If you are an expecting mother, you may be in the midst of planning on whether you will be breast or
bottle feeding your new baby. You likely have heard all of the benefits of breast feeding but may also have some anxiety about the logistics of breast feeding, especially if you plan to go back to work full time. I have counseled many women in the past about feeding her newborn and know there are usually lots of questions about this important decision.
Many health organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breast milk as the best choice for babies. The APA recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. After that, breastfeeding is encouraged until 12 months of age and even longer if mom and baby are agreeable.
A great benefit of breast milk is that it contains all the nutrients your baby needs and is easy to digest and absorb. In addition, the infant decides how much he or she wants without any waste. Breast milk is also free, the perfect temperature, and requires no preparation. Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies and other germ-fighting factors that help protect the baby against infections such as ear or respiratory infections, gastrointestinal bugs and meningitis. It may also protect infants from allergies, asthma, and diabetes. Breast feeding also increases “skin to skin” contact which is said to enhance the emotional connection between mother and baby. Breast feeding also has benefits for mom including burning calories and possibly lowering blood pressure and decreasing the risk of diabetes and certain cancers.
However, breast feeding can come with some challenges. Some mothers initially feel uncomfortable with breast feeding. Usually with support, practice, and education, most moms become more accustomed and more at ease. Latch-on pain is normal in the first week or so and should last less than one minute with each feeding. But if pain persists longer or throughout the feedings, mothers should
speak to a doctor or lactation consult. Breast feeding is also quite a large time commitment especially at an earlier age when feedings are more frequent, with a demand every 2 or 3 hours. A breast feeding and breast pumping schedule can be difficult for mothers that work, need to run errands, or are busy travelers. Sometimes, finding a place to nurse in public is challenging. Also, certain medications that mom is taking may pass into the milk making breast feeding unsafe.
Ultimately, the decision to breastfeed should be made after careful consideration by the parents. If breast feeding is not possible for whatever reason, infant formula is still a very healthy alternative. Formula is made with all the vitamins and necessary nutrients for the baby’s health and growth. In addition, formula feeding is much more flexible than breast feeding as it requires less frequency of feedings and another caregiver can provide the feedings. Some mothers worry that they will not bond with their baby if they do not breast feed. But the truth is, no matter if by breast or bottle, feeding will always strengthen that bond.
Breast or bottle feeding your baby is a very personal choice and the decision is dependent on so many factors including comfort level, lifestyle, work schedule, and certain medical conditions. Many women sometimes feel guilty about not being able to breast feed. If you have a medical concern that prevents breast feeding or breast feeding becomes too much of a strain, try not to be stressed or feel like you are a failure. Formula feeding is still a great, nutritious alternative for your baby. Remember, as a mom, you need to take care of yourself too in order to provide the best care for your baby. And of course, if you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby, don’t hesitate to ask your OB/GYN, Pediatrician, or lactation consultant any time.
Originally from Orange County, California, Karen Tran-Harding is a radiology resident physician that found love, education, life lessons, and two corgis in the heart of the bluegrass. She has interest in medical media and education. She is a regular contributor to StantonMD and Everyday Medicine.