Breastfeed vs. formula; a topic that can get heated but almost every mom has to think about. It can be like talking about politics or religion.
Well, I’m going to say something that’s unpopular in some circles.
My fellow lactation consultants would probably roll their eyes. They’d tell me I’m wrong. I’m damaging the “breastfeeding relationship”. They might even call me names, who knows.
Giving my opinion as a professional in a breastfeeding field is almost blasphemous.
No matter, I have very strong convictions.
And I know I’m right.
Here’s my opinion: breastfeeding or formula feeding should be wholly, completely decided by the mother (possibly with the help of her intimate support system).
The “baby friendly” initiative has spread like wildfire throughout hospitals in the United States. The reasons behind the initiative are mostly good- promote bonding and encourage breastfeeding. Countless studies show positive outcomes when babies and mommies can room together in the hours and days following birth. Breastfeeding has countless studies as well- it does everything from helping a mom lose postpartum weight to improving health outcomes in their baby.
But there’s something those studies don’t show.
After giving birth, you’re completely and totally exhausted. Trying to recover, in a strange place, and with a new little baby. The lucky mamas have help during their hospital stay. Other’s don’t.
When a mom endures labor, has to be up all hours to take care of a new baby and is expected to breastfeed immediately and effectively- something is bound to go wrong.
Often the breastfeeding relationship is affected. Moms are often refused pacifiers (because they cause nipple confusion), they’re denied breast pumps, and are often refused formula. These things are all supposed to improve breastfeeding outcomes. I find sometimes they do the opposite.
Babies develop jaundice because they aren’t excreting bilirubin through their stool. They aren’t eating enough to make poop.
Babies get dehydrated.
Moms struggle so much- and in my experience the hospital employed lactation consultant was no help. A 5 minute visit resulted in a “keep trying” and I was given a nipple shield. Hardly helpful.
By the time moms get home, many are so exhausted and haven’t mastered breastfeeding yet so they give a bottle of formula.
Then they feel guilty.
But they are good mommies! They are trying to do what is best for their babies! When their little one is crying for food and extremely hungry, breastfeeding hasn’t gone well because of various reasons, they give a bottle. Instantly their baby stops squirming, smiles, becomes content and falls into a blissful sleep.
Those mommies shouldn’t be shamed for giving a bottle of formula!
They are still amazing mothers. Maybe what they need is more understanding and helpful breastfeeding support. Maybe they decided to give formula and not even try breastfeeding. Whatever the reason is, it’s THEIR decision and their babies are still loved just as much as breastfed babies!
I think the “baby-friendly” initiative is good in spirit. It encourages mommies and babies to be together, to bond, to breastfeed, and have positive outcomes. Sometimes its implementation isn’t optimal.
Maybe we should start thinking of a “mommy-friendly” initiative. Something that not only considers the best practices for a new baby, but also takes into consideration a mommy and everything she’s going through immediately after birth.
Keeping in mind that breast milk is the best thing a baby can have, but understanding in some cases, it’s not practical. Formula is the BEST decision for feeding a baby if breast milk isn’t working. And truly, no matter what decision is being made- a mommy should be supported.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.