Breastfeeding or Formula feeding: What do you need to know?

Breastfeeding or Formula feeding: What do you need to know?

Let’s stop the argument of breastfeeding over formula-feeding. Shaming a mother for the choices she makes when it comes to feeding her baby is not helping. Pressuring her into taking a certain side she is unwilling to do is manipulation. When we do this, we are ignoring the fact that the mother as soon as she delivers that baby is already tired, under pressure and full of many other concerns about her baby, herself and sometimes other people too. That is not helpful to her in any way.

A mother’s decision on how she wants to feed her baby, whatever it may be will always be beneficial to her and her baby. No one wants the best for her own child more than her own mother.

So breastfeeding. It is one aspect of motherhood that a woman can’t prepare for. A mother can prepare the nursery room, the clothing and other things she needs for the baby but not breastfeeding. How breastfeeding will go for every mother is unpredictable. The flow of breastmilk is unknown, it can come easy and sometimes not. The response of the baby to the breast varies. Breastfeeding is something that has to be tended to as it happens.

The mother’s experience varies with every child born to her whom she chooses to breastfeed.  Breastfeeding is not an easy task, from the beginning to the end. I have four children and fed a total of 67 months, and still going with my youngest child who is 18 months old.

My breastfeeding journey taught me that:

Breastfeeding hurts

It hurts when the baby isn’t latching on the breast correctly. Also, the first few days of the milk coming in, the breasts can get hard as a rock and it’s painful. The baby isn’t capable to empty out the milk from your breasts and that’s hurtful. A warm shower can help you relieve this pain. Let your milk flow as you gently massage your breasts while under the warm shower. Besides a warm shower, I also used the Lansinoh Pearl 3-in1 Breast Therapy. I like this because it is easy to heat up (in the microwave) and the heat also lasts long, as well as it conveniently rests on the breast. You can also use it as a cold pack to relieve engorgement.

The agony can go on when the baby’s latch is not corrected.  It can cause the nipple to be sore or crack, which you can find relief by using nipple creams and nipple shields. Follow the proper way of holding the baby so he can latch nicely, and you’ll be good. Although, with four children, time and time again I suffer the pain of breastfeeding at the beginning. I had to use nipple guard for the first few months with my youngest one.

In addition to the comfort brought by the nipple creams and nipple shields, is having a nursing pillow. With all my 3 boys I used my brestfriend pillow.  This pillow is comfortable, you can hook it onto your waist and carry the baby along. Because you can attach it onto your waist, you can adjust how high or low would it be on your torso. It has a pocket attached to it, where you can put your most-used nipple creams, breast pads or maybe the baby’s soother.

Breastfeeding is demanding. Nursing a baby will demand a lot of your time, especially in the beginning. Remember that a newborn will feed not only as a need but as comfort too. A baby needs you to feed him for at least every 2 hours, 12 times within 24 hours.

But as the saying goes, it gets easier. If you want to succeed in this journey, be patient and don’t give up.

Why do women go on?  There are lots of reasons why women continue on breastfeeding their babies, and among these reasons are:

  1. Best food for baby. Despite the discomfort and soreness during the early stage of breastfeeding, some women continue on this journey because of wanting to give their baby the best food and nutrition. Experts around the world are in unison that breastmilk provides the necessary nutrition that a baby needs. It contains antibodies that protect the baby from diseases and infections.
  2. Safe for the baby. The mother’s milk is clean, no need to sterilize it. It comforts most parents that no factors can make it unsafe. No germs can be in it. There’s no worry if it’s too hot or too cold because breastmilk is delivered to the baby’s mouth just the way he needs it, in the perfect temperature.

