This battle has raged for years and will no doubt continue to do so.  The American Pregnancy Association recommends breastfeeding if at all possible.  For Moms who find it easy to breast feed, there is no question that ‘breast is best’.  But it’s a pity that those who have difficulties or who choose not to breast feed are often criticized and made to feel somehow lacking as a Mom.  Breast feeding and bottle feeding both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Let’s start with breast feeding.

Breast milk is perfect for your growing baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that breast milk is the perfect food for your baby’s first six months.  It naturally contains the right proportions of protein, fats, carbohydrates, and minerals.  It also contains most of the vitamins that your baby needs, although it is a little lacking in vitamins A, C, and D.

It is fascinating that breast milk changes to suit the requirements of the baby.  During the first few days after birth, the milk is colostrum.  Colostrum is a high-protein, low fat liquid that is a little thicker than regular breast milk.  This changes over the next 14 days as the colostrum is replaced by a more liquid milk, which contains more fat and cholesterol.  Although this sounds ‘bad’ to us, babies grow so fast that they need these to enable their brain, nerve tissues and cell membranes to develop and grow properly.  Commercial formula is getting much better at replicating the composition of breast milk, but as yet, it doesn’t adapt in the early days to meet your baby’s needs.

Breast milk protects your baby

Breast milk contains your own antibodies that can kill the bacteria and other germs that could make your baby ill.  For the same reason, it is also thought to heighten your baby’s resistance to allergens.  As yet, formula doesn’t offer either of these.

Breast feeding helps you to recover and get your figure back!

During pregnancy, your body stores fat to help with producing milk.  Breast feeding helps to burn off that fat and it also triggers a hormone which helps to shrink your uterus back to its’ normal size more quickly.  You need to be relaxed to breast feed and the enforced rest helps you to recover from the pregnancy, birth and exhaustion of night feeds.

Breast feeding helps with bonding

Breast feeding is an intimate act that brings Mom and baby very close together.  The physical sensation of feeding your child from your own body is a wonderful one.  However, there is no reason why bottle feeding your baby can’t be a loving, fulfilling and intimate time too.

Breast milk is always available

As long as your milk is still coming through, food is always available for your baby.  You won’t ever go to the cupboard and find you’ve run out.  On a practical level, it saves you the hassle and expense of preparing and sterilizing bottles and the milk is already at the perfect temperature.  And there’s no chance of forgetting to take a feed with you when you take your baby out!

The advantages of bottle feeding your baby

Both parents can take a turn at feeding

Babies who are breast fed can, of course, also be bottle fed with expressed milk.  However, the balance is generally in favor of Mom doing the bulk of feeds the natural way.  This can make your partner feel excluded and may even damage their bonding with the baby.  With bottle feeding, the job can be completely divided between you.  This also gives Mom a chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep or just take a break.

It allows Mom other freedoms too…

Eating and drinking

Ladies who breast feed need to be mindful of what their intake contains.  It’s advisable for them to take in extra calories to cope with the extra demand.  If you’re trying to regain your pre-baby body, that can be a little frustrating.

If you bottle feed, you can indulge in a few glasses of wine without worrying that it might impact on your baby.

Contraception

Many people believe that breast feeding prevents conception.  This is untrue.  It certainly does suppress the hormones that cause you to ovulate but it is not 100% reliable.  The contraceptive pill is reliable but it interferes with the hormones that allow milk production.  So, if you want to go back onto the pill after the birth, you’ll need to bottle feed.

If you’re on medications…

…these will be passed on to your baby through your breast milk.  This applies to prescription medication, nicotine from cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs.  If you want to breast feed you’ll need to drop these or in the case of prescription meds, check with your pediatrician.  If you can’t stop the others, it’s best to bottle feed.

Resuming your sex life

For many new Moms, this isn’t high on the agenda immediately after giving birth but as the weeks go by and exhaustion lessens, it becomes a higher priority.  Some fathers find it confusing when their partner is breast feeding.  On the one hand, they love it for all the right reasons – but it can interfere with their view of their partner as a sexual being.  Some women feel the same way.  From a physical point of view, the hormones that promote lactation can cause your vagina to become dry, requiring the use of lubricants.  However, studies have shown that mothers who breast feed return to a regular sex life sooner than bottle feeders.  As with all of the pros and cons, it really is personal choice.

I have to go back to work!

If you have to go back to work less than eight weeks after your baby is born, it’s probably best to bottle feed right from the beginning.  It is of course possible to combine breast and bottle, using expressed breast milk, but very small babies take a while to get used to the difference between nursing and feeding from a bottle and if you’re working, extra time to accommodate this will be short.  Some companies do provide lactation rooms and it’s totally acceptable to breast feed in public- if you feel a little shy, just use a discreetly placed baby blanket as a shield.  If your workplace has a crèche and allows ‘feeding breaks’ then of course you can breast feed.  The reality is that most working Moms choose to bottle feed.

Some medical conditions prevent breast feeding

Around 5% of new Moms don’t produce any (or not enough) milk to breast feed.  If you fall into this group, then bottle feeding is the only option.

Some illnesses, such as heart disease, kidney problems and varying forms of anemia, make breast feeding detrimental to the Mother’s health, although some Moms still do breastfeed.  Ask your Doctor for advice before the birth so that you are prepared either way.

If you have an infectious illness such as AIDS, hepatitis or tuberculosis, you will have to bottle feed because these diseases can be passed to your baby through your milk.

Personal choice

Whatever you decide to do, remember that it is your personal choice.  It’s your body, your baby, your relationships, your life and it’s up to you how to play it.  Once you have made your decision, don’t feel that you have to be apologetic for it.  Both breast feeding Moms and bottle feeders will undoubtedly come in for some criticism from friends, family, members of the medical profession and even people you meet in the street.  When it comes to feeding your baby, it can feel like everyone except you knows best – which is plainly nonsense.  Make the choice that will minimize your anxiety and maximize your relationship with your baby.  And enjoy it – babies grow up so very fast!

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