“I’ve completely had it with breastfeeding! I’ve struggled through for weeks and I’m just not getting it. Expert after expert has come to the house, helping me with establishing the latch and getting the positioning right. We’ve done skin to skin contact and I’m pumping as well as feeding, but nothing is working. Before Anna came along I was so keen on breastfeeding. Now that it’s so exhausting and painful I just want to stop. Everything I read says how great breastfeeding is for babies. If I stop now will I be letting Anna down? I so desperately want to give her the best start in life.”
Breastfeeding is surely one of the most emotional topics in parenting young children. Literally everyone has got an opinion on it. From your postman to your granny, to the groups of strangers at the cafe who stare at you while you feed your baby. Women feel a huge pressure to get it right. It’s not surprising when a really large amount of literature promotes the message that breast is best and nothing else will do.
While many women may have a wonderful, easy time breastfeeding their baby, the reality is that a good proportion of moms struggle getting started or maintaining a breastfeeding routine. They may find that breastfeeding is painful, exhausting or might not feel they are satisfying their baby and worry about low milk supply. These moms need to know that they are not alone. They also need support. It can be incredibly tough to make decisions when you are both physically and emotionally exhausted from a new baby. Having access to impartial research led information can help.
So how do we make the best choice for establishing a positive and successful feeding routine? Firstly, these decisions are personal and should be made by the family, not health care professionals. As a starting point, it can help to understand the difference between breast milk and formula. Breast milk is a nutritious and naturally produced food for an infant. It is not a consistent liquid, and unlike formula changes in composition over the course of a day and over the first stage of a baby’s development. Formula is also a nutritious and highly regulated food, which has been designed to emulate breastmilk as closely as possible. While it provides nutritionally for the child, formula does not contains the antibodies of breastmilk, which can protect the baby’s mucous membrane such as the digestive tract and the respiratory tract from bacteria and viruses. This means that breasted babies are less likely to have diarrhoea or colds in their first year (Hoddinott, Tappin, & Wright, 2008). However, large scale studies show that these protections disappear shortly after breastfeeding stops (Quigley, Kelly, & Sacker, 2007).
When facing a dilemmas such as the one above, should you continue with a breastfeeding routine that is causing you serious problems? Calmly review the situation and talk to your GP. Is your baby putting on the appropriate weight and appearing satisfied after feeds? Is the mental health of the family (including yourself) suffering from the current arrangements? What difference would supplementing with formula make to yourself, you family and your baby? Who have you asked for help? Are there others you can talk to? Ultimately, the decision resides with you and the ones you love. Remember, this is just one decision of many important decisions you will make in the life of your child.