The decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed is a personal one. There are many good reasons to breastfeed your baby, but there are disadvantages to nursing as well. Understanding the pros and cons of breastfeeding can help you decide what is right for you and your family.
Choosing to breastfeed or bottle-feed is a personal decision. It’s one of the first important decisions you’ll make as a new parent. Both have pros and cons.
Over the years, the issue has been controversial, often leading to parents feeling judged for choosing bottle-fed formula over breast milk. Don’t let the haters get you down either way.
There’s no right or wrong choice, just the healthiest choice for you and your baby. Before settling on one or the other, you’ll want to have all the facts.
If you’re unsure of how you’d like to feed your baby, read on to learn more about each method
While breastfeeding offers numerous benefits, it also presents many challenges. Many women find that breastfeeding is most difficult in the first weeks of the baby’s life and during times of transition, which may include returning to work after maternity leave.
With the right help, most women can breastfeed successfully. However, there are also some drawbacks to consider. In this article, learn about the pros and cons of breastfeeding.
A Brief History
There’s a pretty decent chance your mother didn’t breastfeed you. Not too many of us in the past two generations were. The formula was thought to be a superior food source, and breastfeeding was deemed a poor man’s sport. The formula was touted as the best, healthiest food source for babies starting in the early 1900s. For most of the twentieth century, breastfeeding rates in the US were declining.
Thus, our moms were just doing what they were told was best. It wasn’t until second-wave feminism and the women’s health movement of the 1970s that breastfeeding started to gain any kind of popularity. Beginning in the late ’80s and ’90s, breastfeeding started to come back into vogue as mothers, medical professionals, and public health officials alike sought an end to the stigma that had plagued nursing moms in previous decades.
Since then, the “Breast is Best” campaign has gotten the word out, and nearly every new mom has gotten the memo. According to the CDC, about 83% of American mothers now breastfeed (for any amount of time), compared with less than two-thirds in 2000.
But have we gone too far? Ask any formula-feeding mom, and she will tell you, without a doubt, the answer is YES. But you know what’s funny? Many nursing moms also feel criticism and lack of support for their choice to breastfeed (and pump) from family members (usually older), employers, coworkers, husbands (sometimes), and people in public who are forced to watch them nurse [snort].
The benefits of breastfeeding
If you’re a first-time mom or mom who is considering breastfeeding for the first time, you might be honestly asking WHY is breastfeeding your baby so important? And it’s a good question to ask. Below are some pros we gathered to help you make an informed decision.
Breastfeeding has amazing health benefits for baby
The most obvious reason to breastfeed your baby is this one. It provides an incredible amount of health benefits for your baby now, and in the future. Your breast milk is made up of the perfect mix of antibodies, vitamins, fluids, and fat to help with your baby’s growth, so they stay on track in their development as a baby. It even changes as they get older so that they get exactly what they need at all times! If your baby gets sick, your milk even changes to help them fight it off and get better quickly. It contains the perfect mix of substances to help fight off diseases and infections quickly to keep baby healthy. These substances, unfortunately, cannot be reproduced by man and are only available through mom’s milk.
Breastfeeding is more affordable.
While this is not THE reason mothers choose to breastfeed their baby, it is a huge benefit to breastfeeding your precious little one. When you add up the cost of bottles, formula, water, electricity, and any cleaning supplies you need, it can get costly! Also, if you buy any extra tools to help make transport easy, that’s, even more, you’re spending. But with breastfeeding, it’s essentially free. The only thing you need to do is make sure you’re well-fed to pass on those nutrients to the baby. If you’re a working mom, you may need to purchase a pump and bottles, but you don’t have to purchase the formula, and that alone can save a huge chunk of money that first-year baby is born!
Breastfeeding can be much more convenient.
I touched slightly on this in the last point, but it is usually super convenient to breastfeed your baby. Depending on how comfortable you are, you can just stick baby to the boob while you’re out at the store or seeing family, with no preparation required. No need to comfort your screaming baby while you get a bottle ready because it’s always available! Not to mention how much easier it is at night when you’re a mom zombie trying to care for your child. It’s so much easier to pull the boob out than to prepare a bottle while they scream and you’re half asleep. All around, it’s so much nicer always to have the food supply there and ready to go.
