Most women think about whether they will breastfeed or formula feed while they are still pregnant, even if they formula-fed other children. As we learn more about the lifelong benefits to both mothers and babies who breastfeed, we're reassured that it's the more favorable method for infant nutrition. It is important that you educate yourself so that you make the best feeding decision for yourself and your baby.
Obviously, breast milk was the only form of infant nourishment for millions of years; formula is the invention of modern society. Formula is cow's milk or soy-based, with vitamins, fat and carbohydrates added in. Different from the evaporated milk formulas of the 1950s, commercial formulas of today meet rigid standards and provide basic nutrition for human babies. However, formula does not have the enzymes and other trace nutrients found in breast milk, nor does it supply natural sources of the essential fatty acids ARA and DHA, which are shown to increase brain growth and good eyesight.
All new parents want what's best for their infants, and early education is one of the most important things you can do for your baby. Making informed choices is your responsibility as a parent, so that whatever your final decision, you can feel comfortable about it.
Many new parents don't even consider breast-feeding because Mom will be returning to work. But did you know that you can continue to nurse after you go back to your job? You can pump at work or give formula while you are gone, and still breastfeed when you are home. This will make it easier to be away from your baby because you will still have those bonding moments when you are together. Breast milk will also protect your baby from illness, so you will have less time away from work caring for a sick child.
Another reason many families choose not to nurse is so Dad can feed the baby. Dads should always be part of baby's care and can bathe, burp, rock and feed solid foods when it's time. Nursing mothers really appreciate the dad who takes over other baby chores so she can have some time to herself. We think feeding anyone is a sign of love in our culture, but there are so many other ways to show our affection.
Some women are concerned about breastfeeding in public, or even around their parents and siblings. After the first three weeks, most women can pump or hand-express a sufficient amount of milk to store as a backup for times they're with other people.
Did you also know that breastfeeding:
Helps you lose pregnancy weight without dieting?
Decreases your baby's risk of acquiring allergies, especially those relating to dairy products?
Saves you about $2,500 per year? Even WIC only supplies 50 percent of baby's total formula needs.
Allows you and baby to receive its health benefits even if you don't do it exclusively?
Protects you from breast cancer? The longer you nurse, the lower the risk.
Lowers your baby's risk for SIDS, diabetes and obesity?
Many hospitals offer prenatal breastfeeding education classes, as do most WIC programs. Most medical providers will encourage you to attend a class before you make your final decision. If you choose to formula feed, you can be confident that you chose the option that best suits your family. The most important issue is that you enjoy your baby. If nursing is not for you but you feel pressured to do it, your first year with your infant will not be full of wonderful memories. However, if you are just unsure, give it a try. Who knows? You may well find that breastfeeding your baby is an incredible experience!
Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.