To be perfectly honest with you, I've struggled a little with this post, as all too often those who have chosen to, or felt forced to, formula feed their babies, feel attacked by anything pro-breastfeeding. But I hope those mothers will understand that the aim of Keep Britain Breastfeeding campaign, which this post is a part of, is to help mothers attain their breastfeeding goals, with whatever advice and support we can give to help. Any comments in favour of breastfeeding or against formula-feeding are intended to be constructive and supportive, and not to criticise or denigrate others.
Right, that's got that out of the way. On with the pro-breastfeeding commentary!
OK, confession time: before I got pregnant, and even during my pregnancy, I wasn't the biggest fan of breastfeeding. I thought it was probably the best thing for babies, but had heard lots about how difficult it was, and I wasn't overkeen on the idea of doing it myself. I had friends who had both bottle-fed, and those who had breastfed, one even went beyond the first year (radical, I then thought).
I started out, believe it or not, fairly conventional in my thinking about pregnancy, birth and childcare. This gradually, and then rapidly, changed. The more I read and researched, the more my opinions radicalised about all aspects of parenting, but the biggest change was in my thinking about breastfeeding.
Slowly I began to accept that I should at least give my forthcoming baby the enormous benefits of those early days of colostrum. This thick, yellowy substance was a wonder food! Baby's first vaccine, a highly concentrated, easily digested fluid which would not only prepare my baby's stomach and intestine for a life of milk and then food; but also provide my child with all the antibodies and immunity I had built up in the past 30+ years. Wow, miracle food indeed!
OK, so a few days, well maybe I could get to six weeks, that seemed a reasonable goal, by then my 'mature milk' would have 'come in' properly, all the benefits would have been passed over, baby would be emerging from its newborn semi-hibernation, and I could move onto bottles.
Then I began to read about formula milk. Full of additives, some not vegetarian-friendly; very fatty; difficult to digest because the molecules are the wrong size for human babies; my baby was more likely to have stomach upsets, including diarrhoea (yuck!) and ear infections; my child was more likely to suffer from allergies (I have asthma; Steve, eczema); and to top it all formula is so alien to human digestion that it can actually cause perforations in the gut and leak through (triple yuck!!!)
Suitably horrified, I began to think the legendary six months goal may be achievable, especially when I heard that this miraculous milk my body could produce would help prevent obesity and diabetes in my child, and certain cancers in both of us. Wow!
|Sophia's first feed, just a few minutes old|
In fact, the more I found out, and there's still more most months, the more amazed I was with this stuff, and so, here I am, over 25 months later, still feeding Lara, and now Sophia too. But if the incredible health benefits, for both you and your baby, aren't enough to convince you to start, and persevere, with breastfeeding, here's some more reasons:
- It's free!!!! Well, obviously you have to eat and dirnk lots of water, but hopefully you'd be doing that anyway! By contrast, estimates for formula + equipment in the first year range from £500-1000!!!!
- It's convenient - no washing, preparing and making up bottles; no planning ahead for trips out, or carrying heaps of stuff around with you; no making sure you've been to the shops to stock up; no getting up in the night (especially if you co-sleep too); no worrying about how much went in; no clock watching for when the next feed should be. Once you've cracked breastfeeding (well hopefulyl without any cracking!), this is lazy parenting at its best!
- It's unlimited, and adapts over time, both during each feed (from watery foremilk to thicker, fattier hindmilk); and over the weeks and months you continue feeding, changing as your baby develops and grows, and adapting as his/her body's needs change. Not even the most sophisticated, most researched, most expensive formula milk could ever do that!
- It creates the most amazing bond with your child. No-one is saying that you wouldn't be bonded to your bottle-fed child, but there is something incredibly magical (good old hormones) about breastfeeding which creates the strongest imaginable bond with your baby. There is something about having total response from a parent, who attends to your needs almost immediately, that helps create an emotionally secure baby and child, who can be easily and quickly soothed by his mother's attention, love and body. Yes, it may mean nights out with the girls are limited for a while, or date nights have to be at home, but that's surely a small price to pay for a secure, happy child. (BTW it's a brilliant cure-all for the alleged 'terrible twos' too, but that's another post!) And please don't listen to the guff about dads need to bond too, so bottles are better - give him bathtime, or nappies, or half an hour's uninterrupted playtime instead.
- It makes you feel bloody marvellous! Even if your birth experience wasn't all you wanted or expected it to be, by feeding your child yourself, you will see and appreciate just how amazing your beautiful body can be.
There are many, many benefits to breastfeeding, and whatever you hear or read, EVERYONE can do it. (Recent research suggests that less than 1% of women have any real, insurmountable problems, which goes some way to explaining why inabiity to breastfed is virtually unheard of societies where formula doesn't exist.) Yes, it can be hard work, especially at the beginning, but preparation, perseverance and support are the key, but more about that next time!
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