Smart Parenting for Busy & Imperfect People

Battle of the Opinions: Is Breast Really Best?

Is breast or bottle feeding best for you and your child?

As with past “Battle of the Opinions”, I like to pose a controversial parenting topic that  every parent comes face to face with considering.  We’ll look at the reasons for and against and then let you decide what you think.  Try to cast off your previous bias and experience and reconsider the topic with a fresh mind!

beim stillen

Remember, parents, that you are the experts when it comes to parenting your children.  You understand your unique and wonderful child, as well as your individual set of resources and stressors.  In parenting, there are few universal solutions and breast v. bottle feeding is not the exception.  Before getting to the 4 best arguments, time to tally the votes!  

1) Bonding

Arguments for Breast-feeding: Breast-feeding mothers share a unique bond with their baby during feeding.  The skin-to-skin contact is satisfying and essential for both.  Breast-feeding forces the baby out of carriers and seats and into the mother’s arms.  Mothers experience positive hormonal responses to the baby’s suckling that can enhance a mother’s desire to bond with her baby.  Mothers enjoy the opportunity to put their feet up for a few minutes and enjoy a little rest while they feed baby.

Arguments for Bottle-feeding:  Intense and meaningful bonding can still occur during bottle-feeding.  Parents who are committed to a healthy bonding experience  can ensure that baby is held and that eye contact and skin-to-skin contact is provided.  Sometimes fathers feel left out of the infant bonding experience.  Bottle-feeding gives Dad a change to bond equally with his beloved child.  Also, sometime mothers can be overwhelmed by their new duties and responsibilities (especially when multiple children are involved), bottle-feeding provides flexibility so that others can share in the feeding duties and bonding along with her.

2) Nutrition and Immune Benefits for Baby

Arguments for Breast-feeding:  Breast milk is often referred to as “liquid gold” (colostrum that is the first milk to appear after birth) as it is packed with immune boosting nutrients that are unique and irreplaceable.  Throughout infancy, breast milk provides immune defenses, DHA/ARA to enhance brain and eye development, protections against allergens and digestive support.   Babies who breast feed are less likely to die of SIDS, develop asthma, eczema or diabetes and are less likely to be obese.

Arguments for Bottle-feeding: Baby formula is the best it has ever been.   Many formulas now even include brain and eye supporting supplements like DHA/ARA and  lutein as well as added vitamins and minerals and probiotics.  In a side-by-side analysis, there is no argument that breast-milk beats formula when is comes to nutrition, but by how much?  The essential fatty acids DHA/ARA in formula are not the same as breast milk, but how much does it make a difference?  In most cases, the difference in nutrition is not significant enough to be a cause for concern.  Unless there is a clear deficiency or risk factor for a baby, formula is a fine option for a healthy baby.  Some babies will need to use formula instead of breast milk because formula offers more variety in the type of proteins and nutrients that they offer.  For instance, a baby may require lactose-free, soy-free, wheat-free, etc… diets that a mother could not easily provide with her breast milk.

3) Physical & Mental Health for Mothers

Arguments for Breast-Feeding:  Breast-feeding promotes the release of oxytocin into the mother’s blood stream.  Oxytocin causes the uterus to contract and shrink, promoting maternal and bonding behaviors and enhances the sensation of love between a mother and her baby.  Breast-feeding burns calories to help mom return to her pre-baby weight and may help to delay the return of her menstrual cycles, which can help mom retain more iron and avoid a sequential pregnancy before she and her body are ready.  The hormones released during breast-feeding may also reduce her risk of developing osteoporosis and certain types of cancers and in some cases postpartum depression.

Arguments for Bottle-Feeding: Breast-feeding can cause intense pain, cracked nipples, and infections (mastitis) in some women.  For some breast-feeding is easy and for others it is laborious.  Also, not all women enjoy a stable milk supply.  Some struggle to pump enough and some are literally flooded with too much milk.  These problems can cause unneeded stress and anxiety for the mother and baby and work against the essential task of bonding.  Some moms have also undergone a traumatic experience during birth and the added stress of breast-feeding to the mother’s mental and physical recovery is too much for them to bear and can negatively impact their baby.  Also, some moms report that their bodies “hold onto” weight until breast-feeding is complete, thus they cannot regain their pre-pregnancy body until breast-feeding concludes.  Some mothers also need to take medications that cannot be ingested while breast-feeding or suffer from a disease or condition that is not conducive to breast-feeding out of concern for maternal or infant health.

