare provider has recommended that your baby receive a supplement of formula for medical reasons, it is important to develop a plan together that will minimize the risks for your baby and that will support continued breastfeeding where possible.
How to Feed Formula Safely

If you have made an informed decision to give your baby formula, please read the Formula Feeding Your Baby (PDF 888 KB) resource for more information.

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