To Breastfeed or not to Breastfeed

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD

One difficult decision you may face during your pregnancy is deciding whether or not to breastfeed your newborn baby. Breastfeeding is currently in vogue for a variety of good reasons which we will shortly discuss. However, the decision to breastfeed or not remains a personal choice that each mother must make. You should not feel pressured into choosing one way or the other just to please the people around you.

mother nursing baby Keep the following points in mind while making your decision:

Advantages of breastfeeding include:

Breast milk is the most complete source of naturally balanced nutrition available for your baby. The only food an infant needs during the first six months of life is breast milk.

Breast milk contains antibodies that protect your baby from illness. Breastfed babies tend to have fewer allergies than bottle-fed babies.

Breast milk is less expensive and easier for babies to digest than formula.

Breastfeeding can be both relaxing and convenient. There are no bottles to wash, sterilize, or prepare.

Breastfeeding can help your uterus return to normal size more quickly after delivery because of the release of the hormone oxytocin.

Breastfeeding can also help you lose weight.

Disadvantages of breastfeeding include:

Women who breastfeed must be available to feed their babies 6 to 8 times each day. However, women may choose to pump and store their breast milk to make it possible for other people to actually feed their baby. It can be easier for others to share the responsibility of caring for a baby when bottle feeding methods are used unless the mother is committed to pumping regularly to maintain a breast milk supply.

Because breast milk is easier to digest, breastfed babies tend to require more feedings. Bottle-fed babies tend to remain fuller for longer periods, and therefore can go longer between feedings.

Bottle feeding makes it easier for you to see how much your baby is eating. When breastfeeding, a woman has to guess how much milk her baby is getting. There are, however, signs that can be used to determine whether a baby is receiving enough milk (both from bottles or breastfeeding).

The foods you eat and the medications you take while breastfeeding can enter your baby's system through your milk. Therefore, women often have to avoid certain foods, drinks and medications that might have a negative effect on the baby throughout the entire period of breastfeeding. If you choose to bottle feed, you do not have to worry about these restrictions.

Breastfeeding can lead to sore nipples and leaky breasts, which in turn can affect your sex life. This is not a problem for women who bottle feed.  However, it is a myth that breastfeeding always hurts. If it hurts, they may be a problem and the mother should consult a doctor or lactation specialist for assistance.

Keep this in mind when deciding how to feed your baby: Your breasts will only continue producing milk if you allow your baby to nurse on them or you pump just as often as you would be nursing. They will cease to produce milk if nursing/pumping ceases. For this reason, it is easier for you to start out breastfeeding and later switch to bottle feeding if you decide it isn’t for you than vice versa. Most hospitals have lactation (breastfeeding) consultants who can help you to learn about breastfeeding and get used to this new experience during the first few days with your new baby. Information about breastfeeding is available online at http://www.lalecheleague.org/ and in this 60-page PDF Guide to Breastfeeding by WomensHealth.gov that can be downloaded at https://www.womenshealth.gov/files/documents/your-guide-to-breastfeeding.pdf.

 

 

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