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Should I breastfeed or bottlefeed?

One of the many decisions parents face with new babies is what to feed them. This should be decided before the birth of the child if possible. Remember, if you choose to bottle feed initially and change your mind after the first few days, it is very difficult to get your milk supply going. On the other hand, if you try to breastfeed but do not wish to continue, it is easier to transition to formula.

What are the advantages of breastfeeding?

  • Breast milk is more easily digested:
    Human milk contains proteins and sugars that are much better tolerated by
    baby’s sensitive stomach than cow’s milk. Breastfed infants are less likely to have gas and upset stomach. Mom’s milk also has specific proteins which stop the growth of certain types of bacteria.
  • Breastfeeding leads to fewer food allergies:
    Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing food allergies.
  • Breastfeeding leads to fewer infections:
    Breast milk contains antibodies which provide protection against a variety of illnesses. It has been shown to reduce ear infections, vomiting and diarrhea, respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, and meningitis (a serious brain infection).
  • Breastfeeding is cheap!:
    Although Mom needs to increase her daily calories, the cost of eating slightly more food is much less than the cost of formula.
  • Breast milk is easy to carry:
    No need to lug around bottles—breasts are always available. No warming or cleaning bottles and nipples while away from home. No middle of the night trips to the kitchen to heat up a bottle.
  • Breastfeeding promotes weight loss:
    Nursing a baby burns calories and increases contractions of the uterus. This helps Mom return to her pre-pregnancy shape faster.
  • Breastfeeding helps Mom bond with her baby:
    There are few bonds as strong as that between mother and child. Nursing increases that close contact as well as actually stimulating release of hormones which foster that bond.

What are the disadvantages of breastfeeding?
There are very few disadvantages of breastfeeding when the feeding is going well. Some mothers may feel the demand of their time since they are the only person feeding the child. Breastfed babies may feed more frequently at night than formula-fed babies. However, most Moms feel this increased time with baby only improves the bond.

Nursing can initially be uncomfortable but usually the discomfort goes away by two weeks. Coaching from your doctor, lactation specialist, or other nursing mother can help overcome some of these discomforts.

There are some medical conditions that interfere with breastfeeding but these are rare. Sometimes the mother has an infection or is on a medication that would be harmful to the infant. Please ask your doctor about your medications.

Fathers and other caregivers can still form a strong bond with the baby by holding, diapering, rocking and singing, etc. After breastfeeding is well established, around 1 month, some parents choose to give the occasional bottle of breast milk while Mom uses a pump. This may give Mom the opportunity to get away as well as giving another caretaker the opportunity to feed the baby.

Some parents recognize the value to breast milk but do not feel comfortable with nursing. These mothers can be quite successful pumping her breasts and giving the baby the breast milk in a bottle. This continues to provide the benefits of breast milk for the child but may be considered easier on some mothers.

If breastfeeding is not working or you choose to feed your infant formula, there is no reason to feel guilty about this. Many infants have done well on formula. Formula companies have gone to great efforts to provide a product that is as close to breast milk as possible. Formula can provide your child with the nutrients he needs, although it lacks antibodies and those unique components only found in breast milk.

Talk to your doctor or your baby’s doctor for more advice on breastfeeding.

The above information was obtained from a variety of sources including: Your Baby’s First Year: Seven Shelov, MD, and the American Academy of Pediatrics website.