Feeding Babies: A non-biased approach

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Between my two kids, I have fed them in every way possible under the sun. I have nursed, I have exclusively pumped, and I have formula fed. Each way has been awesome in its own way, but each also has its hardships. I hope to provide a balanced, non-judgmental perspective for each so moms can make an informed decision on how to feed their babies.

Lets face it - no matter how or what your little one eats, babies are hard work. So before I even go into the options available, I want to be clear about one thing: I will never judge you for how you feed your kid. I have seen and experienced the burn of harsh words and ignorance of both sides of the breast vs bottle debate and I want no part in it. I want to be part of the more relevant and needed conversation of making informed, personal decisions!

Nursing

Breastfeeding is recommended by the AAP and WHO for infants 0-12 months. It is a fact that breast milk is the perfect food for human infants. It is so amazing! Not only does it have all the nutrients your little one needs, it also has lots of extras, like vitamins and anti bodies. Breastfeeding also has lots of benefits for you too, mama. Things like reduced likelihood of various cancers and osteoperosis is definitely a win in my book!

I don't really buy into the idea that breastfed babies are smarter than their formula-fed friends. I feel like that's kind of saying that someone who eats exclusively organic food is automatically smarter than someone who doesn't. There are so many more factors at play when talking about intelligence. It has been proven that breast fed babies are generally healthier in infancy. Personally, I attribute this to the naturally-occurring antibodies in breast milk.



The downsides to nursing unfortunately affect mainly you, mama. Nipple pain, risk of mastitis (which is the absolute WORST, btw), and a loss of time and energy can be big obstacles facing nursing moms. Almost all of these problems can be prevented or fixed with good education and the help of a lactation consultant. Also, after the first few months postpartum the pain and dedication of nursing usually become less of a burden for moms and breastfeeding becomes easy and convenient.

In summary, nursing is
Great because:
  • breast milk is perfectly formulated for babies
  • lots of antibodies and nutrients found only in breast milk
  • breastfed babies tend to be healthier
  • nursing moms tend to be healthier 
  • pretty convenient because there are no bottles to wash 
Not great because:
  • can be physically uncomfortable for moms
  • can be emotionally and mentally draining for moms
  • moms may experience social isolation because of the demands and stigma of nursing

Formula

Walk into any grocery store's formula aisle and you will find close to twenty different options for infant formula. Formula feeding is a popular and completely safe way to nourish your baby. Though formula does not have the naturally-occuring antibodies that breast milk does, it is 100% safe and acceptable to feed to babies! There seems to be a "junk food" mindset about formula, where breast milk is the good, organic, natural food and formula is the bad guy. It isn't so! Formula is created with the nutrients growing little ones need. Don't ever let anyone make you feel bad for formula feeding.

Formula fed babies tend to be slightly heavier than their breast fed friends, and that's okay! Also, formula fed babies are said to be slightly more prone to illness. While this may be attributed to the lack of breast milk antibodies, I personally feel that other factors contribute more to health. My son was exclusively breastfed until 9 months and was sick more often and more severely than my oldest was because we regularly took him to our gym's daycare. Breast milk did not protect him from RSV and bronchiolitis. It is not always the magical potion that many make it out to be.



Some babies experience gastrointestinal distress when drinking formula, but this is not a deal breaker! Try a few different brands and specialties, like those for stomach sensitivity. They even have soy formula for babies with milk sensitivities. When I formula fed my son, I used an organic brand. It was a little pricier but he never had any problems with it. I also think it tasted a little better for him. Honestly, that's my personal preference. I know a ton of moms whose babies love the brand name, non-organic formulas as well. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to marry a specific brand or specialty. Shop around until you find something that works for you and your baby.

There are many reasons a mom may choose to formula feed. She may struggle to breastfeed because of medical issues (including mental illness) or work. She may have trauma that affects her emotional ability to juggle breastfeeding and a new baby. Whatever the reason, I never want a mama to feel shame over her feeding choices. Not on my watch. Being a mom is hard enough without having to constantly defend your parenting choices to others.

In summary, formula feeding is
Great because:

  • it is a safe and acceptable alternative to nursing
  • its convenient for both parents
  • both parents can participate in feeding and bonding
  • both parents share responsibility for nighttime feedings

Not great because:

  • the bottles have to be washed (super bummer!)
  • the variety of formula choices can be overwhelming
  • formula is expensive, sometimes even cost-prohibitive
  • slight increase of SIDS in formula fed babies (can be reduced by safe sleeping practices)


Exclusively Pumping 

Sometimes moms have difficulty nursing but still want to feed their baby breast milk. I exclusively pumped with both my children for the large majority of their infancy. I'll be the first to tell you that it is no walk in the park. EP (short for exclusively pumping) takes a level of dedication, perserverence, knowledge, and organization that no other feeding method requires. Because of this, I do not recommend this feeding method unless you are absolutely determined, mama.

EP has the potential to be the most expensive feeding option up front. You need to purchase a double electric breast pump, accessories like a pumping bra and milk storage bags, and bottles. These materials can run you close to $500 up front. You can reduce a large portion of that by contacting your insurance company to see if they can provide you with a breast pump.

When anyone asks me about my experience exclusively pumping, I always say that it is the best and worst of both worlds (nursing and formula feeding). My baby still gets all the benefits of breast milk but I still have to work around the physical demands of breastfeeding AND wash bottles. Can you tell I hate washing bottles?



The absolute worst thing about exclusively pumping is the amount of time it takes. Life revolves around your pumping schedule. In the first 3 months of a newborn's life, an exclusively pumping mama must pump 8-10 times a day for at least 20-30 minutes or risk losing her milk supply. Thats roughly 5 hours a day just sitting at a pump, and one of the pumps must be in the middle of the night. This is in addition to the actual feeding. EP moms spend close to 10 hours a day feeding their baby. Its a huge commitment.

The only reason I chose to continue EP against its difficulty was because I was able to donate my excess milk to another baby in need. It truly was the only thing that kept me going most days. If I'm 100% honest, I would not have continued to EP if I did not have oversupply.

In summary, EP is
Great because:

  • babies receive all the same benefits as their nursed friends
  • higher need babies (like those with tongue and lip ties and those in the NICU) can still receive breast milk but do not have to work as hard to eat it. 
  • moms still receive the same potential health benefits
Not great because:
  • its a huge time commitment, requiring time away from family and/or work to pump
  • bottles still have to be washed 
  • moms may be prone to feelings of depression or isolation because of the demands of EP
  • moms may suffer judgement and misunderstanding from medical professionals who are not familiar with EP

Though this is absolutely not an exhaustive list of all the ways you can feed a baby (hello tube fed, donor milk, and SNS babies) nor a comprehensive list of all the pros and cons, I hope it inspires mamas to make informed, unbiased choices about feeding. This can definitely be considered a starting point to more research on feeding options. I hope I have shared enough of my own experience in all the different ways of feeding that you can feel like you have a friend and ally in the chaos of feeding options. I'm cheering you on, no matter which path you choose. 

If you'd like to do more of your own research, check out these websites:

www.kellymom.com for all your breastfeeding (including EP) needs
www.fedisbest.org is an organization that promotes healthy and safe feeding options (including formula) 
http://hm4hb.net/ (Human Milk 4 Human Babies) is an organization that distributes information about safe milk sharing practices






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