Of course, not all women will be able to breast feed their baby, and so the decision will have been made already for them, and some women may find that although they started out breast feeding their baby, they are unable to continue to do so for any number of reasons (chronic discomfort, lack of milk etc.).
At the end of the day, despite the protestations from either side of the fence, there is no right way or wrong way when it comes to the breast feeding vs bottle feeding debate as both have their advantages and disadvantages, some of which we'll explore now:
Advantages of breast feeding:
- Undoubtedly mankind has found it difficult, if not impossible, to improve on Mother Nature in many facets of our lives, and breast milk is no different. A mother's breast milk therefore has all the nutrients, vitamins, and, probably most importantly, the anti-infection antibodies that the newborn baby requires to get a good start in life.
- Breast fed babies have fewer infections and illnesses according to a whole host of studies that have been published. This is not to say of course that all breast fed babies are healthy, and that all formula fed babies are at an obvious disadvantage, but, taken as a group, breast fed babies tend to suffer from fewer medical problems than their formula-fed counterparts.
- There is also an acknowledged closer bond between the baby and the mother when breast feeding. The warmth of the mother's breast coupled with the skin to skin contact helps to provide a comfortable and safe environment for the child that is simply impossible to replicate with a bottle.
- There are a number of studies that suggest that breast feeding is beneficial for the mother in the areas of weight control and even as a cancer preventative.
- While formula milk certainly provides the infant with a good range of necessary vitamins and other nutrients that are needed for the infant's development, a mother's breast milk simply has everything that the child needs in one convenient package.
- Mother's milk is more easily digested by the infant than formula milk. Remember that a baby's digestive system is still somewhat immature, so it is much easier for the baby to break down and absorb the minerals and nutrients contained in mother's milk over formula milk. Because breast milk is easier to digest, your baby will suffer less from constipation and diarrhoea.
- Mother's breast milk reflects what the mother eats, and the taste of breast milk is often affected by the types of foods that the mother has recently eaten. This provides the baby with subtle differences in the taste of the breast milk and, as they say, variety is the spice of life.
- Breast feeding is free and the milk comes in a convenient, easy to carry, container! While saving money should not in any way solely influence your decision to breast feed or not, there's no escaping the fact that breast feeding can save parents significant amounts of money over the first few months of a baby's life, and is infinitely more convenient. Breast feeding is also much more convenient insofar as there is no need to clean bottles, warm the milk or any of the other activities associated with bottle feeding and there is very little danger of the food running out.
Disadvantages of breast feeding:
- Not all mothers feel comfortable with the concept of breast feeding from the start. Many mothers need time to grow into the role and to master the techniques for comfortable breast feeding. As a side note, there is nothing wrong with this, and it is important that mothers who aren't comfortable breast feeding take their time and go at their own pace. Bottle feeding will provide a good alternative until the mother is ready to breast feed.
- Undoubtedly breast feeding is more demanding physically for the mother than bottle feeding. Factor in to this that the baby may require feeding every two or three hours and for some women the physical effort can take a toll on their own well-being.
- Pain. Small babies have an astonishing ability to suck with great force which can take many mothers by surprise. This can lead to sore breasts (in some cases bleeding) and a great deal of discomfort for the mother.
- Because breast milk is easier to digest for the baby, it is often the case that the baby will want (or need) to eat more frequently than if they were bottle fed. In turn this can lead to more diaper
- Self-consciousness. While some mothers have absolutely no problem with breast feeding in public, or semi-public, places others are not so comfortable with the idea. The decision to breast feed will often mean that both mother and baby will have to 'dine out' in some less-than-ideal locations and it might take a while for some women to overcome any embarrassment or self-consciousness.
- Lifestyle. For many women, getting pregnant in the first place meant a change of lifestyle and the imposition of restrictions (limited tea or coffee, no smoking, no alcohol etc.). If you decide to breast feed then these restrictions should remain in place as long as the baby is breast fed.
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