Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's Not About the Milk

You are supposed to breastfeed because breastmilk is the best food for your baby, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, breastmilk is the best food for babies, but it is not just about the milk. Bottle-feeding is a feeding method, breastfeeding is a relationship.

"Nursing is the biological norm for mothers and babies. It is a relationship that links the baby's immune system to the mother's, provides the baby with stimulation and connection while providing the mother with stress reducing hormones. It even feeds the baby." Author unknown.

So why are so many women now exclusively feeding pumped breastmilk? For some moms it is not a choice, but the only option because for whatever reason, breastfeeding did not work (baby with a weak suck or cleft palate, for example). But some women are proudly choosing to pump and bottle feed. Clearly these moms are doing what they feel is best for their babies, but I think that most of them do not know that they are not giving their baby (and themselves) all of the benefits of breastfeeding.

This mom says it well in Bottle vs. Breast, A Mother's Story

"If breastfeeding is considered just as a method of transferring milk into baby, then on the surface there does not seem to be that much difference."

There are some differences between the benefits of being bottle fed breastmilk and being breastfed directly.

For example, your milk has the highest level of antibodies when your baby takes it directly from your breast, and is second-best when it is freshly pumped. Your body actually responds to your baby’s saliva to make milk that is just right for him. If your baby is exposed to something that he needs antibodies for, this is how your body “learns” to make those antibodies for him. The longer it is stored, the more of these antibodies are deactivated. Freezing destroys even more antibodies. (Your frozen milk still provides excellent nutrition and protection for your baby, just not as good as directly from the breast or freshly pumped.)

When breastfeeding directly babies also benefit from appropriate jaw, teeth and speech development as well as overall facial development. The activity of breastfeeding helps exercise the facial muscles. This promotes the development of strong jaws and attractive facial structure. This means that people who were artificially fed may experience more trips to doctors and dentists. Several studies have shown breastfeeding to enhance speech development and speech clarity. Increasing duration of breastfeeding is associated with decreasing risk of later need for braces or other orthodontic treatment. One study showed that overbites (malocclusion) requiring orthodontia could be cut in half if infants were breastfed for one year.

Breastfeeding directly is also less time consuming (no parts to wash, no pumping time plus feeding time). When baby is hungry or needs to be comforted you simply put your baby to the breast. When exclusively bottle feeding breastmilk, you must attend to preparing a bottle first.

Skin on skin contact with your baby is an important part of their development. When you are breastfeeding you have to be in skin on skin contact with your baby. Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, make sure you spend some time in skin to skin contact with your baby.

Even when the baby is not actually nursing, skin-to-skin is helpful. Carry your baby a lot, skin to skin whenever possible. It increases mother's milk supply. It helps to "organize" the baby's behavior so that he learns to feed more easily. Babies who are held skin to skin and carried a lot cry less, save their calories for growing (they don’t waste them on crying), and it actually makes them grow better! It stabilizes breathing, heart rate, blood sugar, and temperature.

Finally, it is important to know that many moms who are exclusively pumping for their babies seems to have a harder time maintaining a full milk supply beyond 6 months of age.

It makes me sad that so many people in our culture view the breastfeeding breasts as "bottles of milk" that are just there to feed the baby. I wish more mothers could get to the point where they understand that it is not just about giving the baby milk, but a wonderful way to comfort and nurture and mother a child.

Breastfeeding is as much about the food as sex is about the sperm. Although it’s primarily designed for survival, it’s part of an intimate loving physical relationship- the template for all relationships in life. So for success, it involves persistence, commitment, giving beyond what seems reasonable- and provides rewards beyond what is given. -Nan Jolly, South Africa