by: Michael Kabel

The time spent feeding your child isn't just quality time - it's a big part of forging the bond the two of you will share for a lifetime. As with all things relating to the child, you want only the best and healthiest choices for their developing bodies.

In an era increasingly dominated by health and fitness awareness, the way we feed our children has become especially crucial to their well-being. Using healthy foods and formulas – and presenting the food in a healthy way - becomes a powerful means of giving children the best early advantages in preparing for a healthy childhood and beyond.

Breastfeeding or formula?

Except in the most rare of cases, modern research overwhelmingly supports the benefits of breastfeeding over using milk or formula to an infant child. In particular, breastfeeding is shown to reduce the likelihood of asthma, allergies, diabetes, and Hodgkin's lymphoma. Proteins and amino acids found in breast milk are also known to assist in fighting off harmful bacterial infections.

Some research also indicates that breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Since breastfeeding is more time-consuming and nutritious than formula, the chance for over-feeding remains much smaller. 

Use glass feeding bottles to avoid the toxic chemical Bisphenol A.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group reports that plastic baby bottles leak the toxic chemical Bisphenol A into baby formula. They recommend using a glass bottle with a clear silicone nipple, to help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction sometimes caused by more conventional latex rubber nipples. Latex nipples also include impurities that have been linked to cancer risks.

In 2007, two separate panels by the National Institute of Health expressed their concern about exposure of Bisphenol A in infants. A separate report by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks To Human Reproduction showed "some concern" that infants exposed to the chemical were at higher risk for brain development problems and adverse behavior.

Avoid plastic bottle liners.

Like the bottle itself, plastic bottle liners may leach chemicals into the child's formula, especially after repeated heatings.

When to use formula

Doctors will sometimes advise a mother to use baby formula over breastmilk in certain special circumstances, such as when the child may an allergy to chemicals or proteins within breastmilk.

All brands of baby formula in the United States are required to meet standards and guidelines determined by the Food and Drug Administration. By law, baby formula must contain protein, niacin, folic acid, vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B6 and B12. Certain percentages of calcium, iodine, and iron should also be present.

The Environmental Work Group also recommends using powdered baby formula instead of liquid. Their studies report Bisphenol A is also present in baby formula containers and may also leach into the formula itself. Powdered formula mixes are much less likely to absorb the chemical.

How often to feed the child

There's no set limit to how often a child should be fed. Some children require more than others. If feedings show a marked drop, however, medical assistance may be necessary, as this usually points to illness. Consulting with your family pediatrician will allow you to personalize your child’s eating regimen for maximum benefit.