Can Formula Make a Baby's Cough Worse?

Mother feeding her baby
Formula itself does not worsen a baby's cough, unless he's allergic to it. (Image: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When you hear your baby cough, it may cause you to worry, but his cough is a common reflex that helps protect his airways, notes Kids Health. It may happen because of irritations or it could be removing secretions from his lungs, according to HealthyChildren.org. Under normal circumstances, feeding your baby formula should not worsen his cough, but there are some things you should consider when giving your baby his bottle.

Milk Allergy

Most infant formulas are milk-based; an infant with a milk allergy may have an allergic reaction to the formula, which can include respiratory symptoms such as coughing after eating. Most children outgrow a milk allergy, one of the most common allergies in children, by age 3.

Reflux in Babies

Babies who have gastroesophageal reflux have a weaker than normal muscle, called the lower esophageal sphincter, between the stomach and esophagus. Formula can reflux out of the stomach and into the esophagus, causing increased spitting. The baby also may aspirate a small amount into the lungs, causing a cough. If reflux progresses to gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly known as GERD, the baby may develop a frequent cough, especially after feeding. This can occur whether you breastfeed or use formula. Babies who drink from a bottle may swallow more air than those who breastfeed, which can increase spitting up and coughing. Overfeeding also can increase reflux; overfeeding occurs more frequently with bottle feeding than with breastfeeding, since babies who breastfeed normally stop feeding on their own when full.

Bottle Propping

With breastfeeding, your baby must suck to get milk. With bottle feeding, the formula continues to come out of the nipple, even when the baby stops sucking, due to gravity. If you prop your baby's bottle, especially if he's lying down or in a semi-reclining position, he's more likely to choke and aspirate a small amount of formula into his lungs, which can cause coughing.

Mucus Production and Formula

Mucus in the throat and lungs can increase your baby's coughing. Contrary to popular opinion, milk and milk products, such as formula, do not increase mucus production, according to allergy specialist Dr. Raymond Mullins. If your baby has a cough, there is no reason not to give him his regular formula unless his doctor suggests substituting something else.

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