It’s now time for me to start my breastfeeding series, a continuation of my pregnancy series!
I’ve been putting this post off for a while now, because the topic of breastfeeding can be quite polarizing among mothers. On one end you find the die-hard breastfeeders, and on the other are the defensive formula users.
Let me start by saying this: if you chose not to breastfeed your baby, you are not a bad mother. Many women are unable to breastfeed due to certain medical conditions, in which case infant formula is a life-saver. You have to do what’s best for you and your baby.
This post is for the mothers who are trying to decide whether breastfeeding is worth the trouble.
First, let’s start with the cons of breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding can be stressful at first. For some new moms, their milk comes in just a few hours after giving birth, but for others it can take up to five days. My labor was so long and traumatic that the stress prevented my milk from coming in until the end of day 5. That was 5 days of feeding my baby mere drops of colostrum (the yellow pre-milk, which is highly nutritious) and watching her weight drop every day at the pediatrician’s office. Talk about stress! The nurses encouraged me to supplement with infant formula, but I was determined not to do so (I’ll explain below). I eventually contacted my doula, who hooked me up with a milk donor. Once we received the extra breast milk, I was able to relax, and my milk arrived! Other stress sources include lacking confidence in your milk supply, nursing technique, etc. Keep reading!
- At some point, breastfeeding will be painful. If you’re starting out and your baby has a poor latch (as in, is only sucking on your nipple and not the entire areola), you can experience soreness for days. The earlier you correct this problem, the happier you and your baby will be. On top of that, some mothers experience clogged milk ducts and even mastitis. To prevent this, nurse and pump frequently and massage your breasts while manually expressing milk in the shower. I have never experienced mastitis, but I’ve heard a good way to ease the pain is to place cold cabbage leaves on your breasts (seriously!). Many mothers complain of dry, cracked nipples. I recommend using a safe salve, such as lanolin or coconut oil to keep them moisturized. Breast milk itself has healing properties, so express a few drops and let them dry before you get dressed.
- If you work outside the home, breastfeeding can be inconvenient. Although I stay home with Abby now, I’ve had a good taste of what it’s like to be a working mom who breastfeeds. When Abby arrived last spring, I was in the middle of my rotations for my dietetic internship. After eight short weeks of maternity leave, my mom moved in with us, I packed up my breast pump (free from my health insurance company!) and cooler packs, and returned to work for 10 more weeks. My daily routine consisted of feeding Abby before I left, pumping once during my morning break, driving that milk home during my lunch break, and pumping again in the afternoon. It was horribly time-consuming and exhausting, but I was determined to give her a healthy start. I now have immense respect for working women who exclusively breastfeed!
- The entire responsibility of feeding the baby lies with you. As much as your spouse/family wants to help so you can sleep more at night, you are the only one who can feed your baby (unless your baby will fall asleep after taking a bottle, in which case you can pump ahead of time). It can take newborns 45 minutes to an hour with each feeding. This can be frustrating, because they may eat every two hours from the beginning of each feeding. Sometimes it will feel like all you do is nurse your baby!
The pros of breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding is a wonderful bonding experience. There’s nothing sweeter than the calm face of your nursing baby as you hold her close. Enjoy those beautiful moments!
- You have the ability to comfort your baby in a matter of seconds. Studies have shown that breastfeeding actually has a sedative effect on babies, whereas bottle feeding does not. This comes in handy when babies are having trouble sleeping, are sick, or are upset after receiving a vaccination. The ability to comfort your baby is very important for your happiness as well as your baby’s.
- Night feedings are much easier when you don’t have to go to the kitchen to prepare bottles of formula. One option is to let the baby sleep in the bed with you so you don’t have to get out of bed for feedings. Even better, sleep topless so the baby can help herself!
- Breastfeeding is cheaper than infant formula. Although formula prices vary, thesimpledollar.com estimates that at $0.19 per ounce, formula for the first year of your baby’s life will cost you over $1,700. Except for the cost of the extra food you will need to eat to maintain your milk supply, breastfeeding is free!