4) Logistical Concerns

Arguments for Breast-feeding:  Milk is always available for the baby and no sterilization or tools are needed.  For moms who work, breast-pumps are easier to use than ever and provide an easy alternative to the breast when necessary.  Trendy covers for breast feeding are available for those with modesty concerns while nursing in public.  Breast-feeding is “free”, saving an average of $1,000-$2,000 a year in formula expenses.  Night feedings are typically easier for a breast  feeding mom as she can easily feed baby in a dark room without preparation.  Breast-feeding moms can be more spontaneous and carry fewer items in their diaper bags.

Arguments for Bottle-feeding: Breast-feeding with multiple children in the home can be challenging as children are more prone to misbehavior during their siblings feeding times.  Some parents are not comfortable using TV every time the baby needs to eat to entertain siblings.  Some mothers do not like the experience of pumping milk and find that when it is time to return to work, pumping makes them feel subhuman and is a humiliating interruption in the day and may cause issues with co-workers (even if they are unsaid changes in the way the mother is perceived).   Bottle-feeding mothers can enjoy “normal” sized breasts and wear their pre-pregnancy clothing and regular bras.  They don’t have to buy and wear a separate wardrobe clad with “easy access” clasps and flaps to allow baby access to the breasts.  Also, bottles allow the parents to know exactly how much food a baby is eating to help keep the baby at a healthy weight.

The Intelligent Nest Opines

Of course, I cannot resist the urge to opine and I encourage you to as well in the comments section and don’t forget to take the final poll!  

Infant feeding is a very personal decision.  There are many very convincing scientific conclusions related to maternal and infant health that point to breast-feeding as the very best option for an infant and mother.  With that said, an Intelligent Nest cannot ignore realistic and logistical concerns.  Breast-feeding is a different experience for every mother and baby.  Some mothers report euphoria and some report aversion while breast-feeding.  While I express concern that the euphoric mothers may be “looking for love in all the wrong places” and putting to much pressure on an infant to provide fulfillment, I also express concern when a mother throws in the towel too soon.  Breast-feeding, in most cases, is a learned process and needs a couple of months to find it’s groove.  Often the first week to month are painful and uncomfortable and the right amount of milk is rarely present.    When persistent, most moms will find a nice routine that both baby and mother will benefit from and enjoy after a couple of months.  Ultimately, breast-feeding is a private decision made by the mother with help from her doctor and family.  Once a mother makes their decision, it is the job of the friends and family to support her on her chosen path.

I breast-fed my first child for 1 year and my second for 9 months.  I have immune disorder that I did not know about at the time that caused me to contract monthly bouts of mastitis (a painful and sometimes serious bacterial infection in the milk ducts).  I felt such immense pressure to breast-feed that I disregarded the stress it was putting on me emotionally and physically to do so.  At the time, I felt like bottle feeding was failure and that breast-feeding was the ONLY route for a “good” mother.    It took being told I had to switch to bottle-feeding by my doctor to learn how there really is no one right answer.  Bottle-feeding helped me to bond more with my baby because it enabled my body to be healthy (instead of fighting monthly bacterial bouts).  When mothers are healthy and able, they are more willing and ready to give their babies all the care and affection they need.  We are not robots and have very real human limitations.

After starting with bottle feeding, I didn’t have to constantly obsess about feeding times and rituals (prior I had to breast-feed every 3 hours even in late infancy to avoid the clogged ducts) and contracting infections.  I felt more relaxed and happy and enjoyed my baby’s infancy considerably more. (Remember that a stress-free, happy mama is a better mama.)  Not to mention the fact that the baby and I were finally off our monthly round of antibiotics.   If I could do it over, I would have breastfed for about three months, when it is the most essential for the baby, and then conducted a guilt-free switched to formula and never looked back.  For my family and I, this would have been the best, balanced solution for us.  I sincerely hope you and your family find the best solution to infant feeding for you and that you feel confident in your expert choice!

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