Breastfeeding, Formula-feeding, or Both?
Deciding whether to breastfeed, bottle-feed, or some combination of both is another important personal decision to make before having your baby. Just like any other aspect of pregnancy or parenthood, we advocate that women educate themselves as much as possible on the topic, then make the decision that they feel is the best for themselves, their baby, and their family. Both breastfeeding and formula-feeding offer unique advantages and disadvantages. Some mothers prefer to breastfeed exclusively without introducing a bottle, some mothers prefer to pump and then bottle-feed with breast milk, some mothers prefer to breastfeed and supplement with formula, and some mothers prefer to exclusively bottle-feed using formula. As long as your baby is getting adequate nutrition, all these choices are great! However, there are some unique benefits to breastfeeding that stand out enough that they necessitate extra discussion.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life due to the immediate and long-term benefits for the baby. Exclusively breastfeeding means that you offer no other form of food/drink to your baby other than breast milk (no water, no formula, no foods). Even if you are not able to breastfeed from the breast for the first six months (for example, if you have to go back to work or school, or if your baby rejects the breast at any point during those first six months), you can still express breast milk by using a pump and feed it to your baby using a bottle. If you want to feed using both the breast and the bottle, most lactation consultants recommend that you exclusively feed from the breast for at least the first 4 weeks to avoid nipple confusion; then slowly introduce the bottle (using a slow-flow nipple).
Did you know that your breast milk is perfectly tailored to suit the individual needs of your baby? Breast milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients that your baby needs in those first vital months of life. Additionally, it passes on substances that help supplement their delicate, developing immune systems and helps them fight bacteria and disease. Research has shown that breastfed babies are typically less susceptible to certain diseases (including some cancers) later in life. In addition to the numerous benefits that breastfeeding has for your baby, it also has lots of benefits for you too, mommy! Breastfeeding has shown to reduce stress, reduce occurrence of postpartum depression, facilitate bonding between mommy and baby, reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and help mom return to a healthy weight quicker after delivery. I could probably do a whole post on the benefits of breastfeeding, but for more information on this topic, visit the La Leche League website.
How to Get Started
Is breastfeeding a natural process? Yes. But, it is also a learning process. It's something that you and your baby will have to learn together in order to be successful. Learning as much about breastfeeding as you can before your baby is born is a great way to prepare yourself for this transition. I highly recommend taking a breastfeeding class from your local hospital or independent lactation consultant before you give birth. Once you have delivered your baby, the best time to try to breastfeed is within the first hour after birth when baby is most alert. If your baby is healthy, you may even attempt to begin breastfeeding right in the recovery room. If you want to breastfeed as soon as you can after birth, make sure to tell your doctor and nursing team so they can help and encourage you.
The key to successful breastfeeding is to get the right latch. There are certain ways that you can position your baby, regardless of the kind of hold you use, that will facilitate a better latch than others. Make sure you bring your baby in to latch when their mouth is wide open (it may look like they are yawning), not when they are just opening up slightly. You want them to get as much of the breast as possible; if they just have the nipple in their mouth, you are going to end up with sore, bleeding, and cracked nipples. Again, getting just the right latch is key! This brings me to a hugely important point: Talk to a lactation consultant while you are in the hospital. Most hospitals these days will have a certified lactation consultant on staff that will visit each mom and baby during their recovery time. If you want/need help before they come to you, go ahead and ask that they visit you sooner. Also, most nurses will be able to assist in breastfeeding support while you are learning. Let your lactation consultant offer tips and observe your methods so she can help you avoid common mistakes and set you up for successful breastfeeding.
Seek Help Early if you Struggle
Some women feel ashamed if they are having a hard time with breastfeeding. They may feel like they should already know how to do it without help or they may feel embarrassed about having someone help them because it requires a relative stranger to see an exposed breast. If you feel like the first, don't be ashamed that you aren't magically endowed with amazing nursing skills. You are just learning something new, so it is okay to have a learning curve and ask for advice. If you feel like the second, it's understandable to feel a sense of unease, but remember that you are dealing with a trained professional that is there to help you, not to make you feel uncomfortable or exposed. One of the biggest issues that lactation consultants see is women who are coming to them when they are at the end of their rope. What they really hope to see is a mother coming for help at the first sign of difficulty. If you are experiencing pain, if your breasts are becoming inflamed or engorged, if you see signs of a blocked duct, if you worry that your baby isn't getting enough to eat, then call or visit a lactation consultant for help right away rather than waiting until you want to give up.
What if I Can't Breastfeed?
For several unknown reasons, there are some women that cannot physiologically breastfeed. Sometimes their milk doesn't come in or it doesn't come in with a strong enough supply to adequately meet baby's needs. If this happens to you, first, visit with a lactation consultant to see if there is anything you can do to pinpoint and alleviate the problem. If you find yourself still unable to breastfeed, you have to be easy on yourself. Don't think that you are a bad mother or an incomplete woman if you struggle! You still love your baby and will provide the best you can for your baby in terms of meeting his/her needs. Seek out support from other moms that have experienced similar issues. Talk openly with a trusted friend or family member about your feelings or seek out a professional counselor to help you through the transition. It's perfectly normal and understandable to feel disappointed, sad, angry, confused, helpless, whatever it is that you are feeling. Do the best you can, and if it doesn't work out for you, your baby will still be healthy and happy with the proper nutrition from other sources. Get help and support, then give yourself permission to let it go and move forward.
For more information about breastfeeding, visit http://www.babycenter.com/breastfeeding-basics
Disclaimer: The "Pregnancy, Babies, and Birth" blog series is meant as a source of general information only. It's intended use is to encourage women to further consider and discuss reproductive and birthing decisions themselves, with their partners, and with their medical care providers. Information included in this series is not intended to be professional medical advice or a substitution for a relationship with a licensed physician or practitioner. Any serious questions or concerns about reproductive, prenatal, and/or perinatal health should be directed to your primary care physician or other licensed specialist. Women's Services and Resources does not promote any particular brand, medical provider, birthing location, or any other specific birthing decisions. We strongly encourage women to become as educated about their choices as possible so they are empowered to make educated decisions for themselves and their babies.