Breast Milk or Formula

Breastfeeding - the toughest and best part of being a mum

Breastfeeding – the toughest and best part of being a mum

Through out your pregnancy you will be encouraged to breast feed your baby after it arrives. The midwives at the hospital, the books you read, your peers, and the antenatal classes you take will all recommend that you exclusively feed your baby breast milk for at least six months. The NHS provides free, antenatal, breast feeding classes. Before being discharged from the hospital, a lactation consultant will talk to you about breastfeeding. Once you are at home, you will also have access to free breastfeeding clinics. This is an amazing amount of support but it also creates a bit of pressure. I was told by a midwife that the pro breast feeding movement started after a WHO study showed that babies that are exclusively breastfed for six months tend to be healthier.

So if you end up feeding your baby formula, a small part of you will feel guilty. While there are many advantages to breast feeding, we are surrounded by a generation of adults that were raised on formula as babies. They turned out all right. The purpose of this article is not to make you feel guilty about how you feed your baby, god knows there will be no shortage of that. It is to provide you with practical insight into the advantages and disadvantages of both, so you can make the best deicision for your situation as a woman.

Advantages of Breastfeeding

Advantages of Breastfeeding for the Baby:

  • The milk produced during the first three days, colostrum, is packed with antibodies and other stuff that help stabilise your baby’s blood sugars, line her gut, etc.
  • According to UNICEF’s breastfeeding research breast fed babies have a lower risk of gastro-intestinal infection, respiratory infections, necrotising enterocolitis and late onset sepsis in preterm babies, urinary tract infections, ear infections, allergic disease (eczema, asthma and wheezing), type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity, childhood leukaemia, and SIDS. They are also more likely to have better neurological development, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
  • Carers feel compelled to make a baby finish a bottle of milk even if she doesn’t really need it or want it. Breastfeeding infants tend to learn to respond to their hunger better and have a lower instance of childhood and early adolescent obesity.
  • A baby’s immune system is not fully developed until she is six months old. Mothers pass antibodies from their blood stream (immunoglobulin) through the placenta to the foetus. After birth breast fed babies continue to receive their mother’s antibodies through the milk. This is great because, it produces ‘passive immunity’ in the baby until her immune system is ready to produce her own antibodies.
  • Breast milk is tailored to the baby’s age and nutritional needs. Mothers of premature babies produce milk that is richer in protein than those of full term babies. The composition of the milk changes as the baby grows and within one month it becomes the same as full term milk.
  • Breast fed babies are likely to have better teeth as they are less likely to have nursing bottle syndrome. This is the collection of liquid in tiny pools around developing teeth which creates an environment of cavities to form. The sucking motion during breast feeding also protects against misalignment of teeth.
  • My experience: My daughter especially benefited from breast feeding when either she or I caught a bug. There are limits to what and how much medication we can give babies, so when either of us caught a bug I consumed a lot of herbal medicines to fight the bug. These got passed to her in diluted form through my milk. Of course this was all done under the supervision of my mother who had raised/helped raise four other babies and has a wealth of tried and tested herbal remedies.

Advantages of Breastfeeding for You:

  • According to UNICEF research women who breast feed have a lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hip fractures and reduced bone density.
  • It is easier to switch from breast feeding to formula feeding rather than the other way round, so your providing yourself with more options.
  • Breast feeding is a great way to lose much of the pregnancy weight. Some of the extra calories needed to make breast milk comes from fat stored during pregnancy. The hormones released during breastfeeding also help your uterus contract, helping your stomach return to its pre-pregnancy shape. In fact many Hollywood actresses are rumoured to have breast fed their babies for two years in order to lose weight.
  • If you ask any new mum, washing bottles is the most tedious chore the baby adds to your domestic work load. Bottle feeding means washing around eight bottles, bottle caps, nipples and bottle tops a day. This is a lot of work if like me you want to avoid dishwashers. If you haven’t invested in a steriliser you then need to manually sterilise each of these items in boiling water. In contrast if you breast feed, you only have to wash your breasts once a day when you shower.
  • Breastfeeding can bea bonus holiday from your periods. Many breast feeding mum’s do not get their periods until they stop breast feeding. The temporary break in menstruation also reduces loss of iron, helping you conserve it. This is particularly useful if you have iron-deficiency anaemia.  I’ve always found periods to be a nuisance and this was a pleasant surprise for me. However, this is not true for everyone or even hereditary. My mum got back her periods in the first month, even though she was breast feeding me.
  • It may not seem so initially, but breastfeeding may be the only ‘you-time’ you will get after the baby arrives. No one else can breast feed the baby and while the baby eats, there is very little work you can do. It is the perfect opportunity to kick up your feet and watch your favourite TV show or read a book.
  • It’s cheaper. Formula has to be purchased, breast milk is free. Breastfeeding is kinder to the wallet at a time when one is incurring many new costs.