Breastfeeding creates more bonding experiences.
Now, I’m not saying that bottle-fed babies don’t get bonding experiences, they do. But, there’s a different opportunity for bonding with breastfeeding then there is when they’re bottle-fed. They come into this big scary world with new sounds, smells, and sights. They’re terrified. The bond of mom and baby being close helps them to make the transition feeling warm, safe, and protected. Bottle-fed babies can get this bond too, just not in the same way. They aren’t quite as close when they’re attached to you while they feed. It creates a closer connection and bond.
Breastfeeding helps mom lose weight faster.
This is probably one of my favourite benefits of breastfeeding. It helps mom lose weight faster because she burns calories while she feeds. It also shrinks the placenta at a quicker rate, delays the return of mom’s cycle to keep iron in the body, and keeps mom’s bones nice and strong. All of these things put together on top of the fact mom HAS to eat healthy for her baby, and she essentially loses weight much faster when breastfeeding her baby.
The Disadvantages of Breastfeeding
While there are many advantages to breastfeeding your baby, it isn’t for everyone. Here are some reasons women choose not to nurse.
You Have Less Freedom
When you breastfeed, you are always on call. You and your breasts need to be available for every feeding, day and night. It can be exhausting, especially during the first few weeks when you will be breastfeeding your baby every two to three hours around the clock.
Breastfeeding Can Be Painful
You may have to deal with some of the uncomfortable or even painful problems common with breastfeeding. These include things like mastitis, breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and sore nipples.
Your Partner Can’t Feed the Baby
Your partner might want to feed the baby and may feel left out of the breastfeeding relationship (unless you pump milk in advance for your partner to use).
It Can Be Stressful If You Are Modest
Some women may be uncomfortable and embarrassed about breastfeeding around others or in public. If you find it difficult to go out with your baby, you might end up staying home more often, which can lead you to feel lonely or isolated.
Breastfeeding Can Be Difficult in the Beginning
Not every baby latches on immediately or breastfeeds well. Breastfeeding might be harder than you think, and you may end up feeling disappointed or discouraged. For some, breastfeeding is a learning process.
Breastfeeding Requires Healthy Lifestyle Choices
You have to think about your diet and lifestyle when you breastfeed. Your baby may have a reaction to different foods in your diet. So you may have to stop eating dairy products or other items that you enjoy.
Some substances should be enjoyed in moderation, like caffeine and alcohol. These can be harmful to your baby. Stress and other factors can also affect breastfeeding and even decrease your milk supply.
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Deciding Whether or Not to Breastfeed
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some women are comfortable with breastfeeding exclusively, but it is not the only option. Some moms partially breastfeed, some combine breastfeeding and formula feeding, and some pump exclusively. One of these options may help resolve breastfeeding problems you experience.
Adjustment period and pain
The early weeks of breastfeeding are often the most difficult. Some women experience issues with milk supply, which can be too high or too low. Others have painful or cracked nipples. Some women develop mastitis, a potentially severe breast infection.
Women learning to breastfeed are also adjusting to life with a newborn, which inadequate sleep and the constant demands of caring for the baby can make challenging.
Many are also recovering from giving birth. The exhaustion and possible difficulties of childbirth recovery can make breastfeeding more difficult.
The benefits may be exaggerated
The benefits of breastfeeding, especially the cognitive benefits, may be exaggerated. Many studies fail to control for specific traits of breastfeeding women.
For instance, some research shows that breastfeeding tends to be more common among women who have a higher level of education. So the apparent boost in a breastfed baby’s intelligence could be from having a more educated mother or caregiver rather than from the breast milk.
Loss of bodily autonomy
Breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding, ties a woman to her baby.
Some women may feel that they have lost ownership of their bodies.
This loss of bodily autonomy can affect their self-esteem, sex life, and body image.
Women who pump breast milk may also feel uncomfortable with this process.
Lack of social support
While medical organizations generally support breastfeeding, the community often fails to provide women with adequate support.