- Breastfeeding decreases the mother’s risk of breast cancer later in life. A large meta-analysis found a 4.3% decreased risk every year of breastfeeding (Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast C: Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. Lancet 2002; 360:187-195.)
- Breastfeeding (exclusively) delays the onset of your menstrual cycle, acting as a natural birth control for a few months. Mine did not return until I was 7 months postpartum, but this can vary from one month to 15 months! Of course, you ovulate before your first period, so always use extra protection just in case.
- Breast milk is better for your baby than infant formula. Formula manufacturers mimicked the nutrient makeup of breast milk fairly closely (although breast milk contains less protein), but what your body makes will always be better for the baby.
- Breast milk is easier to digest than infant formula. Newborn babies’ digestive tracts are so immature that anything other than breast milk can cause GI discomfort, gas, and possibly colicky behavior. There is a theory that infant formula increases a baby’s risk of leaky gut syndrome, which can cause food allergies and potentially autoimmune diseases later in life. With autoimmune diseases on both sides of my family, this was reason alone for me to exclusively breastfeed Abby.
- Breast milk transfers the mother’s antibodies (immune system) to the baby, reducing the baby’s risk of illness — particularly ear infections, asthma, allergies, eczema, diarrhea, and respiratory conditions (this risk is further decreased if the mother maintains a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet).
- The nutrient content of breast milk changes as the baby grows and its needs change. As long as you’re using the same formula, your baby is receiving the same nutrients every day until you start her on solid foods.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight in childhood than formula-fed babies (Gunderson EP: Breast-feeding and diabetes: long-term impact on mothers and their infants. Curr Diab Rep 2008; 8:279-286).
- Certain flavors in the mother’s diet can be tasted in the breast milk, exposing the baby to different flavors early in life. This may help prevent your child from becoming a picky eater when he or she starts eating solid foods.
Honestly, the only point that really matters to me is the last one: breastfeeding is better for my baby than infant formula. So no matter how difficult it was at times, I was glad I made the extra effort to exclusively breastfeed Abby until she was 6 months old. She is now eating some solid foods, but her primary source of nutrients is still breast milk. I plan on continuing to breastfeed her at least until the recommended age of two years.
Many mothers find themselves asking the question, “Why does something so natural feel so unnatural?” Although breastfeeding is the way all mammals feed their young, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Most labor & delivery hospitals should have a certified lactation counselor on staff, so make sure you see her at least twice before you leave the hospital. Mine was very helpful because she physically put the baby in position and showed me what a proper latch looks like. She also helped me find a nursing position that was comfortable for me since sitting up was NOT an option.
Getting a proper latch:
The most important aspect of breastfeeding is making sure the baby is latched onto the breast properly. You may not realize your baby is improperly latched until later, when your baby is still hungry and your nipples are incredibly sore.
Start by making sure your baby’s mouth is open very wide. You may have to use your finger to push down her chin. When her mouth is open, quickly press her face into your breast, making sure her lips are over your areola and her bottom lip curls out like a fish’s. Your nipple should be toward the back of her mouth, as if she’s drinking through a straw.
Once you and the baby master the latch-on process, you can try different nursing positions and find out which one you prefer. For the first few weeks postpartum, all I could handle was feeding Abby while lying on my side. This was also much easier on my back than sitting up and hunching over while nursing. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend purchasing a nursing pillow. It will save your back and arms a lot of soreness!
My hope is that this post convinced you to try breastfeeding if you were previously on the fence. I know that it’s easy to get discouraged at first — trust me, I’ve been there! But know that all of the pain and effort will be worth it if it gives your baby the healthiest start possible.
The most common excuse I hear from new mothers who have quit breastfeeding is that they weren’t producing enough milk for their baby. Unless you have a medical condition or are on medications that interfere with lactation, there are several things you can do to increase your milk supply, so don’t give up yet! My next post in this series will cover the ways you can ensure a sufficient milk supply for your baby, and will include a fantastic recipe for lactation cookies!