There has been a longstanding debate about breastfeeding versus formula feeding. While we cannot dispute the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, not everyone can or wants to breastfeed. Breast milk is the perfect mix of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins. Not to mention that it also contains antibodies, enzymes, amino acids and white cells that help the baby fight off sickness. It has been called “liquid gold” and there is no denying why that is so. The human body is an amazing piece of work and a new mom’s body knows exactly what to produce to feed her baby. I have found this out numerous times; once with Squeakers when she was only a week old.
Cubby had come home from kindergarten and not washed her hands. She touched Squeakers’ eye and the next day her eye was red, swollen and there was yellow pus coming out of the corner. I put breast milk into Squeakers’ eye for 2 days and the eye infection cleared up just like that. I was in awe! I have put breast milk on baby rashes, dry skin areas, and eye irritations for both Cubby and Squeakers and seen amazing results. If you really want to know what is in breast milk and how it is digested by babies, this is a great article: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/why-breast-is-best/nutrient-nutrient-why-breast-best. There is also an informative chart that shows the difference between the ingredients in breast milk and formula: https://themilkmeg.com/ingredients-in-breastmilk-versus-artificial-breastmilk-formula.
With that being said, a lot of women cannot breast feed. This can be due to problems with the baby latching, low milk supply, structural concerns with their breasts, inverted nipples, the time investment, lack of privacy to feed, or simply because they have to return to work and it is not realistic to breast feed. I feel like there is a lot of pressure in our society these days to breast feed. Let me just tell you straight from my personal experience of breastfeeding two babies (and still breastfeeding Squeakers), it is definitely no walk in the park. For something that is supposed to be so natural and form a bond between the mother and her baby, it is actually quite difficult.
It took Cubby 3 months to latch properly. I had to pump constantly and feed her with a preemie bottle. After those 3 months, the lactation consultant told me to exclusively breastfeed and not give the bottle, and Cubby never took the bottle again from that point on. It was exhausting. I couldn’t be out of the house for too long as no one else could feed her. I had anxiety at that time and it made me really anxious knowing that I was her sole source of food. While I burned through calories and fat quickly because of the breastfeeding, I was starving all of the time; more than when I had been pregnant! I was constantly sweaty and leaky and at times, felt really gross. And then there was low milk supply issues after 3 months and it took me a while to understand what was happening. However, because she would not take a bottle, I could not supplement her. On the other hand, it was a great bonding experience with Cubby and it was easy not having to sterilize and clean bottles or carry formula with me. Cubby was not easy to wean and the breastfeeding experience lasted 15 months.
I swore that if I ever had to do it again, I would pump and introduce a bottle early so that I could get a break or leave the house for longer than 3 hours. But no such luck as history repeated itself. Squeakers latched right away and was an efficient feeder. It was easy to travel with her from 3 months on as she fed well, although I did notice a sharp drop in supply after 3 months. This time I caught on right away and began being followed by doctors and lactation consultants at a breastfeeding clinic. I was placed on Domperidone to increase my milk supply and was also recommended herbs such as fenugreek and blessed thistle. This has improved my milk supply and Squeakers has been satiated, although she is a snacker, and for a while was taking smaller feeds and feeding every 2 hours. This has been quite tiring and challenging to try to leave the house and run an errand or get groceries. And once again, just like Cubby, she will not take a bottle. The longest that I have been able to leave my house in the past 11 months has been 3 hours. She has been slow to take solids and has been relying on breast milk for nutrition.
Although you are meant to be relaxed and peaceful while feeding your baby, I have been stressed out numerous times counting the number of wet diapers in a day and wondering if Squeakers is getting enough milk. It is hard to tell with breastfeeding as there is no visual as to the amount that the baby is getting. And Squeakers has been slow to gain weight. Actually she has not gained weight in about 4 months and this has been EXTREMELY stressful and worrisome. I have seen countless health professionals and specialists and am open to supplementing with expressed breast milk or formula; however, I cannot get it into her. Squeakers will not accept any liquid except water from a shot glass, dropper or sippy cup. I have experimented with about 8 different types of bottles and she will not take any of them. It hasn’t been easy and if I could go back in time, I would have pumped and given her the bottle early on.
So here is my point about “fed is best”. Babies need to be fed to grow and develop. Whether it is breast milk or formula, if you are not able to produce enough milk (as seen by the number of wet diapers in a day and if your baby is satiated), you should try to supplement. It may be in your baby’s best interest to introduce a bottle early on so that you can supplement if you need to. Or so that you can leave your house and take a break. I am exhausted after breastfeeding every 3 hours in the day and at least twice each night. Some days I have felt like throwing in the towel and quitting, but I cannot as Squeakers’ weight is so low and it is her primary source of nutrition right now. Until she takes in more solids and gains weight, I cannot cut out her night feeds. (And keep in mind that I have not slept longer than 4 hours at a time in the past 2 years as I did not sleep at all during the pregnancy due to sciatica and being on bed rest).
While I am a big breastfeeding advocate as I have personally seen the benefits of breast milk, I am also an advocate of feeding the baby whatever it needs to grow and develop; whether it is breast milk or formula. A brand new mom may find it difficult to notice if her supply decreases. It is important to be followed by a lactation consultant and/or doctor. Be observant of how your baby is acting and how long he or she is able to go between feeds. Be aware of growth spurts and that a baby may breastfeed more during growth spurts or when he or she is not feeling well. This is normal and does not mean that there is a milk supply issue. Babies may feed more at night for comfort or more when they are teething.
I can honestly say that I am glad that I have had the chance to breastfeed both of my children. My only wish is that I introduced a bottle to them early on so that I could have a bit of a break. No one else has been able to do night feeds with them or take over when they were teething or sick and wanted to breast feed for comfort. Oh and I didn’t mention if you get sick. Try breastfeeding on demand when you are sick with the cold or have the flu or a sinus infection, trust me, it is not fun. I have breast fed with a tissue rolled up and stuck in both nostrils so that my nose did not drip onto the baby while feeding. It really is a selfless labour of love, but you do not have to be a martyr. Please, take it from me, feed the baby however you think will be best for you and your lifestyle. I have seen formula fed babies who are really healthy and do not get sick and breast fed babies who are sick all of the time. Remember, fed is best! Make a choice that is best for you in the long run and one that you can stick to during good and bad times.