A psychologist wades into the breast Vs bottle debate.

Belinda came to see me about 2 months ago. She was miserable. She couldn’t seem to get breastfeeding sorted out. It was taking her almost an hour to feed and then her baby seemed to want another feed an hour later. Her nipples were sore, she was permanently worried about whether her baby was getting enough milk, she was exhausted and she was over it. And she was starting to resent her baby.

But she felt she couldn’t switch to bottle feeding. She felt that would be just like giving her baby poison.

She was clinging to the idea that breastfeeding her baby was meant to be one of the best parts of being a mother.

She’d heard of those breastfeeding experiences that were successful for so many of her friends. You know, those times when you and your baby seem to agree on the body positions, consumption amounts and timing of the feed. But, hers seemed to be the variety where the wires were permanently crossed, and the whole experience went downhill quicker than a skier on Mt Everest.

And it wasn’t that she hadn’t tried to get advice. Like most of the mothers I know, she had already endured six different opinions from six different women – ranging from the lactation consultant in the hospital to the nanna at Erina Fair who ignored her “get lost” look and proceeded to tell her how easy breastfeeding was back in the 1940’s.

So this article isn’t about presenting all of the arguments for and against each way of feeding our baby – that would take an entire book! However, Belinda and other mothers I’ve worked with have found the following thoughts quite helpful so hopefully you will too:

  • We live in a democracy ladies! Which means choice. Choice to breastfeed. Choice not to. If by any chance you think your choice is better, keep your opinions and smugness to yourself. Take a good look in the mirror and ask what your purpose is before you say a word to another mum about her choice. Do you really think a new mother with a gazillion struggles is going to benefit from your assumed superiority, or is she likely to feel worse, which will then negatively impact on her baby. Are you really wanting to possibly make a fellow struggling mum feel lower than she already does?
  • Make no assumptions. Heard of the terms severe allergies, severe tongue-tie, chemotherapy, or severe illness? Mothers or babies with medical complications sufficient to make breastfeeding not an option are rare, but not unheard of. So, if you see a mother bottle feeding…..SMILE!  If she or her baby is struggling with major medical issues, she needs your support not your disapproving glances. Why not assume that she is bottle feeding for reasons that are in the best interest of either her or her baby.
  • Remember what’s important. The health benefits of breastmilk are undeniable, but so is your relationship with your baby. Any mother who is breastfeeding while stressed out of her brain because of constant mastitis, failure to thrive, anxiety about her baby’s consumption levels, constant thrush, or other factors needs support reassessing her priorities. By all means, seek help first, but know this: Your baby’s psychological health is less about where their milk has come from as whether they feel loved and connected with you while they are being fed.
  • Seek support from those people who understand, regardless of which course you choose. For those who choose to breastfeed, there are many associations to support you, including the Breastfeeding Association (www.breastfeeding.asn.au). It is often harder to find support groups for those who have decided to formula feed, but one that seems to offer a sensible perspective is  www.fearlessformulafeeder.com.

And perhaps it is mothers like Katie (mother of three children) who can help us understand that we all need to take every mother and every baby and be prepared to accept them as they are. But these mothers need to speak out and be heard to prevent the current cruel and unnecessary attacks on women who for many and varied reasons have either decided to or been forced by circumstances to bottle feed their child.

As Katie told me: “I couldn’t breastfeed my third child. We just couldn’t make it work, despite all my experience successfully doing it with my first two children! When I changed over to the bottle he stopped being so stressed out, his belly was full and he became the contented baby he was meant to be. Although I felt like a failure at times, deep down I knew I’d made the best decision for him. It also made me feel pretty rotten about how over the past 4 years I’d judged other mums who didn’t breastfeed.”

So. Embrace whatever choice it is that you have made. Accept others for the choices they have made. And let’s never forget that being a mother can be hard. To do the best job possible we need to support our fellow mothers, not just offer our criticism.

Can you relate to the above? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com


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  • It’s just a fact that not all women are successful at breast feeding. I was lucky and had no major issues with any breastfeeding, it was a super enjoyable time for me

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  • Babies need a lot of cuddles, clean nappies and full bellies, they don’t care where or how it comes as long as it does. FED IS BEST!

