"You're going to breastfeed your baby, right?" asks a coworker just minutes after you announce your pregnancy. Leaving no room for interpretation of her feelings on the subject, she adds, "You have no idea what they put in those formulas."
Or maybe you have an in-law weighing in from the opposite camp. "My neighbor Phyllis has a daughter who tried breastfeeding and it didn't work. The baby kept losing weight. I hope you're not going to do that with my grandchild!"
Despite these well-meaning comments, breastfeeding is a personal choice and what's right for one mother may not be right for another. While experts agree that breastfeeding is preferred, it is not always the best or even a viable option in some instances such as adoption or premature babies.
How you choose to feed your baby is your decision. It's worth thinking about while you're still pregnant so you can be prepared. If you choose to breastfeed, you might want to purchase a breast pump and bottles with nipples made for breastfeeding babies so you can be away from your baby sometimes. You may even want to take a class or check out a book on the subject. Most hospitals have lactation (breastfeeding) consultants who can help you to learn about breastfeeding and get used to this new experience during the first few days with your new baby.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics is a staunch supporter of breastfeeding, they acknowledge that there can be societal pressures that affect a mother's decision, including economic, cultural, and even political concerns.
Advantages of breastfeeding include:
- Breast milk is the most complete source of naturally balanced nutrition available for your baby. For the majority of infants, the only food needed during the first six months of life is breast milk.
- Breast milk contains antibodies that protect your baby from illness.
- Breastfed babies tend to have fewer allergies than bottle-fed babies.
- There is evidence that suggests breastfed babies have higher IQs although other studies suggest it has more to do with genetics (2007, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
- Breast milk is less expensive and easier for babies to digest than formula.
- Breastfeeding can be relaxing and many nursing mothers report feelings of peace and serenity while breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding can be more convenient. There are no bottles to wash, sterilize, or prepare.
- Breastfeeding can help your uterus return to normal size more quickly after delivery because of the release of the hormone oxytocin.
- Breastfeeding can also help you lose weight.
Disadvantages of breastfeeding include:
- It is much easier for others to share the responsibility of caring for a baby when bottle feeding methods are used.
- Women who breastfeed must be available to feed their babies six to eight times each day. Although women may choose to pump and store their breast milk so as to make it possible for other people to actually feed their baby, women typically have to continue breastfeeding in person or pump every few hours they are away from their child in order to maintain an adequate milk supply.
- Because breast milk is easier to digest, breastfed babies tend to require more feedings. Formula-fed babies tend to remain fuller for longer periods, and therefore can go longer between feedings.
- Bottle feeding makes it easier for you to see how much your baby is eating. When breastfeeding, a woman has to guess how much milk her baby is getting.
- The foods you eat and the medications you take while breastfeeding can enter your baby's system through your milk. Therefore, women often have to avoid certain foods, drinks, and medications that might have a negative effect on the baby throughout the entire period of breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding can lead to sore nipples and leaky breasts, which in turn can affect your sex life.
- Some women do not feel comfortable breastfeeding in front of others which can result in feelings of isolation if you and your baby are always nursing in a room alone.
- Some women do not produce enough breast milk.
- Breastfeeding can be physically painful for some women and the stress of that pain slows down the production of milk even further.
Keep these facts in mind when deciding how to feed your baby. Your breasts will only continue producing milk if you allow your baby to nurse on them. They will cease to produce milk if nursing ceases. For this reason, it is easier for you to start out breastfeeding and later switch to bottle feeding if you decide it isn't for you than vice versa.
Some mothers choose to breastfeed for several weeks, several months, or, in some cases, for a few years. The amount of time you choose to breastfeed is also a personal choice. There are babies that graduate to sippy cups without ever getting a bottle and babies that never get anywhere near their mother's breasts. And then there are the moms that, after the baby is a well-established breastfeeding infant, introduce the bottle and go back and forth.
Going with the Flow
So, what's the answer? Like most parenting issues, it's best to gather information and make the decision that works best for you and your family. And by all means, be flexible. You may think you don't want to breastfeed at all or only want to do it for the first few days, but then you find you and your baby really enjoy it and it works for your lifestyle. Or, maybe you plan to breastfeed for the first year, but after a week, you still don't like it and decide to switch to bottle feeding.
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