A lack of support can make breastfeeding feel isolating and needlessly difficult. Some of the issues breastfeeding women may face include:
- judgment from friends, family members, and even strangers who oppose breastfeeding
- the pressure to stop breastfeeding sooner than they would like
- lack of support from a spouse or partner
- inadequate sleep
- significant loss of time
- shaming and judgment for breastfeeding in public
- lack of breastfeeding advice from medical professionals
- confusion about which activities are safe to do when breastfeeding
Uneven distribution of parenting work
The task of feeding a baby can fall exclusively to the person breastfeeding, especially if the baby will not take a bottle or another caregiver does not bottle-feed the baby.
If a partner or another caregiver does not offer help with other tasks, such as household chores, changing diapers, preparing bottles, or getting up at night with the baby, breastfeeding can be exhausting.
The unequal distribution of parenting work can lead to resentment in a relationship and leave the person breastfeeding with little or no time of their own.
How long to breastfeed
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there is no upper limit for how long to breastfeed an infant.
There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful, although it may not be the cultural norm in some places.
The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. Exclusive breastfeeding means no additional nutrition, such as solid foods, juice, or water. After the six months, the woman can continue breastfeeding as she introduces solid foods to the baby’s diet.
Breastfeeding can be physically challenging for mom.
While there are all these amazing benefits for both mom and baby, it can also be very physically challenging. There’s tongue ties, lip ties, nipple pain, mastitis, and other things to worry about. When your milk comes in, it can be very painful, and not everyone can handle that. They’d rather just bottle feed, and that’s okay! It’s hard to make sure you’re doing it right especially when you add in that you need to make sure you’re producing enough milk, not too much, and that baby is gaining weight appropriately. It’s a hard experience to go through for some women, and it’s completely understandable.
Mom can only do breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is exhausting sometimes – especially in the first weeks of life. They’re feeding around the clock, and you just need a break. You want to be able to sit without a baby attached to you, or even take a shower or take a nap undisturbed. Those things can be very hard to do when mom is the only person that can feed the baby. Sure, she can try and pump some milk, but that may not always be possible, especially if you want to avoid nipple confusion in the first few weeks.
Breastfeeding can make it impossible to get baby to take a bottle.
A breastfed baby is going to LOVE her boob, and some babies refuse anything else. They don’t want a bottle, plain and simple. If mom wants a date night or sends her for an overnight with her grandmother, it’s just not possible while she’s breastfeeding. The only way she is getting away is if she leaves as soon as the baby is fed and comes back before she is hungry again.
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A Word From Verywell
As you decide whether breastfeeding is right for you and your baby, consider contacting a breastfeeding group, to learn more and find a breastfeeding coach before your baby is born.
Though natural, breastfeeding can be hard in the beginning, and you will need support to get through the first few weeks. In addition, if you find you cannot breastfeed, remember that a fed baby is best. Don’t feel guilty if you need to feed your baby formula.
Sometimes moms aren’t able to breastfeed for medical reasons. You might also have a demanding schedule that doesn’t allow for the flexibility needed to breastfeed.
But the benefits of breastfeeding are pretty huge, so if you can, give it a try. It may just become your favourite part of the day.
Getting the facts ahead of time and coming up with your plan can help ease any stress and anxiety around feeding baby. Remember that this is your decision. You should do what feels best for your family.
If you’re having trouble making a decision, talking to your doctor, midwife, or lactation professional may help.
With adequate support from loved ones and medical professionals, it is possible to overcome the challenges of breastfeeding. Women can also get help from a lactation consultant for any issues with milk supply.
As women’s bodies adjust after delivery, some will master the skill of breastfeeding. For others, breastfeeding continues to be difficult. The decision to breastfeed is up to the individual and should be free of guilt or judgment.
Some breast milk is better than none at all, so people who want to supplement with formula should consider that even a little breast milk can be beneficial.
A healthy baby ultimately requires a happy, healthy mother or caregiver. Someone who is overwhelmed by the demands of breastfeeding, or spends all of her time pumping or trying to increase her milk supply, should not feel pressure to continue.
There are many ways to be an excellent mother or caregiver, and women should choose the feeding option that works for them and their baby.