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How To Decide Between Breast Feeding and Bottle Feeding

Perhaps you've already received advice from various friends and relatives on how to feed your baby, or maybe you've been spared this barrage because people assume they know how you are going to manage this important aspect of child care. Although many expectant grandparents are perplexed at the current trend toward breastfeeding, which they view as old-fashioned, they do not necessarily take any overt stand on the subject. However,

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some openly express their distaste for the practice. They did not breastfeed and feel compelled to recount all the reasons why they did not: Auntie Rose had “milk fever” and Cousin Dorothy “went dry” and Grandma Natalie “lost her figure” and Mrs. Winston “lost her husband's interest.”

Undoubtedly, someone at some time during your pregnancy, upon discovering that you are considering breastfeeding, will ask: “Why on earth do you want to do that? What are you, a cow?” Or: “You're too nervous to breastfeed.” “Your breasts are too small - you won't have enough milk.” “Why bother when you can give the kid a bottle of formula?” And so on. Friends and relatives of any age, never having been exposed to breastfeeding, may tell you it's messy; that you'll be too tied down; that you'll put on a lot of weight. Very seldom do today's expectant parents get bombarded with reasons for breast feeding and those people or organizations who encourage it are often described as “freaky,” “weird,” or “fanatics.” It is interesting to note that those who are strongly opposed to breastfeeding are never called “fanatics.”

Before going into the real arguments for and against breastfeeding and bottle feeding, let us go over the unreal points - the old wives' tales.

Old Wives' Tales About Breastfeeding

MYTH: You must eat and drink much more, thereby putting on a lot of weight and spending a lot of money.

FACT: As long as you are eating a well-balanced diet (for your own benefit) all you need add for breastfeeding is approximately 1,000 calories a day. This need not be expensive and can come from low-cost, high-protein sources such as beans, rice, cornmeal, enriched or wholegrain bread, peanut butter, wheat germ, etc., with vegetables and fruits or a vitamin-mineral capsule. As far as weight is concerned, if you continue to follow a diet that did not cause a weight gain before your pregnancy, you are more likely to lose than to gain weight, because breastfeeding causes the body to burn additional calories.

MYTH: If you have small breasts you will not have enough milk.

FACT: Breast size has nothing to do with milk production. It is determined more by fat content of the breasts than by mammary gland content. Small-breasted women may well produce far more milk than other women whose breasts look large.

MYTH: If you are the “nervous type” you cannot produce enough milk.

FACT: If you are extremely nervous, this may interfere with your let-down reflex and may inhibit the release of milk. It will, therefore, seem that you have less than enough. If you have this problem and relaxation techniques do not help, your doctor can prescribe an oxytocin nasal spray which will help your milk let-down until you are relaxed enough to do without this spray.

MYTH: Your breasts will sag and become pendulous.

FACT: Your breasts will become pendulous if you are genetically predisposed toward pendulous breasts. Any increase in breast size occurs during and because of pregnancy, not breastfeeding.

MYTH: You will be “tied down.”

FACT: You will be tied to feeding the baby, but that does not necessarily tie you down. Breastfeeding mothers can and do take their babies practically anywhere they choose to go. It is important for you to realize that unless you go back to work full-time, whether you breast- or bottle feed, you will be spending most of your time with the baby anyhow. Even mothers who bottle feed give most feedings themselves. When you do go out with the baby, a breastfed infant is more easily portable because you don't have to carry bottles of formula along with you. A breastfeeding mother can, just like a bottle feeding mother, leave the baby with a sitter occasionally and get out by herself or with her mate if she so desires.

MYTH: The new father can establish a closer relationship with the baby if he can bottle feed him or her.

FACT: The new father need not communicate his love and form a special relationship with his child only through feedings, but can do this through holding, bathing, massaging, touching, and talking to the infant. The new father plays an important role in the development of the baby without his direct participation in the feeding process.

Now that we've gotten these myths out of the way, the breast vs. bottle controversy can be analyzed as follows:

Arguments In Favor Of Breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding is more economical: it avoids the expense of formula.
  • Breastfeeding is less work. There are no bottles to wash, sterilize, or warm. Early morning or middle of the night feedings can be accomplished with a minimum of disruption of sleep.
  • Breastfeeding is healthier for the mother:

a) There is connection between breastfeeding and a lower incidence of breast cancer.

b) Breastfeeding women regain their waistlines sooner.

c) Breastfeeding causes the release of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contractions, thereby lowering the incidence of postpartum hemorrhaging.

d) Breastfeeding causes the release of the hormone oxytocin which is conducive to relaxation.

  • Breastfeeding is healthier for the baby:

a) Colostrum, the pre-milk substance the breastfed baby receives, provides temporary immunity from polio, coxsackie B virus, staphylococci, E. Coli (an intestinal virus), and other disorders.

b) Breastfed babies receive protection from many diseases to which their mothers are immune for as long as nursing continues.

c) Breastfeeding may provide nature's own medication for a baby who has an illness. It is theorized that exposure to the baby's germs causes the mother to produce antibodies which are transmitted to the baby through the milk. For the same reason, it is less likely that a breastfed baby will contract an illness from the mother (exceptions to this include tuberculosis and whooping cough).

d) Adults who were breastfed as babies have a lower incidence of heart disease, dental problems, and obesity than their bottle fed counterparts.

e) Breast milk is easier than formula to digest.

f) Colostrum aids in the maturation of the infant's digestive system.

g) Colostrum has a slightly laxative effect which helps eliminate meconium - the tar-like black substance in the newborn's intestinal system.

