Is Breast Milk Really the Best for Your Baby's Health?

Breastfeeding is a hot topic these days. From the controversial topic of women breastfeeding other women’s babies to the war over formula, there is definitely no shortage of dialogue.

While we have yet to exhaust the argument that breastfeeding is the only way to ensure that babies get all the nutrients they need to develop healthy bodies and brains, there are still many women who choose to go the formula route – and those who may want to breastfeed, but for whatever reasons, are not physically able.

Ask a hundred mothers where they stand when it comes to the issue of breastfeeding, and you’re bound to get answers all over the place. That being said, these days there does seem to be a growing trend in the direction of breastfeeding. No argument here that whenever possible, the breast is probably the best. But is it the only way? And are we “bad” mommies if we chose not to go that route – or can’t?

Why I Didn’t Breastfeed

I wanted to breastfeed, but my milk ducts were defective. I went through a guilt fest the first few weeks of my daughter’s lives, feeling like I was a freak of nature because I wasn’t able to do something that according to biology was supposed to come naturally. “Why me?” I asked the neonatal nurses with tears brimming over. They only shrugged, clearly more fascinated by my malfunction than sympathetic.

I worried ad nauseam that my failure to provide my babies with nature’s magic elixir would result in compromised immune systems, gastric problems, bonding issues, or God forbid, autism. The cocktail of hormones coursing through my body had me fearing the worst. And yet after all of the anxiety, guilt, and tears I put myself through, my little ones grew and developed into normal and healthy kids.

Is Breast Really Best?

Before you grab your breast pump and run to the bathroom to load up enough to leave with the sitter, know this: studies in Norway have found that breastfed babies may only be slightly healthier than their counterparts who are bottle-fed. And they argue that it’s not the breast milk that makes the difference, but the health of the baby in the womb that counts.

This kind of research raises a lot of eyebrows with the “breastmilk is best-milk” disciples, but for working mums across the globe who are hard pressed for the time to breastfeed 12 to 15 times a day, a cautious but hopeful sigh can be heard.

To Breastfeed or Not to Breastfeed?

There are copious studies that claim a litany of breastfeeding benefits like protecting our children from diseases, including childhood cancer. But there are also studies that show all of the antibodies that our babies need are provided by the placenta before they ever leave our bellies. While we can’t argue that breast milk is a superior source of nutrition for our babies, is it fair to also argue that we really have no other option?

There are a growing number of stories of new mothers who had so completely given into the idea that breast is best, that they ended up doing more harm than good. Fear of formula feeding has caused some mothers to ignore important signs of malnutrition where, for whatever reason, their little one was not getting the necessary calories and nutrition. In some cases, babies have starved to death as a result, which has led to the Fed is Best movement. And while breastfeeding does have its many benefits, we can’t argue with the fact that sometimes formula is the only way.

Then there’s the other obvious all-important benefit – bonding. Even for the small amount of time that I attempted to breastfeed my babies, I felt a closeness with them that felt very natural and primal. For me, not being able to experience that powerful connection with both of my little ones was more devastating than the nutritional concerns. Still, skin-to-skin contact and cuddling up during bottle-feedings came in at a close second.

So where does all this leave the millions of mothers out there wrestling with the questioning whether they should breastfeed or not?

Making the Choice

If the research is indeed correct that our children’s health risks are more closely tied to our pregnancy, then keep the focus on doing what you can to give your babies the healthiest 9 months possible. That means eating a healthy diet, taking prenatal vitamins, watching your caffeine intake, not smoking, and exercising daily. And if your physical condition (and lifestyle!) allow you to breastfeed – great!

But if your lifestyle can’t accommodate it, don’t sweat it. And what about when our baby goes on a breastfeeding strike or worse, like in my own case, is allergic to something in the mother’s breast milk? Back when I was a newborn, no one really understood about food allergies and how these allergens could be passed through the mother’s breast milk. If a baby refused the breast, a mother was simply told that her babe was allergic to her milk, and not something IN the milk.

After discovering that breastfeeding was the cause of my colic, rather than changing her diet per her doctor’s advice, my mother stopped breastfeeding altogether. I turned out to be a dairy-sensitive baby, and wasn’t any worse for the wear.

At the end of the day, ladies, this is the 21st century – if we’re undecided about breastfeeding, we can’t let others shame us into making that choice. We have to get on the Internet, do the research, weigh out the facts, and then follow our heart. Ready to make the right choice for YOU?

What will you choose to give your baby – breast or formula? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tags : baby   health   nutrition   breastfeeding   

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