Now here’s a topic that’s guaranteed to raise the ire of those who are committed to either position. I’ve enjoyed the impassioned debate, largely because I’m thrilled to see people on both sides who are committed to their children’s nutrition. I’m concerned, however, when parents are made to feel like failures if they do not follow a particular approach.
Both sides have been guilty of such cruel propaganda. Adamant breast milk advocates have warned (inaccurately) that bottle-fed babies do not emotionally bond to their mothers as well. (This has been especially painful to adoptive mothers and others who, for biological reasons, cannot nurse their babies.)
Infant formula manufacturers have told mothers in third-world countries that breast milk wasn’t as good for their babies as the commercial product which is also a lie. In fact, this has led to infant malnutrition and diarrhea as poor parents, who used their meager funds to buy the unneeded formula to help their babies, prepared it in unsanitary conditions and with contaminated water. (This has become an even more complex issue in recent years since HIV can be passed from mother to child through breast milk in those babies who are born healthy but whose mothers have an HIV infection.)
So let’s put the emotions of breast-feeding and bottle-feeding aside and deal with the facts. First, with today’s commercial formulas for newborns, you don’t have to feel that you’re depriving your baby of any necessary nutrients. (Note that feeding your child cow’s milk is not an adequate substitute for human milk or formula.) An average bottle-fed baby will thrive as well as a breast-fed baby. So adequate nutrition the biggest concern shouldn’t be an issue.
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. If the mother is well-fed, breast milk is an idea diet for a newborn. It has all a baby needs for growth during the first few months of life, with the possible exception of fluoride and Vitamin D, which are easily given as supplements. Talk to your pediatrician about that.
Breast-feeding has some biochemical advantages as well. Even though your baby may be nursing soon after birth, he’s not getting any of your milk, which won’t be produced by your body until about the third day. Instead, you’re feeding him a yellowish liquid known as colostrum, which seems to transfer some of your own disease-preventing antibodies to him. This may protect him against certain viruses.
Also, a breast-feeding mother doesn’t have to be worried about her baby being allergic to her milk. Breast milk is sterile, readily available (to the mother, at least), and you never have to worry about its temperature. It can also be manually expressed and refrigerated, so that it’s available when the mother isn’t around.
Although many (but not all) babies will try to nurse immediately after birth, their efforts meet with varying success. Extracting milk from a breast takes a bit of coordination. Bottles present less of a problem that way. An experienced nurse will be able to share some tips to help your baby get the hang of it without becoming too frustrated. Don’t be surprised if it takes him a few tries to become a successful breast-feeder.