The Truth About Nursing

No one will say the truth. Well, not no one. But definitely very few people who don’t have an AP philosophy.

They dance around it, hide behind it, or worse: put up signs that say something else and hide behind those.

And no one will say the truth because of a nastly 5-letter word: guilt.

Or – more accurately, the fear that other people will feel guilt.

“Oh, don’t worry,” they say, “it’s fine.”

“If you can’t then don’t.”

Or this goodie: “Formula’s not poison, you know.”

So I’m going to share the truth with you now.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

BUT. My goal is not to make you feel guilty (and if you do feel guilt, check this out). My goal is to give you the information you need to make an informed decision for yourself and for your family, and to make the best choice for your family at this time.

So here’s the truth:

The truth is that nursing is ideal

The truth is, my dears, that nursing is ideal. And not just nursing: exclusively breastfeeding (EBFing) until 6 months of age, and then continued nursing alongside supplemental solids until at least 12 months of age is ideal.

Ideal.

Dictionary definition (as per Prof. Google): a standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at.

That means that

  1. EBFing is the standard of perfection for infant nutrition, health, development and overall wellbeing.
  2. It’s what we ought to be aiming for. 

While some women cannot EBF, their bodies physically cannot create the milk, or enough milk, for their babies to thrive, they are few and far between.

While some circumstances contraindicate EBFing (such as the mother needing medication that would be harmful for the baby), again, those situations are few and far between.

If you fall into either of those two categories above (as I did for a short time after my twins were born when I was working to up my supply post-C-section and was nursing + pumping + formula feeding because I physically was not yet able to produce enough breastmilk for my late preterm infants), then I encourage you to thank Hashem that your baby was born in an era in which we do have a second-best option (because goats, cows or any other milk rank waaaay lower than formula), rather than no option at all. This is the circumstance Hashem gave you, and all you can do is make the best of it.

But, for most of us, who are not in those two categories, it behooves us to know the truth, know our options, and make a decision based on that.

Perfection for infant nutrition

Nursing, of course, is not just about infant nutrition. It is, though, the perfect nutrition for your baby.

Hashem created every single mammal with breastmilk that is precisely the combination of water, proteins, fats and carbs, vitamins and minerals that their babies will need, and those nutrients are most possible bioavailable for that species.

No animal’s milk (goats, cows, or any others) will provide what a human baby needs – because their milks are for their babies. Only our milk is that perfect combination for human babies to grow and thrive.

But it’s not just about the components of the milk; it’s also about their bioavilability – our bodies’ capability to access those nutrients. Formula, for example, has far higher levels of some nutrients than breastmilk does, but babies are not able to absorb them as well as breastmilk, causing a large percentage of those nutrients to be excreted rather than absorbed.

Breastmilk is the standard of perfection for infant nutrition. 

Perfection for Health

Breastmilk is the perfect infant nutrition, but it’s not just about nutrition.

The bioavailability of nutrients, the perfect balance of water, protein, fat and carbs, the antibodies and skin-to-skin contact all create the perfect environment for infant health.

The antibodies! Oh we’ve all heard about the antibodies — that any time our body is fighting off a harmful bacteria or virus we share that fighting power with our nursing babies — but let me share something even more amazing about antibodies:

You know how we have this irrepressible desire to kiss our babies’ – and specifically their faces? It’s not random. Hashem gave us that desire specifically so that we would be exposed to the pathogens on our babies’ faces, causing our bodies to be involved in fighting them off, so our babies get the antibodies.

Breastmilk and breastfeeding also nurtures a healthy gut microbiome — one that will stay with your child for the rest of his or her life, and, for your daughters, will impact their children’s microbiomes, too. A healthy gut is the foundation for our overall health for life — from little things like colds, strep and ear infections (which are significantly more common in formula-fed babies), to big things like cancer and dementia in later years.

Formula actually feeds many of the unhealthy gut-dwelling bacteria, and does little to nurture or build the good ones. 

Mixed-fed babies (babies who get both breastmilk and formula — even if it’s just once a day!) have microbiomes that are more similar to those of formula-fed babies than those of EBFing babies.

But it’s not just about breast milk — it’s also about breastfeeding.

When an infant breastfeeds, any pathogen they’ve picked up will be in their saliva, which, when it touches mommy’s skin when nursing, will cause the mother to produce antibodies for that pathogen, too. 

And the skin-to-skin contact that happens in breastfeeding allows our babies to be exposed to the healthy bacteria on our skin

Perfection for development

Being held and cuddled, having eye-contact and skin-to-skin contact, development of the oral muscles, the shape of the palate, jaw and nasal cavity, all are affected by breastfeeding and enable ideal development for a baby.

Being touched is a basic human need, and one that is generally recognized. There’s a study commonly cited about babies in an orphanage who were fed and diapered but never touched, and they died of failure to thrive.

Being held, and specifically being held by their mothers, is important for our babies’ development – both emotionally and physically. (Of course, our babies do need to have time on the floor to develop too – it’s all about healthy balance!)

While some bottle-feeding mothers are conscientious about holding their babies when they give them a bottle, bottle-feeding “frees” you to put your baby on the floor with a propper (or, once the baby is old enough, to simple put him down with a bottle to feed on his own). 

Breastfeeding forces us to give our babies that touch that they need — and not just any touch, but skin-to-skin contact.

Breastfeeding also develops the oral muscles and shapes the bones of the face to best facilitate a healthy mouth (the first “step” of the healthy gut!), and to develop a wide nasal cavity that will enable proper nose-breathing.

“Yes”es and “No”s

“Every time we say “yes” to one thing, we’re saying “no” to something else” (said by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in the name of his wife).

Saying “yes” to EBFing may mean saying “no” to something else — or a whole host of something elses.

It might mean seeing a local lactation consultant to work on your baby’s latch (and if your LC doesn’t say anything about latch or work with you to improve efficient milk transfer (which is LC talk for “get the milk he needs in a timely fashion”) and just lectures on the evils of formula, please find a new LC!).

It might mean bringing your housekeeping or meal prep standards a couple notches down.

It might mean shifting your priorities a little bit.

Now you have the information you need to make a choice. There is no right choice or wrong choice, but there is an “ideal” to be aiming for. Your right choice will be the choice that enables optimal health for all the members of your family.

What are you going to do to make that choice happen?

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Comments (3)
  1. Shirley

    Thanks, Chaya Shifra for writing this. Binah wrote an article a few weeks (month ? I don’t remember I’m nursing 😉 )and I was so upset because it was only walking around guilt and not saying the truth. I told my husband I would write them a letter. He laughed and said “Yeah for sure, ah ah like this time, or maybe that one lol”. I said “No but this time I am serious. Maybe I’ll even write a full article”. Now, I didn’t send it but it’s the intention that counts, right ? I feel like as a Binah contributor and a lactation consultant it would be better received if you sent your piece.

    • Hi Shirley!

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I read the same article in Binah, and was just as upset from it as you are — that’s what inspired this post. (I did write in a letter to them … still waiting to see if it’s published (and you should write in! Even if they don’t publish it, it’s good if they see that there’s pushback agains that the messaging they shared). In the meantime, though, I took the salient points and converted them into this post.)

      Love and Lollypops,
      Chaya Shifra

      • Shirley

        Hi Chaya Shifra,
        ok bli neder I will write to them.
        😉
        Shirley