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  3. Availability. I personally choose to fully breastfeed my children due to the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom, I am most of the time available to feed them. I feed my baby on-demand. Whenever he expresses interest to nurse, I feed him.
  4. Religious right. In addition, Islam teaches me that it is my child’s right to be breastfed, and as obedience to the command of my Lord I breastfeed. According to the interpretation of the meaning of the Qur’an, Al-Baqarah 2:233: “The mothers shall give suck to their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling.”
  5. Practicality. Some consider breastfeeding financial practicality. It’s cheap to breastfeed a baby, because as long as the mother’s food and nutrition are secured the baby will have his food too. For me, I find it practical and convenient to breastfeed my child because I can nurse them quick as soon as they need it. At night, I don’t have to get up to nurse, I can lay on my side and feed the baby (not for newborns though). No need for any preparation, it saves us time so we can get back to sleep. Also, I don’t need to bring any feeding paraphernalia whenever I go anywhere. There are no bottles needed to sanitize, and I don’t have to worry about the availability of hot water or clean water when we are out of the house.

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Other reasons. There are many other reasons why women choose to breastfeed, among these are:

  • Weight loss – mothers who breastfeed were noticed to lose weight compared to mothers who are not breastfeeding.
  • Contraceptives as long as your period have not yet returned
  • It reduces the risk of ovarian cancer according to a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • According to a report by American Institute for Cancer Research, “Breastfeeding reduces the risk of both post- and pre-menopausal breast cancers.”
  • Wonderful experience for mothers and their children. You always have the time to be with each other and snuggle.

My milk is not coming in. Among the issues that a breastfeeding woman encounters is her milk not coming in. This means there is no enough milk to feed the baby, and this will be manifested by the baby’s weight loss on the first week after birth.

It is normal for the baby to lose some of his birth weight, but that should be up again after the first weigh-in, should he be getting enough milk.

This stage is crucial for every mother and child. The mother should be aware of themselves and should be able to confirm that there is milk coming in. She should make sure that the baby is not starving. Infant starvation and dehydration is dangerous. This state can lead to neurological disabilities. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, founder of Fed is Best Foundation shared her story on how her baby who was born healthy “fell victim to newborn jaundice, hypoglycemia and severe dehydration due to insufficient milk intake from exclusive breastfeeding in the first days of life.”

I had no enough milk with my second child. But even before he was born, I have already decided that exclusive breastfeeding is what I wanted to do, despite not having enough milk coming in. He was losing weight. I was so stressed. It was stressful to hear my newborn cry, and all I can do is try to let him latch. I don’t even know if he’s getting anything,  I start to doubt myself. I feel him. ‘He seems sucking’ then he falls asleep. That’s it, in my mind, he’s full so he’s asleep.

But the few times the midwife weighs my baby, his weight is getting less and less. Because breastfeeding was so ingrained in my head, I didn’t want to give him formula milk yet – it was only a few days. The primary advice often is to keep nursing the baby on the demand, I still didn’t produce enough milk.

After our fourth day and my child was still losing weight, a friend who has a 3-month old baby then and produces more than enough milk offers to nurse my baby. She also pumps for the night feeding. With the ‘supplement feeding’ from my friend, my child gained weight. That’s what saved my son from continuously losing weight.

On the other hand, I exert efforts to increase my milk supply through the following:

  1. Fenugreek capsule – This is the most common recommendations by experienced mothers, midwives and herbalists.
  2. Blessed Thistle capsule – Along with the fenugreek, this combo is believed to be effective in increasing milk supply, when taken 3x a day.
  3. Brewer’s Yeastis a fungus that has been used as milk stimulant for ages, although there is no enough study to support that this can increase milk supply. It was difficult to swallow. I only mixed it with water, and it was bitter.
  4. Malunggay (Moringa) capsulethis is a kind of vegetable that I grew up consuming in the Philippines. It is an ordinary food back home, and known to help increase milk supply.
  5. OatsI can’t imagine how much oats have I eaten during that time. I gag thinking about it now, sorry. I made porridge out of oats. I became creative using oats in other my baking too. I was able to make oats cookies, oats bites, cakes and others.
  6. Pumping milk – using my manual pump, every two hours I try to stimulate my breasts by pumping in the hope that it will bring in more milk.

Breastfeeding extras. When you’re settled and comfortable nursing your baby like it’s a natural thing already, don’t be surprised for extras. What do I mean by extra?

