“What do you mean? Of COURSE I’m nursing!”
“It’s so hard for me to nurse/pump – I’m so glad I can give my baby formula.”
“I love nursing, but giving her one bottle of formula in the afternoon made me feel so much more relaxed and calm!”
“I don’t know what I should do – I would love to nurse, but I’m going to be going back to work…”
I’ve been hearing a lot about nursing v. formula over the past couple weeks. Between seeing people over y”t, and bumping into old friends and acquaintances at the chasunah I was at last week, somehow, infant feeding has come up a LOT.
From my own first-time-mother experience, I remember having a lot of random conflicting facts being thrown at me, and didn’t know which was the right one to take. (Breast is best, or fed is best? Should I get a 6 hour stretch of sleep at night, or would it ruin my supply? Pumped milk? Soy formula? Cow milk formula?) On top of that was my own pre-conceived “ideal” (which I found myself regularly shedding as my kids got older. Read more about that HERE.)
Choosing whether to nurse or formula-feed your baby is such a personal decision, and, as with much in parenting, there is no “right” answer for everyone.
So let’s break it down – what are the facts, and how can you figure out what will work best for you?
Is Breast Best? The Facts
Fed is best. It is.
But when it comes to the best way to feed – then breast is best. Hands down. Put it this way – Hashem knew what He was doing.
When it comes to nursing, it’s not just about nutrition – nursing does far more than just fill your baby’s tummy with food. Here are some examples:
Nursing populates your baby’s gut flora, and will serve as the lifetime foundation for a healthy gut. Not only does formula not provide that, some components of formulas will actually encourage the growth of bad gut bacteria.
Breastmilk is a lot easier on our babies’ tummies. It also comes with built-in amylase – that enzyme that starts the digestive process by breaking our food down in our mouths. Why is that important? Well, when a baby is sucking their (liquid) food, it bypasses the amylase and goes straight to the esophagus. Babies have more difficulty digesting formula because it’s a lot more complex than breastmilk, and and also does not contain the amylase.
Nursing naturally teaches our young babies about portion control – they control the flow (this is nursing specifically; in this regard, pumped breastmilk in a bottle is the same as formula in a bottle). Studies have found that EBF (exclusively breastfed) babies were less likely to be overweight or obese when they grew up.
Nursing is the ideal way for our babies to eat. In an ideal world, all babies would EBF for 6 months, and then nurse alongside eating solids until at least 12 months of age. But we don’t live in an ideal world. So let’s talk tachlis.
But formula is good too!
There are many reasons that EBFing may not be an option.
Maybe you’re working or in school.
Maybe you have multiples.
Maybe your life is too hectic now.
Maybe it’s something else.
(I’ll address some of those below.)
Regardless – if you can’t nurse your baby or feed your baby pumped milk, then formula is the next best thing you can feed your baby.
I’ve heard some whisperings about goat milk (from friends and past clients), but, while goat milk tends to be gentler on our human systems than cow milk, goat milk is meant to properly nourish baby goats – not baby humans.
So I’ll repeat: if your baby is not getting human breast milk, formula is the best option.
Are there “problems” with it? Sure. It’s human made and, try as we might, we are never able to properly duplicate what Hashem has created. So be sure that you make it with boiling (not pre-boiled, but actually boiling) water to be sure that any potential contaminants have been killed, and, if you can (ie if you do not have milk allergies or intolerance in your family, and if you can get a cholov Yisroel option if you’re makpid) then cow milk is, in general, a better source of protein than soy.
Allrighty – so that’s the rundown on breastmilk and formula. So let’s move on to what-ifs.
What if I’m working, but still want to nurse?
Well, for starters, I surely hope you’re not working for the first 6-16 weeks after your baby is born, right?
Remember that, while EBF till 6 months is BEST that does not mean (by any stretch) that it’s the only way, or that it’s all or nothing. Every additional time that you breastfeed your baby has benefit. Even if you just want to nurse while your baby is home with you, and then stop once you start leaving the house, that still provides huge benefit to your baby.
If you want to keep nursing while you’re back at work, that’s totally doable, too. Most health insurances will at least partially cover breast pumps. Yes, pumping was the bane of my existance when I worked out of the house when my twins were little, but it was worth it for me – even when they were getting some formula and some pumped breast milk. (An absolute MUST if you’re pumping is investing in a pumping bra.)
It’s worth exploring your options even before your baby is born. How often will you be able to pump while you’re at work? (Employers are legally required to allow you to pump, and to give you a real room to pump in — don’t be afraid to stand up and ask for a room that’s NOT a bathroom!) Is there a babysitter in/near your workplace that you’d be able to leave your baby at so you can nurse him?
If you don’t want to pump, what if you would just nurse in the morning and evenings, and give your baby formula while at work?
What if I want to nurse, but I don’t have enough of a supply?
While there is actually a condition in which women are not able to produce enough milk for their baby, usually it’s possible to get your supply up to par.
The first thing to do for your supply starts the second your baby is born (so all you expecting moms – listen up!) – uninterrupted skin-to-skin until your baby latches on his/her own (about 1 hour for natural births; moms who have had epidurals can expect it to take a bit longer) is the best way to jumpstart your supply.
Nursing regularly throughout the day (and night) for the few weeks (which your baby will want to do anyway) will get your supply on track.
If you are struggling with supply and it’s taking very long to nurse or hurts to nurse (or both), I would recommend visiting a lactation consultant in your area so she can help you adjust your baby’s latch.
What if I want to nurse and give my baby one bottle of formula a day? Will it ruin my supply?
It depends on the women. Some may find that skipping one feed will make their daily supply go down, but some will have no problem the rest of the day – they’ll just always give formula for that one feed.
But, as always, it’s really about you. As a lactation counselor, my goal is to support each mother in what she wants to do and enable her to meet her breastfeeding goal.
So let’s talk about you – what questions do YOU have about nursing or formula?