Disadvantages of Breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding is hard. For most women it doesn’t come naturally in that, it takes time for the baby and you to learn to latch correctly; it takes time for the supply (your milk) to always match demand (your baby’s needs). Mismatches result in either a hungry baby, or engorged and painful breasts.The good news is it gets easier. Your baby and you learn and as the baby grows bigger it latches more easily. You learn to identify when supply has exceeded demand and can express out the exccess before things get painful. The magic number is 8-weeks. Something miraculous happens in week eight and for most mums and babies, things suddenly get easier.
  • Breastfeeding is painful especially during the initial few weeks. Quoting another mum, “…one feels like a cheese grater is being rubbed against your nipple while a nut cracker is squeezing it at the same time…”. This can get worse if your ducts get blocked and you get mastitis. This too shall pass. However I do strongly urge all expecting mums to pack a tube of Lansinoh Lanolin Cream in their hospital bag. It moisturises  dried nipples, reducing the cheese grater effect. In addition for those particularly struggling with the nut cracker bit, you can try using Nipple Protectors. They are not very expensive and can provide significant relief if they work for you. If they do not work, you can chant “8-weeks, 8-weeks…” like I did. :)
  • Unless you express breast milk, it will be difficult to share feeds with your partner or anyone else helping you out. This can get very stressful, especially in the early weeks when the baby asks for food every three hours (or less) and your body is still recovering from the delivery/c-section.
  • When you are out, it is intimidating to breastfeed in public. Some cultures do not support public breastfeeding which means you have to always think of a private place where you can feed the baby. Even in UK, the UKIP minster Nigel Farage said last month that “breastfeeding mothers should sit in a corner to avoid offending others”! Offensive as the statement is, it is a representation of what many people still believe and nursing a baby on a toilet seat isn’t fun or hygenic. You could try a breastfeeding apron, however it may not always work. My daughter was miserable in the apron, and would focus on fighting it off instead of feeding.
  • Though not true in all instances, it is claimed that formula fed babies sleep better than breast fed ones do not sleep as well as bottle fed babies, because formula is considered to be heavier and thus more filling. Breast fed babies may sleep fewer hours per day and wake up more frequently when they sleep. This lack of continuous sleep is very tough on the mother and often a reason why women stop nursing.
  • If you are in a country that provides professional women a very short maternity leave, it will be challenging to breastfeed while at work. You will have to express milk and have your baby’s caretaker bottle feed the expressed milk. This means that you will need to plan your meetings around expressing schedules. Expressing at work is also challenging in countries that do not require employers to provide professional mothers with facilities and time to express.

My experience: My daughter was five weeks premature and had to be given some formula from day one. So we used a combination of breastfeeding and formula – our daughter got one formula feed a day. For a couple reasons, we continued this even after she had reached a healthy weight and the need for formula had reduced. With the formula feed my husband could give me a break on one feed, which meant I occassionally got almost six hours of continuous sleep. (Pumping didn’t work for me.) It was also wonderful to have our daughter comfortable with the bottle right from day one. When the time came, it was easy to move her completely from breast to formula. We didn’t have to struggle with bottle rejection.

So now you have it all laid out before you. If we are honest, healthwise breast feeding is the better option. But I want to emphasize that no one is a bad mum because she formula feeds. Being a mother is probably the hardest thing most of us will ever do. We need to start making it a bit easier by not judging ourselves or each other.

Update: I was asked why I haven’t listed the advantages and disadvantages of formula. The advantages with formula are the same as the disadvantages with breastfeeding, the disadvantages with formula are the same as the advantages with breastfeeding. I wouldn’t have provied much additional value by discussing formula separately hence the omission.


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