Argument In Favor Of Bottle feeding

A bottle fed infant can be fed by anyone, thereby removing the almost total feeding responsibility from the mother. She can more easily choose to go to work full- or part-time, to share the nighttime feeding responsibility with her mate, and in general will be less tied to the baby’s feeding needs.

Disadvantages Of Breastfeeding

  • There may be minor physical discomforts, such as sore nipples and breast engorgement, which usually last only a few days.
  • It takes time and patience for you and your baby to learn to nurse. During the first day or two, breastfeeding is not always as simple as putting a bottle in the baby's mouth. (But once the technique is established, there is nothing to it!)
  • During the first two or three weeks, your baby may demand to be fed as often as every two hours, and you will be unable to leave the baby for any length of time during this period. It is possible that you may not feel like going out for several weeks anyway.

Disadvantages Of Bottlefeeding

  • Even if you choose to take the antilactogenic (milk-drying) hormone given by injection in the delivery room or in pill form after you give birth, your breasts may become engorged several days later. This engorgement generally lasts a day or two and can be quite painful.
  • You must always provide a bottle of formula for the baby wherever the baby goes.
  • Formula needs proper refrigeration and, according to some pediatricians, must be warmed before serving.
  • You must wash feeding equipment; some pediatricians still insist that bottles and nipples be sterilized.
  • All formulas do not agree with all babies. You may find that your baby does not tolerate a particular formula well and your doctor will recommend another. Occasionally a baby does not tolerate any formula and the mother is advised to locate a source of breast milk while she attempts to re-lactate.
  • Formula, like any prepared food, carries with it the possibility of bacterial contamination.
  • Formula is an additional expense. Moreover, any leftover formula should be discarded because it may spoil.

Environmental Pollutants Like PCB's and DDT In Breast Milk

We live in an era of environmental contamination and there is no way for any of us to escape this unfortunate aspect of today's technological society. Even while growing in your uterus, your baby absorbs contaminants present in the food you eat. These pollutants continue be passed to the baby after birth through the breast milk If a mother nurses. As far as we have been able to determine however, no governmental agency has recommended the cessation of breast feeding. There is no reason to recommend that women not nurse their babies, except those women living on heavily contaminated farms.

While formula does not contain these contaminants, because they are fat soluble and because the fat in cow's milk is removed before the formula is processed, formula carries with it the possibility of bacterial contamination. When babies begin to drink pure cow's milk instead of formula and begin to eat solid foods from the table, they are exposed to these same environmental pollutants.

The long- and short-term benefits of breastfeeding are known and documented. Scientists continually come up with new reasons why women should nurse. We therefore feel these outweigh the hypothetical risks involved in exposure to environmental pollutants in breast milk.

If you do decide to breastfeed, you can restrict your intake of potentially harmful contaminants by;

  • Peeling and washing all fruits and vegetables before they are consumed.
  • Eating lean meats and poultry and trimming all visible fat from them.
  • Avoiding freshwater fish.

While the arguments in all the literature are clearly stacked on the side of breastfeeding as nature's way of providing the best possible nutrition for the baby and some distinct physical advantages for the mother, we believe that the expectant mother must also consider her own feelings before making a decision. It's one thing to say breastfeeding is better for mother and child and another to want to feed your baby this way. Also, breastfeeding involves a commitment some women are unable or unwilling to make. While a breastfed baby can occasionally be left with a sitter who can feed the child a bottle of expressed breast milk or formula, the overwhelming majority of feedings must be given by the mother.

Many women find they feel a special closeness toward their breastfed infants and believe this is an especially beautiful part of motherhood. Mothers who have had occasion to breastfeed one infant and bottle feed another can attest to this. Others find the idea of putting a breast into a child's mouth absolutely distasteful. And, while some fathers take pride in seeing their mates fulfill this part of their biological function, others don't want to share “their” breasts with anyone; even their children. It is important that both parents express and share such feelings before a decision is reached. The greatest asset a breastfeeding woman can have is a supportive mate who will help her over the rough spots. A new father who is not committed to breastfeeding will most probably encourage the use of formula whenever a problem occurs and thereby subvert the breastfeeding efforts of his mate.

The new mother who is negative, embarrassed, or uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding should not be coerced into it. Such a mother is doing no favor to her infant, because her negative feelings are communicated – in the form of tension - to the baby, who then may respond by feeding poorly. In addition, a woman who truly does not want to breastfeed may very well be unsuccessful at it. Her reluctance to nurse will undoubtedly inhibit her let-down reflex, which may predispose her to a breast infection and will certainly cause frustration on the part of the baby who sucks fruitlessly. The mother who feels more at ease while bottle feeding her baby should bottle feed. She will relate her positive feelings through the relaxed and loving way she holds, looks at, and speaks to her infant.

Whatever your choice, don't permit anyone to influence you away from what you feel is right for you and your baby. Your best friend or sister-in-law can only discuss her feelings and experiences. They may be helpful, to be sure, but only you can evaluate your own situation and decide which method is best for you.

If you decide to breastfeed, or have mixed feelings about it, we suggest you contact a La Leche League chapter in your area. This is an organization of mothers who have breastfed and/or are breastfeeding their babies and who know practically everything there is to know about the subject. Through them you can locate books and films about nursing and you will most certainly be invited to attend a local La Leche meeting to get together with other women like yourself and have some of your questions answered. If you are undecided about whether to breastfeed, members can help you obtain information to give you a better basis on which to make your decision.

However, we will make one suggestion. If after doing some research and soul-searching you honestly cannot decide, please give breastfeeding a try. You can always wean the baby to formula if you decide breastfeeding is not for you, but it is decidedly more difficult (although not impossible) to encourage the production and let-down of milk after you've bottle fed the baby over a period of time.

Health | Reproduction | Pregnancy


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