Breastfeeding: The Good and the Bad
By Amy S. D. Lee, MS, WHCRNP, Nurse Practitioner
It seems like everything we read these days tells us that we must breastfeed our babies. Research indicates that breastfed babies have better immunity and perhaps even better intelligence! But I think that generalization is unfair to mothers who simply can’t breastfeed. It wasn’t that long ago that breastfeeding was simply unfashionable. Somehow that generation of bottle fed babies managed to survive. So let’s talk about the true realities of breastfeeding.
Healthy breast milk is good for a baby. We know that it departs early immunity to the baby and protects them from germs that their baby immune systems may have trouble fighting off. Formula companies have tried for years to simulate breast milk but have never succeeded in an exact replica. The fats and nutrition in breast milk are completely unique. Some breast-fed babies have demonstrated higher IQs later in life. The vision capability of babies is known to be just about the distance from the breast to their mother’s face. They know their mother’s face and smell. They bond closely during feeding.
So why wouldn’t you want to breastfeed? Unfortunately, some medical conditions and medications make the breast milk bad for the baby. HIV infected mothers can pass the disease to their babies through their breast milk. Certain medications can be passed to the baby through the breast milk that may be detrimental to the baby. What about babies that are adopted? Their adoptive mother isn’t prepared to breast feed since the pregnancy hormones prepare the breast for breastfeeding. Some women have had breast surgery that prevents them from breast feeding. For others it simply doesn’t work out. I have one friend who developed horrible abscesses throughout her breasts. And some women just don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding.
So What Should You Do?
I recommend that if you are healthy and it is okay with your healthcare provider, try breastfeeding. It’s often a great experience for many women and babies. Even if you only do it for a few weeks, the baby gets the benefit of those early immunities. And you may even find that you'll want do it for much longer!
If you can’t breastfeed, choose a good formula with the help of your pediatrician--and hold the baby close enough to see you and smell you during feedings. Most importantly, do not despair; there are plenty of bottle fed babies out there who have become healthy, productive and intelligent members of society! Life is about a lot more than how you were fed as a baby!