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  • In the end, a fed baby is best. It doesn’t matter how, whether it be breast or bottle, all babies need nutrients and both provide it. I was hell bent on wanting to breast feed my son until he was at least one, but when he started to wean at 7 months, I turned to my mum’s group for help and support as I was struggling with this, and instead I was made to feel like even more of a failure for even considering bottle. I was staying up until all hours of the night pumping milk, and eating strange things to increase my milk to no avail. All I did was stress my self out more and became upset. In the end I HAD to change to bottle and my son thrived. I left the mum’s group and now I see that no matter how my baby was fed, at least he was fed. New mums have way too much pressure put on them to breast feed it can actually be detrimental to the health of the mum and baby if for some reason they can’t. Mums need to help and support each other not tear each other down

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  • Thank you for making Mothers feel they are NOT bad mothers for bottle feeding their baby. I wish they’d stop making us feel inadequate for bottle feeding. Sometimes its not a choice but a necessity.

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  • I agree you may be proud feeding your child formula ! Not breastfeeding your baby is really not the end of the world :)

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  • Often it is stress and lack of nutrition that stops a mother from breastfeeding, we need to encourage support and relaxing atmosphere instead of everyone poking their nose into saying what is right and what is wrong. Another thing I found that it was important to have a good feed yourself to get your milk up, I remember eating a whole bowl of salad and feeling my milk come up half way through. If you are under-nourished of course it makes sense baby will want more and more milk. There is a lot of advice available to get your milk up, and make a special place to feed baby where you are comfortable, a comfy chair in a garden if you can or watching relaxing show on tv. I used to go to my favourite cafe for lunch, the lady who ran it was so supportive and let me sit there breastfeeding while I had a feed. Breastfeeding is one of the most joyous times to share with baby and I hope more women who have difficulty don’t give up too easy and seek the right support. Formula can never replace the natural rich breastmilk that is designed specifically for your baby.

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  • Agree FED is best, so over midwifes and harping on about breastfeed yes they get antibodies that formula does not give them…..but does not make them any smarter or develop any different from formula fed babies…yes I bottled fed both my babies and I told was my obgyn who made that decision for me with my second child, as it take ps a while to get the hang of breastfeeding with a toddler around my feet and demanding attention she told me to bottle feed so I could take the stress out being a mum to a newborn and toddler…

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  • It’s about time that we shouldn’t feel guilty for feeding our babies the best way we can. Everyone harps on about breastfeeding and how we should support women breastfeeding and not judge them yet we are judging others for formula feeding. It shouldn’t be a dividing thing. Fed is best!

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  • I can relate to this. When my 1st son was born there was huge pressure on us that breast is best so we felt like failures if we couldn’t breast feed. Still in hospital seven days after the birth & it was obvious there was a problem but the nurses refused to give him a bottle of formula. We tried everything but he was still not feeding & had lost weight so his pediatrician told me to put him on a bottle because he had lost weight, I told him about the pressure from nurses so he told me to go home & put my baby on formula.
    It was not until 4 years later when I had my 2nd son that I found out I can’t produce milk so at least I felt better about putting him on formula & the pressure from nurses stopped. There should not be pressure on any new mum to breastfeed because it does not always come easy to some & they feel like a failure while others around them have no problems.

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  • Even if you breastfeed, perhaps be a bit sneaky and use both methods for part of a feed and see if your baby will accept a bottle…..That way you will find out if somebody can feed your baby with your milk in an emergency. You always wish it will never happen but it’s a safeguard against a baby suddenly having to have a bottle under such circumstances, perhaps the first formula feed at the same time.

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  • I am firm believer in that you need to do what is right for you and your family. I think you should try to breast feed to offer bub a good start, but that is just my opinion.

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  • You do what you think is best. Dont ever listen to what other people have to say about the choices you make.

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  • This should really be down to parental choice. But I believe that women should at least try first. I knew a woman who didn’t even WANT to try to breastfeed.

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  • Can relate fully – and hello, how do know it isn’t breast milk that has been expressed that is being fed to the baby in that bottle? I had to express for over 6 months while my little one was in hospital and unable to be brought home and of course once she was home at 6 months she had no idea how to suckle. I still had a huge amount of milk so that’s how we got through – me expressing and her having it in the bottle. But the looks from other mothers is still something I can remember today.
    Get a life ladies and leave others alone.

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  • Great article and yes it’s all about taking good choices.

    Reply

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