We have all heard about the ‘Breast Is Best’ campaign, and I agree with it. The benefits of breastfeeding are enormous. Breast milk is the perfect nutrition for your child; even the best formulas are only imitations of breast milk. There are also proven health benefits from both mother and baby; and obvious cost savings. Additionally, breast-feeding is one of the most joyful and special bonding experiences you can have with your baby.
I always recommend the families I work with to try to exclusively breast-feed during the first six months of life of the baby. I recommend using breast milk over formula, even in special cases when babies can’t breastfeed (i.e. premature babies). The mother can pump breast milk and offer it to the baby fresh and even keep a frozen milk supply for later on.
I, in fact, ‘breast-feed’ my twins until they were almost 8 months old (6 months adjusted age); however, those feedings weren’t at my breast. After being born at 29 weeks, they had to spend over two months in the hospital. Despite many trials, many consults with lactation consultants, they were never able to properly feed at the breast. At some point, they could latch on and suck, but they were so weak that they got exhausted and didn’t get enough milk. In addition, they both had severe gastrointestinal reflux (GERD), and would spit up often.
We were so concerned about their weight and development that I made the decision to avoid them the struggle of trying to breastfeed and burn all their energy trying, and continue pumping milk and offer it to them in a bottle. Was it easy for me? No, it wasn’t. I had always wanted to breastfeed, and letting that go, was not easy for me. Furthermore, pumping every 3 hours, day and night, to maintain my milk supply to feed both babies wasn’t easy or fun; but I am so glad I did it. My daughters weight gain during their first year of life was fantastic, they were healthy and strong, and I am glad I was able to do that for them.
Having said this, I understand that breastfeeding is not the right solution for everyone. Society has somehow stigmatized those who choose not to breastfeed. Do you remember the public health campaign comparing not breastfeeding with riding a mechanical bull while pregnant? It feels like women who choose not to breastfeed are egotistical, ignorant or abusive. I think these types of messages are plain wrong and damaging, adding onto the self-imposed guilt and inadequacy most first time moms already feel.
There’s not doubt in my mind that breast milk is better than formula, no doubt! But there’s also no doubt my mind about the fact that breastfeeding is not for everyone. There are some medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, active untreated tuberculosis, maternal varicella virus contracted two to four days prior to delivery or within six days of delivery, neonatal galactosemia, and human T-cell leukemia virus, might make breastfeeding an undesirable option. Additionally, there are certain medications that nursing women might not take, and if they must, lactation might not take place. Always check with your health care provider before breastfeeding, if you have any of these medical conditions, or if you are taking any medication.
Some women have jobs that are incompatible with nursing or pumping; and many of those can’t afford or do not want to take longer maternity leaves (if any) or quit their jobs and stay home with their child. Finally, “Breastfeeding is not always easy” I hear this every week from the women at the support groups for new moms I attend every week. Many of them struggle with breastfeeding at first; they suffer from engorgement, sore and bleeding, plugged breast ducks, or mastitis; and their babies have trouble latching on, or sucking and keep losing weight. All these challenges add on to the current stress and anxieties moms already feel. The moms who successfully breastfeed, encourage those having trouble to try yet another lactation consultant, another nipple cream, another breast shield, another feeding routine, another nursing pillow, another nursing position… and to keep at it until they are successful. I agree, as long as the ‘keeping at it’ doesn’t interfere with their happiness and the way they parent their children.
I believe that happy babies come from happy moms, and I’ve seen so many moms absolutely miserable because breastfeeding was a struggle. I don’t think that’s good for the mom or the baby. If breastfeeding becomes a terribly painful experience or filled with anguish and resentment (towards your body, yourself, or your child), then I would argue that bottle-feeding, is the best option.
A lot has been said about the unique bond you develop with your child while breastfeeding. But that’s only true when breastfeeding goes according to plan. If breastfeeding becomes a struggle, week after week after week, the mother will resent herself and her baby and that will undoubtedly affect their bond. Additionally, I do believe that fathers can have a bond as special as the one mothers have with their babies, even though they do not breastfeed; as so can adoptive parents; and mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed.
To sum up, I do believe that breast milk is a much better option than formula, I do believe that breastfeeding when going well, helps create a unique bond between mother and child. Having said that, I do believe breastfeeding is not for everyone, and I do believe that mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed can be just as good mothers or better than some who chose to breastfeed.
Much love and encouragement, Diana-