  1. Extra bite. This is expected when he starts teething. I used to just press my baby’s chin when he bites me. Or I hold his nose that he feels suffocated and will open his mouth and let go of my boob.
  2. Pinch. Breastmilk is their food, but some babies are not content with the one in their mouth. Their other hand has to work its way to your other boob too, to play and pinch you. I used to wonder why mothers allow their baby “play” with their other boob. I’m sorry, I have no idea. Then my present baby started pinching me a few months ago. It’s the most irritating thing. I don’t like it. My older children didn’t do it. Unbelievable. It seems like nothing soothes this baby in comparison to holding the other boob. Every time I nurse him, I still try to not let him hold the other boob by giving him a toy or holding his little hand playfully. That doesn’t work long. He will still insist on holding on the other boob. It’s crazy!!! Thank God, it only happens with this youngest one.
  1. Acrobatic nursing. As they grow, around 18 months or younger, they get into the habit of what I call acrobatic nursing. Think acrobats. Yes, they flip and twist and goes the opposite direction of the boob to nurse. I think these kids think, they can play, run around and still nurse. No kid, that’s not how it works! I have no solution to this except that either stop feeding them when they do that or distract them by feeding them playfully.
  2. Buffet feeding. This is when they feed in small sips, every minute literally. This especially happens when they are playing and you are accessible to them. It’s not a fun thing for us mothers, but babies are cheeky like that sometimes.

Formula feeding. In as much as breastfeeding is the universal best option for babies, it is also a reality that not all mothers are able to breastfeed due to different reasons. It could be a medical reason, their lifestyle or the circumstances they are in. Therefore, whatever their choice of feeding their infants should be respected.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I only exclusively breastfed my eldest child for two months. In the Philippines, the allowed and paid maternity leave then was only 60 days. I had to go back to work, and so she was on mixed feeding – infant formula and breastmilk when I am around, but eventually, fully formula-fed.

Formula milk is the alternative to breastfeeding a baby. It is the next safe nutrition that a baby can have. Having infant formula milk will ensure the mother that her baby is fed. Manufactured formula milk contains vitamins and minerals that a baby needs to thrive. 

Just like breastfeeding, formula feeding has its benefits and challenges too.

Shared responsibility. Feeding the baby is not exclusively the mother’s responsibility. She can share this task with her partner and other people, making sure that the baby is fed on time. It is important for any mother, to have other people’s help.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Freedom. The mother can freely be away from the baby, go to work or do other things without having to pump milk or take the baby with her. With formula milk being ready to feed the baby, the mother can have her own schedule of activities.

Less stress. A mother won’t be stressed waiting for her milk to come in or her baby not getting fed. Formula milk can be prepared as soon as the baby needs it. The mother doesn’t have to go through the pain and discomfort of at least the first 10 days of feeding the baby.

However, there are challenges in feeding your baby with formula milk.

Incomplete. Despite the attempt of the manufacturers of formula milk to provide the best nutrition for the baby, it fails to recreate the antibodies found in breast milk. The formula has no added protection against infection and illness for the baby.

Less digestible. The formula milk is known to be less digestible for a baby. It is the reason why feeding them are timed and less. 

Unsure of suitability. Not all formula milk will suit the baby’s tummy. I remember with my eldest, we tried a few brands before settling on the brand that sits well in her tummy. Sometimes formula milk can either cause diarrhea, gas or firmer bowel movement, so it is important to find certain formula milk that is easy on the baby’s tummy.

Expensive. Formula milk will be expensive in the long term. The Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor made an estimate that the first year of formula feeding of a baby can cost between $1,138.5 and $1,188. However, this estimate is very low and conservative. In reality, there are parents who spend on expensive formula milk, therefore the expense can be higher.

Extra work. Maintaining clean and sterilized bottles for the baby is important. This has to be always ready for the baby, especially when going out. When going out, planning is important to make sure all the necessary things needed for feeding is packed. It is also important to be aware that the baby has enough milk 24/7 so that he won’t run out of food, especially in the middle of the night.

Deciding on how will you feed your baby can be difficult. But as a mother you know what’s best for your child, yourself and the family. However, if you are finding it difficult to decide, consulting an expert like lactation consultants or your doctor will help.

My baby feeding experience was different with every child, but the most challenging was the second one. How was your baby feeding experience?

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