One of the most hotly discussed topics of debate: Breast vs. bottle.
Many women feel they’re under intense pressure to breast feed their little ones but it isn’t always plain sailing and there are many mums that need to bottle feed their little ones. Yet, this is often criticised leaving many mums feeling anxious, depressed and like a failure for these decisions.
We chat to Katherine O’Brien, Associate Director of Communications at the British Pregnancy Advisory Scheme to discuss whether breast is truly best with some helpful statistics, tips and advice to help you make a decision that is right for you and your baby.
Am I depriving my baby of anything if I bottle feed?
The health benefits of breastfeeding tend to be presented as overwhelming and imply that formula feeding will cause health problems. But just because, all other things being equal, breastfeeding does have some health benefits for a newborn, that does not mean that formula feeding is bad or harmful, or that breastfeeding is the best choice for all mothers.
Breastfeeding has a relatively protective effect against certain infections. However, when this effect is quantified, it is appears small. Indeed, the evidence shows that there really isn’t a drastic difference between breastfed and formula-fed babies. Moreover, there are some very real disadvantages to breastfeeding, which is why most mothers continue to rely on formula feeding in the early months.
Formula milk is a part of most babies’ diets’ from a very early stage – the most recent data from the NHS shows that while 69% of babies are exclusively breastfed at birth, by one week the majority of mothers are supplementing breastmilk with formula.
What should you do if you feel bullied into breastfeeding or feel like a failure for not breastfeeding?
It is sadly far too common that women feel ashamed because of their infant feeding choices, whether that is the choice to breastfeed in public or the choice to formula feed. Yet the person who knows how best their baby should be fed is you, and you should trust your own instincts – and others should respect your choice!
Breastfeeding doesn’t always work, and some mothers find it uncomfortable or painful. Some mothers might not want to want to use their bodies for feeding; they might want or need other people, such as the baby’s father or grandmother, to feed the baby. These are all valid choices.
If you feel under pressure and would like a voice of reassurance, we recommend the charity Feed who provide judgment-free advice. You can join their Facebook community for further support too. You can also find out more information about infant feeding which we hope will make every mother feel like her feeding choice is valid on the bpas website.
Just because breastfeeding has some (sometimes overstated) health benefits, it does not mean that it is right – or indeed possible – for every woman and every baby. In her book Yes Please, the American comedian Amy Poehler says that when women feel guilty about their parenting compared to other mothers, our mantra should be “good for her, but not for me.” These are words to live by!
When should I make the switch from one to the other?
When the time is right for you. No two mothers – and no two babies! – are the same, and you are the best judge of how you should feed your child. Looking at national statistics, most women in the UK do not breastfeed their babies for very long. While about 80% of babies are now breastfed at birth, by three months less than 20% are exclusively breastfed. The official recommendation is that babies are exclusively breastfed – having no infant formula or solid food at all – for six months, but in reality only 1% of babies are exclusively breastfed by this point.
We’re so grateful to Katherine and bpas for her encouraging words and advice. Hopefully this has given you some peace of mind that can help lead you to make a decision that is right for you, for your baby and your family. No one should be bullied or belittled for their choices. At the end of the day, fed, one way or the other, is best.