Bottle or Breast- Which is Best?

All moms are encouraged to breastfeed because we know of the many benefits it has for both mom and baby. Immunity for the baby is one. Another benefit is easier weight loss for mom. It may protect your baby from ear infections, SIDS, eczema, allergens, type 2 diabetes and becoming obese as a child. It may protect mom from certain cancers, such as ovarian and breast cancer. It can improve the baby’s cognitive development. It can reduce mom’s risk of developing postpartum depression. It introduces flavors to baby before he/she is exposed to solid foods, making your baby more likely to accept a variety of foods as a child. It’s free.

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Although the research supporting the above may be true for most breastfed babies, it doesn’t hold true for all. Let’s take a little boy I know for example, who was breastfed and wouldn’t even take the bottle. He fought chronic ear infections as a child and refused to eat anything that wasn’t white rice or kool aid. On the other hand, I know some formula fed kids who are healthy and love most foods- even the green ones! Some women hold onto their baby weight until they’re done breastfeeding because their body likes to hold onto some extra fat for milk production.  Other women may formula feed but still find weight loss to come easy after birth.

All of that being said, I DO encourage moms to breastfeed because of all the wonderful health benefits it can have for the baby. However, I don’t like women to think that breastfeeding is magically going to cure their baby of all childhood illnesses or that the 30+ pounds they gained during the course of their pregnancy is going to disappear almost immediately. Everyone’s situation is different but because we know that breastfeeding is linked to all of these wonderful things, it’s what moms are encouraged to do.

So that must mean that breast is best, right? Not in every case. I have seen so many women feel like failures because they were unable to breastfeed their children. I’ve seen them labeled as bad moms. I’ve seen them get discouraged and feel ashamed because they were unable to feed their children the way we are expected to as “good” moms.

A positive to bottle feeding is allowing dad to bond with baby
A positive to bottle feeding is allowing dad to bond with baby

There are special situations where it may seem your baby is unable to tolerate breastmilk. It’s actually the foods in mom’s diet that the baby is having trouble with, not the breastmilk. Carli was a little colicky when she was a newborn, and with some trial and error with my diet I was able to discover that I had to reduce my intake of gas-producing foods (namely vegetables) and completely eliminate dairy for her to tolerate my milk. I understand that some of this may involve quite the sacrifice (no pizza?? Come on!!) and maybe it will be better for you to just switch your baby over to a lactose-free or dairy-free formula for both of you to be well-fed and happy. Every time I did sneak a bite of cheesecake or a small spoonful of ice-cream we were both miserable- Carli because she had an upset tummy and me because I was up all night with a sick baby.

In other situations, changing your diet to make your milk better for baby simply isn’t an option. That’s because in some cases, women have a hard time even producing breastmilk.

  •  Insufficient glandular tissue is one example, something that occurs when breasts doesn’t develop normally. With this issue you may be able to breastfeed a little bit but will also need to supplement with formula to make sure your baby is getting enough.
  • Hormonal problems, such as PCOS, thyroid disease or diabetes. Breastfeeding relies on the signaling of hormones to allow for milk production, so in some cases these hormonal issues may result in a low milk supply.
  • Breastfeeding is NOT birth control, so some women may opt to go back on the birth control pill shortly after having their baby. Hormonal birth control will reduce milk supply, making it difficult to breastfeed. If you want to be successful in breastfeeding, I would recommend a non-hormonal form of birth control until you or baby is ready to wean.

In other situations, the baby may have difficulty breastfeeding. This is typically a result of a poor latch. A lactation consultant may be able to help with this, but some babies will still have sucking difficulties. I was born with a cleft palate which resulted in a lot of feeding difficulties, especially since my mom was trying to breastfeed me. I was able to get more milk from the bottle, so my poor mother was a slave to the pump so that I could still drink her expressed milk. Back then there were no such thing as electronic pumps- they were all manual. That’s dedication! It didn’t last long and I ended up being a mostly formula fed baby. I don’t blame my mom one bit. And hey- I turned out just fine! Other babies who have difficulty taking milk from the breast include those with cardiac problems, neurological deficits and congenital conditions such as Down’s Syndrome. These babies may be better able to take mom’s expressed milk or formula from a bottle.

Although most women are able to produce enough milk for their babies and will be able to successfully breastfeed, use your instinct and do what’s best for you and your baby. Look for signs that your newborn is getting enough milk. Is he fussy during or after feeds? Is he sleeping okay? Gaining weight okay? Has he developed jaundice (a condition that can happen to newborns when they aren’t getting enough milk)?  In the case that mom’s mature milk production is delayed, these babies are at risk for hypoglycemia, >5% weight loss, dehydration and high levels of bilirubin. Underfed newborns are at risk for neurodevelopmental impairments such as ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, severe speech delays and mental retardation. Although a delayed onset in milk production is rare, most well-meaning mothers may be under- feeding their newborns without knowing it, wanting so badly to be successful with breastfeeding.

Whether it’s from a beast or a bottle, fed is best. Fed babies are healthy, happy and thrive developmentally. If you’re feeding your baby there is no shame in that, no matter where the milk comes from.

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