Breastfeeding is misunderstood by many new mothers in cultures such as the United States, where most of us are told by hospitals and formula companies that formula-based diets are essentially the same as breast milk.
Early into my first pregnancy, my OB/GYN gave me an informational packet that included tips for buying car seats, setting up the first crib or bassinette, and breastfeeding.
It also included a book of coupons for free samples of a formula brand endorsed by the medical practice. While the packet did have good information about how to breastfeed and where to get help if I had trouble, it failed to point out the benefits of breastfeeding to both my baby and myself.
It took self-education to figure out that breastfeeding was the right thing to do in my situation and for my baby.
Different moms and babies might have different experiences. Not everyone can breastfeed successfully, and not everyone can breastfeed exclusively either.
Unfortunately, without the information about breastfeeding versus formula feeding widely available, it can be impossible for moms to make this decision on their own.
Breast Milk Benefits for the Baby
In addition to producing the endorphins and bonding experience that moms also experience during breastfeeding, babies are protected from a number of diseases and illnesses to some degree while they breastfeed.
Exclusive breastfeeding offers more protection, but any amount of breastfeeding is better than none. Some illnesses that have a lower incidence in breastfed children include stomach viruses, ear infections, respiratory infections, and even meningitis.
When these illnesses do occur in breastfed children, it is often with less severity.
Breast milk includes secretory immunoglobulins, which protect the mucous membranes from pathogens. All of the heavy pathways for germs and viruses are protected, including the nose, throat, mouth, and anal-genital openings.
Additionally, these immunoglobulins are produced with natural antibodies against pathogens that the mother is exposed to, ensuring that the baby is protected against relevant threats in their environment.
This also helps lower inflammatory reactions against food allergies, reducing the incidence of common food sensitivities in young children.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Moms
Many new moms see breastfeeding as stressful, with many obstacles that they must overcome before they can be successful providers for their babies.
It is true that some first-time moms have trouble getting started, especially if their resources before birth have been limited.
However, counseling with a breastfeeding or lactation consultant can be a valuable experience. Breastfeeding is associated with better bonding experiences between mother and child, as well as reduced incidence of postpartum depression.
It produces endorphins during the act and offers built-in cuddle time.
Many moms have trouble with getting their child to latch on and feed, while others may have physical difficulty producing milk or abnormalities with their nipples that make it harder to express milk.
My biggest challenge was balancing breastfeeding with work since I could not always be there to feed my child naturally.
If the act of breastfeeding is too difficult physically or too hard to schedule around other mom commitments, try pumping milk when the schedule allows it so other caretakers can feed the baby breast milk through bottles. Read more about How to Combine Breastfeeding and Pumping.
Should you Breastfeed or use a Bottle?
Some moms cannot breastfeed for physical or practical reasons, but the baby can still benefit from breast milk with pumping.
Breast pumping can be done in the privacy of a restroom at work or in the comfort of the bedroom or living room at home.
When I returned to work and could not breastfeed naturally during the day, I pumped. Instead of dealing with long, painful, or uncomfortable shifts with milk that needed to be expressed, I ducked into a bathroom for fifteen minutes during a break and pumped milk.
I could leave it in the refrigerator in a marked container and bring it home later. After a while of this, we built up a fairly large supply so that the child-caregiver could feed the baby from bottles when I was not around.
Disadvantages of Formula Feeding
Formula feeding is not necessarily the worst option, and for some families, it makes more sense than breastfeeding.
However, the commercial formula does have more associated problems and fewer of the associated advantages of breast milk.
Most formulas are high calorie and low on nutrition. Since they are made up of sugar and corn solids, they let the baby fill up quickly but get hungry again sooner than necessary because the feeling of fullness is mostly false.
Additionally, babies who exclusively feed on formula do not receive the benefits of breast milk, which include immunoglobins, antibodies, protection from allergies, and even the comfort of bonding with their mother.
Parents who do choose to formula feed should compare ingredients and choose a formula that provides complete nutrition.
They should also avoid dairy-based products since non-human milk allergies are particularly likely to develop at this time.