There are some conflicts in life which you should feel free to weigh in on. Coke vs Pepsi. Batman vs Superman. Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd.
A parent’s decision to give their baby formula as opposed to breast milk is not one of those. Contrary to your best intentions, leaning in and informing a new parent that they are making a mistake is wildly counter-intuitive, and it probably doesn’t involve you as much as you might think it does. At time of writing, the United States is going through a great shortage of baby formula. You can only imagine how difficult that must be for many parents right now.
Today, I am going to lay all the facts out so that some of your questions are answered. Why is this such a heated battle? What are the benefits of breastfeeding? How does formula measure up in this day and age?
Breast milk is (scientifically) the more preferable option if that is a viable option. It helps protect the baby against infections as antibodies from the mother pass to the baby. THis means the baby is far less likely to develop ear infections, respiratory infections, meningitis, and the various gastro infections that can cause diarrhoea. It also may protect the baby from developing various allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome (although the link here is still being developed)
Doctors often refer to breast milk as the perfect food for the digestive system of a baby. It contains most of the vitamins and minerals required for development. It does lack Vitamin D however, so making sure that your baby gets a little bit of sunlight is also a good idea. It is also free which helps when the rising costs of nappies, swaddles and jumpsuits begin stacking up.
Breast milk also helps the newborn ‘taste’ a variety of different flavours. When a woman is breastfeeding, they need to eat a lot more food to give them energy to sustain a little human. These foods are passed on through the breast milk which then leaves the child more accepting of different flavours in later life. It also helps them transition to solid food more easily because they have already ‘tasted’ them in a sense.
You will often hear people talk about the intimacy and connection of breastfeeding skin to skin. While there is truth to the fact that physical touch is pleasant, there is no real quantifiable evidence to suggest that women who breastfeed are more ‘connected’ to their child. It is purely emotional, and if you can feel close to your baby while you bottle feed them, then the difference is largely negligible.
So, thus far I have sounded like an evangelist for breastfeeding. In some ways, I am. It is scientifically proven to be the preferable option. However, life isn’t always as simple as blindly adhering to science. There are many reasons why breastfeeding might not be the easier option for millions of mothers across the country.
Firstly, your baby may have issues latching on to a nipple. This is completely normal for the first seven to ten days, and it should pass within a minute or so of feeding. However, it isn’t always this simple. Some babies will have issues with their tongues which make breastfeeding perpetually painful. There are all sorts of medicines online you can get to help for cracked and bleeding nipples, but the best thing you can possibly do is seek advice from a lactation specialist. They will help you with your technique to make sure that your bub is getting the most from breastfeeding.
Alternatively, you might develop mastitis, the painful condition that comes from when the milk duct hasn’t properly cleared. The milk is unable to pass through and you end up with an inflamed blockage that causes a lot of pain. I can only imagine how painful this must be. When you have mastitis, you might feel like you are getting a flu; aches, pains and shivers. Except, it is accompanied by a red, hot swollen nipple, and you might notice red streaks around the areola. Sadly, there are not a lot of medicines online which can help you out here. The best thing you can do is empty your breast.
- Make sure your bub is positioned and attached to the your nipple
- Avoid tight fitting bras
- I know this is hard, but relax! Tension in your arms, neck, shoulders and back prevents milk flow
- Practise deep breathing
- Begin expressing your milk before the baby starts feeding
You can also apply warmth and cold to reduce the swelling. These will work better than any medicines online that might be marketed towards cures for mastitis.
Some women simply find breastfeeding to be incompatible with their lifestyle. Perhaps they are going back to work, and cannot be around the child every three to four hours. It is in many ways a supremely privileged position to presume that a woman can take six months off work. In these instances, it is by necessity that mothers must use formula.
Some women simply don’t produce enough milk to feed their baby. Others will find that their milk doesn’t come in early enough. This can often be the result of waiting too long to begin breastfeeding, or not doing it frequently enough. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult this would be for a new mum as she struggles to sustain her newborn bub. Now imagine how unwelcome a snide remark, or sideways glance at the supermarket might be.
As I said, I will absolutely judge you for liking Pepsi over Coke. And I will semi-judge you for preferring Robert Plant over David Seymour. But I will never ever judge anybody for making the choice to use baby formula for two simple reasons. The first is that there are so many mitigating factors that are specific to that mother and her scenario. The second (and probably most important) is that it is absolutely none of my business.
All the best!