The decision of whether to breastfeed your baby or not, is an important choice and one which any new mum-to-be gives thought to. While often controversial, this decision really shouldn’t be – it’s a personal and private matter between you and your baby and a decision that only you can make. While breastfeeding has the reputation of being the most natural thing in the world, the reality can be fraught with challenges until feeding is well established.
There is plenty to talk about with the pros and cons of breastfeeding, and these can vary from person to person, so in this article I’m looking at the practical advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding, completely judgement-free, because while breast milk is the most natural option, it doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. Crucially, I truly believe that breastfeeding is only best when it works for the mother, the baby and the family on a practical and emotional level. Being able to thrive as a mother is the priority – a thriving mother is much better able to respond to the needs of her baby and family, and the decisions you make around feeding can greatly impact on that. So let’s dive into the reality. The pros and cons of breastfeeding, coming up!
The Pros Of Breastfeeding
Breast milk provides your baby with a natural source of milk and nutrition. The benefits are multiple – you don’t have to worry about bottles or sterilising, or preparing milk, it’s right there in your breasts at the exact right temperature, whenever you need. Breast milk is certainly nutritionally balanced and passes on natural antibodies and defences from your body to your baby. What’s more, if your baby were to get ill, your breast milk would change its immunological composition, tailoring it to the particular pathogens your baby’s immune system is dealing with. As your baby grows your milk changes too, automatically offering your growing baby exactly what they need.
On a practical level there’s much less to worry about with breastfeeding . Everything you need to feed is right there in your breasts. In many ways, breastfeeding gives you a quick and speedy solution to a crying, hungry baby which can be especially useful when you’re travelling or flying, or find yourself on the go. Always accessible, your breastmilk is constantly being replenished by your body, so there’s no practical thinking to it.
3. Less expensive than formula
Similarly, by using your natural supply of breastmilk you can save money on expensive formula and bottle related equipment; from bottle warmers and sterilisers and teats with variable flows, one of the pros of breastfeeding is certainly the savings.
Other pros of breastfeeding include the many health benefits, not only for your baby, but also for you as the mother. Women who breastfeed often find they can lose their baby weight more quickly and studies have shown that women who have breastfed have reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Some studies have found that breastfeeding can potentially reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes, high blood pressure and even cardiovascular disease.
Nothing quite compares to having a daily dose of oxytocin when you’re a new mother. Not only does this happy hormone help you to feel a physical and emotional connection with your baby, but it also helps to return your uterus to its pre-pregnancy size more rapidly.
One of the major pros of breastfeeding, when it works out well, is the way it helps mothers to bond with their baby in a very satisfying way. Many nursing mothers find breastfeeding a fulfilling experience where mothers are able to enjoy a deep nurturing sensation and spend some quiet time bonding with their baby. It’s the way babies have been fed since the beginning of time and a lot of women enjoy getting in touch with this natural part of their female ancestry.
That being said, breastfeeding is not always the best option for everyone and is certainly not essential for creating a beautiful bond with your baby. Nor does breastfeeding guarantee an instant bond – especially when there can be sometimes be difficulties to overcome.
Let’s look at some of the cons of breastfeeding to find out more.
The Cons of Breastfeeding
While it certainly looks easy enough once it’s working well, no one said breastfeeding was going to be easy to establish. New mums are often surprised by how technically difficult it can be to make breastfeeding work in the beginning. From baby’s not getting their latch right, to engorged breasts to babies having tongue tie and milk supply not coming in quickly enough, getting through those first few days and weeks breastfeeding is a huge test at an already sensitive time. It takes a lot of determination and support to get through the early weeks of breastfeeding, when both you and your baby have to learn how to make this feeding relationship work. It requires patience, resilience and often a high pain threshold too. Support can come in lots of guises, from having a supportive partner to understanding family and friends to professionals such as a breastfeeding consultant, midwife or local breastfeeding group of other nursing mothers. Good quality professional support will always keep in mind the wellbeing of the mother and not just the baby.
While breastfeeding is fantastic because of the convenience it gives you on the other hand, one of the cons of breastfeeding is that you have to be near to your baby (or at least a breast pump!) 24 hours a day. It often means you have less freedom too as your baby is dependent on you for milk. This can end up meaning you have less time for self-care and are more vulnerable to exhaustion.
An Australian study has found that babies who nurse take longer to sleep through the night and wake more regularly than babies that are formula fed. This is quite normal and to be expected, but that’s not to say that over time that regular night feeds don’t have an effect on your wellbeing. Sleep exhaustion is very real and quite often faced more frequently by mothers who breastfeed.
There is a huge list of things that can complicate breastfeeding. From low milk supply to mastitis to sore, raw, cracked nipples, to babies having allergies to your diet to tongue ties and painful engorged breasts, thrush, breastfeeding is not for the fainthearted. It’s not always plagued by complications and many women have problem-free breastfeeding experiences, but there are certainly a fair few instances where nature intervenes to make things even more challenging.
With breastfeeding it’s all about mum, which means you have less time to sleep at night when you’re waking up to give regular feeds. With formula feeding or expressed breastmilk fed via a bottle, fathers are able to take a little of the strain off of you. A good feed to try and get your partner involved with is the dreamfeed where you can try to substitute with the breast with a bottle. Combination feeding can give you a little more time in bed, and give your partner the opportunity to bond through feeding too.
With breastfeeding it’s usually about feeding your baby on demand, certainly in the very early weeks and months, however this can mean you need to be ready to feed anywhere and everywhere. Another of the cons of breastfeeding is that not all women are comfortable feeding in public, whether out of self-consciousness or more on a practical level. For those that prefer to feed behind closed doors, it can be restrictive. Although good cover-ups and discrete nursing clothing is available, the reality can sometimes surprise – with occasional squirting nipples, wet patches and boob flashing all part of the deal.
Whether you chose to breastfeed, combination feed or formula feed, there is no right or wrong way to feed your baby. At the end of the day, how you feed your baby comes down to what works for you and your baby. It’s not about what other people think or the latest news stories or studies, it’s about what will result in a happy, thriving mother and child, which is the most important outcome of all.
Interested to learn more about preparing for motherhood, birth and breastfeeding? Find out about how Sofie Jacobs can provide private midwife support with her exclusive online antenatal courses.
Image credit: @Krista Evans Photography
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