Saturday, March 26, 2011

Breast is Best or when Bottle is Better...

First of all, let me say that I am a huge fan of breastfeeding. If a woman wants to breastfeed, she should have all the support and encouragement she needs and wants. I breastfed my children for as long as possible. Neither child made it to the magic "first year" nursing. One quit at 9 months (she would take a bottle, but much preferred being an adult and using a cup), the other, who decided that nursing was the cause of her ear pain (not the raging ear infection she had, with NO symptoms), quit at 6 months. (I tried for 3 days to get her to nurse...latch her on in her sleep, nope. She would awaken and scream, even after the ear infection was gone.)

Breast milk, of course, is meant to be fed to babies. Studies have shown that breastmilk changes as a baby grows, and that the breastmilk made by a mother who delivers prematurely is different from that made by a term mother. And as the baby grows, breastmilk changes to support the baby's needs.

Although women are "born" to breastfeed - we almost all have the right equipment (breasts, nipples, milk ducts), some women don't. Genetics plays a part in an ability to breast feed and throughout history, women who have been unable to nurse have found substitutes. Milk nurses, bottles, a friendly lactating cow, goat, whatever...all through history you will find women who couldn't breastfeed due to physical issues. And that is not counting the women who can't nurse due to starvation, illness or injury.

So, what about women who CAN breastfeed but don't? Are they failing their children? Are their children any different than breastfed children?

A patient of mine, long ago, told us at her very first prenatal visit that she did not want to breastfeed. In our practice, we remained non-judgmental, as we did with all our clients. All clients were given information about breastfeeding benefits. This client steadfastly refused to even look at the literature. Late in her pregnancy she confided that she had been sexually abused as a young girl, and having her breasts touched by anyone made her physically ill. She would not even allow her husband to see or touch her breasts. For this woman, bottlefeeding was definitely better for her and her baby. As we told her, better a happy bottle-feeding mother/baby pair, then a baby who senses with every breastfed meal that his/her mother hates what is happening.

Other women, without the problems of this woman, also choose to bottle feed. The reasons are many - convenience, family pressure, need to work in an environment where continuing nursing is not possible. Unfortunately, these women are often condemned by the "all natural, all the time" mothers.

So, what is your attitude? What have you experienced? And how can we promote breast is best and not neglect those women for whom bottle IS better?

1 comment:

  1. I think a big part of the problem is the false dichotomy of bottle versus breast. Thanks to dire warnings of nipple confusion and diminished milk supply, many new moms feel like they have failed at breastfeeding if they have to use any fomula at all. So rather than supplement until their milk comes in, they simply throw up their hands and resign themselves to being formula-feeders.

    My boy was born with extremely low blood sugar and was bottle-fed within minutes of his birth. He later latched on to my nipple with no problem, but was unsatisfied with the trickle of colostrum he was receiving. To compensate, I would hold him to the breast until he had drained the colostrum, then I would follow up with a bottle of formula if he still acted hungry (as he often did). My milk came in a few days later and he was happy to nurse from me exlusively.

    I will admit, I didn't really like breastfeeding. Nobody warned me that my nipples would actually fall off (fortunately there were new ones underneath) and that I would feel like a sow nursing a greedy suckling pig. The sensation of milk letting down from somewhere near my shoulders was also unpleasant to me. But the convenience, low cost, and health benefits all made it worth while. I'm glad was able to breastfeed my son, and I am equally glad that I realized using a bottle for a while wasn't a betrayal of him or myself.