When “Breast Is Best” Doesn’t Ring True
It’s National Breastfeeding Month, and you’ve probably heard the “Breast is best!” slogan plenty of times. While breastfeeding provides wonderful benefits for both mothers and babies, is breastfeeding always best?
The month of August is National Breastfeeding Month, and here at KeaBabies, we salute all breastfeeding mothers as they selflessly provide nourishment for their growing babies. After all, we’ve all heard the popular saying that “breast is best” - but is this always true?
The quick answer is a simple no.
Of course, breastfeeding has a multitude of benefits. Breast milk provides the ideal mixture of vitamins, protein, and fat for growing infants - and it’s free! Breast milk is much more easily digested and contains special antibodies to help your little one fight off infections. Breastfed babies have even been shown to have lower instances of allergies and asthma, although it’s unclear what role breast milk plays in that correlation. Breastfed babies also seem to be less sick in general: They have fewer cases of ear infections, diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses.
The benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond the infant to the mother. Breastfeeding helps a nursing mother return to her pre-pregnancy weight faster, helps the uterus shrink back to pre-pregnancy size, and also may reduce postpartum bleeding. Breastfeeding mothers also have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis. Nursing an infant also promotes healthy mother-child bonding through consistent skin-to-skin contact.
So, with all these benefits, why isn’t breast milk always the best option?
There are a number of reasons why breastfeeding might not be in the best interest of the mother or new baby.1. The mother’s mental health.
The mother’s mental state must be taken into account. After all, the key to nurturing a happy, well-adjusted baby is to have a happy, well-adjusted mother! Some women, particularly those that struggle with postpartum mood disorders such as Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety, may have a more difficult time breastfeeding their infants. Whether it’s the constant pressure from family members or parenting groups or the overall combination of both physical and mental exhaustion in the early days of new motherhood, nursing an infant can be too much to handle. Mothers that need certain medications to help stabilize their mood disorders might be unable to breastfeed due to the medication passing through the breastmilk to the baby (although there are several medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding). At the end of the day, the mother’s own mental state must be a deciding factor when it comes to breastfeeding, and if it is not fulfilling to the mother and strains her mental health, then it is not ideal for the infant either.2. The mother’s ability to produce milk.
Some women, despite all the books they read, classes they take, and lactation consultants they see, will simply just not produce enough milk to provide their babies with adequate nutritional intake. These women might resort to pumping between feedings, taking supplements, eating a special diet, or doing extra skin-to-skin time in an attempt to stimulate their milk supply. However, due to a number of factors, some mothers will not be able to provide enough milk for their babies to thrive, and there is nothing wrong with that. Rather than risk their baby losing a dangerous amount of weight, it is optimal that these mothers supplement with either donor milk or formula to help their little ones grow and thrive.3. Underlying health issues in the mother.
New mothers might have underlying health issues that would cause them difficulty in breastfeeding. For instance, a mother might become very sick or need surgery that requires taking medication that is unsafe for breastfeeding. In these cases, it is optimal that the mother gets the medical care she needs rather than put off her own needs so she can continue to breastfeed her baby. In some cases, a mother can “pump and dump” while taking the unsafe medications to keep her milk supply strong enough that she is able to return to nursing her baby once she is off of the medication. For other women, it is nearly impossible to continue breastfeeding at this point. It is important for new mothers to discuss with their doctors about the risk factors in putting off medical procedures or medications in order to continue safely breastfeeding - and in many cases, it is safer just to transition into using formula so that the mother can get adequate medical care.4. Division of parenting duties.
It’s harder to split parenting duties in half when babies are completely dependent on the mother to provide nourishment. Breastfeeding mothers can pump breast milk so another caregiver can feed the baby, but pumping also takes time and effort! Breastfeeding is a lot of work, and breastfed babies rely on their mothers to provide vital nutrients and calories that they need to grow. While fathers or other caregivers can help to breastfeeding mothers in other ways (changing diapers, rocking the baby to sleep, washing pacifiers or bottles, etc), sometimes supplementing with formula, or transitioning completely to formula, can help mothers and fathers both feel like they put equal time and effort into feeding their babies.
No matter if you choose to breastfeed, pump, or use formula, what counts is that your baby is fed! There’s no need to feel guilty if you’re unable or unwilling to breastfeed your baby. Although breastfeeding is a wonderful way for mothers to bond with their babies, there is a multitude of other ways moms can establish a loving, caring relationship with their children. We’re all navigating this difficult journey of parenting in the best way we can!
If you or someone you know is seeking breastfeeding advice or information, we recommend joining our wonderful Facebook community, KeaBabies Love, where thousands of mothers from all over the country share tips, tricks, and advice with one another!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.