Age-old question: To breastfeed or not to breastfeed?

Whether or not to breastfeed your newborn is a tough decision to make, as it will affect many areas of your life. Get informed, and think about both sides of the coin before taking the plunge.

woman breastfeeding baby

Breastfeeding is one of those activities that has directly collided with modernity and spawned clubs of loyalists and renegades — both sides try to shame you in or out of it. So let’s look at the facts and assess all the possibilities, and then you can draw your own conclusion. There is no single right or wrong answer for a mother; breastfeeding is a personal experience and should be determined by you only.

What’s so good about breastfeeding?

Nutrition

In terms of nutrition, breastfeeding wins the prize. No matter how hard companies work at stuffing as many vitamins into baby formula as science permits, they cannot beat the real thing. Breast milk is amazing because it is catered by your body specifically to suit your baby’s needs. It can’t get any better than that.

Digestion

Preventative benefits

Breast milk is known for its preventative benefits. The antibodies produced by the mother and passed on to the child through the milk have been proven to help defend the baby from infections, prevent allergies and protect from chronic diseases, and have even been shown to curb obesity later in life.

Breast milk is easier for an infant to digest. When milk (including breast milk) is consumed, it breaks down into whey and curd, whey being liquid and curd being white and gooey. Breast milk produces more whey during digestion and is easily absorbed by babies. Formulas, on the other hand, are usually cow milk-based and produce more curd during digestion, which is tough for an infant to process. In layman’s terms, there is more spitting-up with baby formula. The good news is that companies are constantly innovating new ways to curb that unpleasant situation by producing formulas that are already “broken down” to minimize the curd content. So you ladies who choose to not breastfeed or who cannot, fear not!

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Dietetic Association (ADA), American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months. But statistically, of the 85 per cent of women who give breastfeeding a go, only 17 per cent stick it out for the advised duration.

Why you may want to skip out on breastfeeding

While the benefits of breast milk are arguable (it is the more nutritious option), it’s not for everyone.

Difficulties

First and foremost, some women simply have difficulty producing milk. For some misplaced reason, this is often met with shame because they feel inept as mothers, but there is nothing wrong with that. Many women face the same issue, and this is when you reach for that formula. It’s OK — you can still bond with your infant even if you can’t provide breast milk.

Your lifestyle

A mother must consider her lifestyle when deciding whether to breastfeed her newborn. If you are a busy woman and will not have the time to breastfeed or even to pump and store breast milk, go for the formula. If you have a poor diet or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, go for the formula.

Your diet

Keep in mind that everything you eat will affect your breast milk, so your diet needs to cater to the needs of your infant all the time. This might not be a viable option, or perhaps it could result in some significant weight gain for you.

Stress factor

Breastfeeding is stressful — much more stressful than you’d anticipate. Sometimes you don’t have milk, then you have too much, then your baby wants more but you have none, then your baby is not having any — it’s a roller coaster! To add to the stress, risks of breastfeeding include sore nipples, engorgement, mastitis (breast infection) and plugged ducts. Be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Before you freak out, don’t forget that you can always combine breastfeeding (when you have breast milk) with formula feeding. Doing so will provide the benefits of the experience while keeping your stress level low.

To sum up, breast milk is the better nutritional option for a baby, but you have to evaluate what’s best for you and your situation. If you’re not up to breastfeeding, then choose formula to curb unnecessary stress for you and your child. It’s not about giving up or being a bad mother. Baby formula is an alternative, just another way of going about nourishing your newborn.

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