Is breastfeeding best for you?
It’s an age-old debate, and one that has caused many a stir amongst new mums regarding what they feel is best for baby. With so many Women being the main breadwinners now or needing to return to work more quickly for financial reasons is breast really the best way for everyone?
Gone are the days when it was a given that all new mums would breast feed, with few alternatives being promoted at all. Babies were simply expected to ‘latch on’ with no problems (or none which were discussed openly by midwives or our own mums!). In reality, most of us know that this does not always run as swimmingly as the way we plan it whilst pregnant. In fact, it can sometimes be a source of great pain both physically and emotionally to many mums who innocently expect a stress-free start to baby’s feeding.
Mums can also feel a fair amount of pressure from others to breastfeed, making this very personal choice a tricky one. Whether the breast or formula choice is made before or after baby arrives, it is certainly a decision that you need to feel happy with, in a time when emotions are heightened and doing ‘the right thing’ by baby is the only thing in mind. Here is our simple guide to the benefits and possible drawbacks of each:
Some benefits of breastfeeding:
- Nutrition – Colostrum, which is the milk produced at the end of pregnancy and the early part of breastfeeding, is high in concentrated nutrition for newborns, and has a laxative effect on baby.
- Protection in childhood – In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness.
- Protection into adulthood – Breastfeeding’s protection against illness lasts beyond your baby’s breastfeeding stage. Antibodies in breast milk may give a baby’s immune system a boost, and can protect from childhood and adult illnesses, including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Bonding – A strong physical and emotional bond can be formed between mother and baby.
- No cost – Breastfeeding is free, and available whenever baby needs a feed.
- Good for mum – The NHS states that there are health benefits to mum as well, including up to 500 calories being used per day, and the risk of breast and ovarian cancer being reduced.
What they don’t always tell you about breastfeeding:
- Pain – Breastfeeding can be physically painful for mums, lead to sore or even bleeding nipples.
- Attaching – Many new mums find that baby doesn’t attach or ‘latch on’ as naturally as they’d expect, which can lead to a feeling of rejection or failure for mum. Patience and persistence are key.
- Thrush – this can occur and pass between you and baby’s mouth. If nipples become sore or pink after breastfeeding without problems, this may be a sign of thrush.
- Tongue-tie – Some babies are born with ‘tongue-tie’ where the skin between the underneath of the tongue and the bottom of the mouth is tight, making it difficult for baby to attach. If you experience any of the above and want to continue breastfeeding, don’t panic as help is at hand from GPs, health advisors and midwives.
In contrast, here are some benefits of formula feeding:
- Nutrients – Commercially prepared infant formulas are still full of nutrients, and can even contain some vitamins & nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements.
- Convenience – Formula feeding is convenient, and feeding can be shared between both parents enabling mums to do other things, and dads to feel the bond that comes with feeding their baby.
- Back to normal – ‘Normal’ life can resume more quickly, including returning to work, and taking birth control or other medication.
- Sleeping – Baby may sleep for longer in between feeds, giving you more chance to sleep for longer too.
- Quantities – You know exactly how much milk baby has had when formula-feeding.
What they don’t always tell you about formula feeding:
- Getting it right – It’s easy to make the mixture too strong, weak or hot.
- Illness – the NHS states that formula fed babies are more likely to get diarrhoea, chest, ear or urine infections.
- Expense – it is estimated to cost at least £700 per year to formula feed.
- Sterilising – there is a lot of work involved in thoroughly sterilising all the equipment required to formula-feed.
- Mixing it up – if you decide to combine bottle feeding with breastfeeding, you should not introduce bottle feeding during the first six weeks of life, because the difference between nipples can confuse the baby, cause feeding problems, and it can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding.
If you’re still not sure whether breast or formula feeding is best for you, speak to your midwife or health visitor for information and support, or call the National Breastfeeding helpline on 0300 100 0212.