As new mothers, we are told time and again, in hospital classes and from friends that “breast is best,” even as many of our mothers and grandmothers raise an eyebrow and remind that plenty of kids from our generation were bottle-fed, and “turned out just fine.”
When my grandmother saw my registry, filled with every breastfeeding accessory known to humanity, she remarked that she had six children and her mother had 10, and said that what enabled them to be such happy, attentive mothers was the advent of formula feeding.
There are different ways of looking at the same thing.
At the time, I thought how my poor grandmother just didn’t understand how much better breastfeeding was than formula, and I moved ahead with my plan.
But I have come to be very open-minded on the subject.
Breastfeeding and pumping can be very fulfilling for some women, and it can be very challenging and even painful for some women.
One of my friends could not produce any milk at all, and she faced derision and shame from her family.
Have you ever noticed how passionate women are on one side or the other, at times even proselytizing that you are a failed mother if you don’t approach feeding a certain way?
I once heard a mother berate another mom for not supplementing her breast milk with formula because formula was the “only thing” that would help ensure her baby gained healthy weight.
And I have heard holier-than-thou breastfeeding advocates make moms who admitted to any formula feeding (even as a supplement) feel that they were somehow inferior.
In a 2015 New York Times article entitled “Overselling Breast-Feeding,” Courtney Jung reports some of the changing data in the continuing breastfeeding conversation.
It is worth reading the article closely as it shows that this issue is not black-or-white but more of a gray area than many of us might have realized.
Jung’s article reveals that the studies concluding “breast is best” are funded by breastfeeding accessory companies.
It reveals that recent, thorough medical research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the effects of breastfeeding “modest,” and that a trial conducted by Dr. Michael Kramer studying 14,000 mother-baby pairs over 16 years has indeed found cognitive development benefits, but concluded that breastfeeding “did not reduce the risk of obesity, asthma, allergies, dental cavities, or ADHD.”
The article continues, “Just last month, a British study found that breast-feeding has no effect on I.Q.”
What conclusion may we draw? Breastfeeding has its benefits, not the least of which is the feeling of closeness enjoyed by those who swear by it.
But, it is not a magic elixir the way it is often presented, and it is not the only way to ensure a healthy, thriving baby.
I have come to the realization that every generation has its truths.
Breastfeeding is popular and in style now, but my grandmother and many of her friends considered formula superior when they were young moms.
My grandmother points out that her mother and the generations before were all breastfed, and they had high mortality rates and got sick often.
She was bottle fed and is approaching her 100th birthday, still mentally sharp and healthy.
Breastfeeding can be so rewarding, as mother and baby share the bond of closeness.
At the same time, many bottle feeders proclaim that they enjoy great closeness with their baby since they can just enjoy a warm cuddle and forget about the details of proper latching, pumping and the risk of mastitis.
Breastmilk is an amazing thing, but formula has come a long way, and can be vitamin-packed and healthy.
There are organic versions available, and some is even designed for babies with lactose intolerance or other sensitivities.
Whatever way you fall on the issue, please let’s all have tolerance for the views of other moms.
The fact is, there are emotional and physical benefits to both types of feeding and the studies are evolving and continuing as the conversation continues and new data comes forth.
If a mom wants to breastfeed for a long time, she feels it is best for her and her baby. If a mom pumps and supplements with formula, she feels it is best for her and her baby. If a mom finds breastfeeding painful and difficult and chooses to feed exclusively from a bottle, she feels she is doing what is best for her and her baby.
After all, a baby needs a mama who is not in too much pain, or so plagued by guilt or feelings of unworthiness that she can’t give the one thing we all agree newborns need: loving attention.