Is breast best?

With only a few weeks to go, the baby-themed questions now include whether I plan to breastfeed. My answer is invariably “definitely, yes” but apart from an instinct that breast is best, I’m not really sure why I feel so adamant about it.

breastfeeding

When I start looking into it, the argument in favour of breastfeeding does sound compelling. The NHS lists the myriad advantages of feeding your baby naturally:

  • Breast milk is the only natural food designed for your baby.
  • Breastfeeding protects your baby from infections and diseases.
  • Breast milk provides health benefits for your baby.
  • Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mum.
  • It’s free.
  • It’s available whenever and wherever your baby needs a feed.
  • It’s the right temperature.
  • It can build a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and baby.
  • It can give you a great sense of achievement.

Other benefits include how breast milk is uniquely formulated to be the perfect cocktail to exactly suit your baby. Your breast milk supply also automatically adjusts depending on the conditions. For example, if it is a hot day, more milk will be produced in order to hydrate your baby. Incredible!

The fact that all advertisements for formula milk include small print saying that breastfeeding is best for your baby also puts me off!

However, there are advantages of using formula milk which should not be ignored. NHS Inform notes that formula milk has added Vitamin K, which is extremely beneficial for your baby. Also, anyone can feed your baby formula milk, which gives the father and other family members a chance to bond through feeding. However, one thing I intend to do eventually is try and express breast milk so that Mr Cath can have a go (and perhaps I can have a glass of wine or two!) – so we do plan to use bottles of breast milk at some point.

I feel another big advantage of formula feeding is the ability to feed in public without worrying you might expose yourself! Yes, these days you can buy “breastfeeding butterflies” and other such glorified cloths that you can lay across yourself while feeding, but there might be the worry that it could slip off. Also, some establishments frown on breastfeeding, whereas none would bat an eyelid if you were using a bottle.

A recent study claims that formula-fed babies not only cry less, but sleep better and for longer. However, this could very well relate to the nature of formula milk, which is more filling than breast milk. Because the babies have eaten more, and are full, they are calmed and soporific – rather like how I feel after a Sunday roast. In fact, according to one researcher, “these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly.”

In Your Baby and Child (2010), Penelope Leach suggests that mothers have nothing to lose by starting off breastfeeding as this keeps both options open, allowing you to wean them onto a bottle afterwards if you choose; it is very difficult to switch the other way, from bottle to breast, as your breasts will have stopped making milk. I think it is sensible to aim for this approach and see how it goes.

The debate is vast and complex and one I am sure we will regularly revisit in our blog… Ultimately it is a very personal decision and one that should not face judgement or criticism, whether you use formula from the start or breastfeed your child for years!

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