Breast or Bottle?

Are you going to breastfeed or go the formula route? It's an issue over which many new moms feel intense pressure, and if you're still undecided you've likely heard extensive opinions on both sides of the subject. Which is the right choice?

If you compare breast milk to formula strictly on a nutrient basis, few would disagree that the better choice is breast milk. But since the issue is also loaded with social, emotional, and personal considerations, the matter is seldom so black and white. In the end, breast or bottle is an individual choice.

Pros and Cons

A plus feature of breastfeeding for one woman is a minus for another. Consider the pros and cons of breast- and bottle-feeding and how these fit with your particular life and family situation.

Breastfeeding pros and cons:

PRO: The hands-down perfect food for your child, breast milk is custom-made for her nutritional needs and provides her with essential antibodies.

CON: If you have a medical condition that requires drug treatment, it's possible your medication can pass into breast milk and potentially pose a risk to baby. (Talk with your doctor if this is the case; you have other treatment options.)

PRO: Breastfeeding is a low-maintenance feeding routine. It's always close at hand and never needs mixing, warming, or other preparation.

CON: In the beginning, at least, you will always need to be close at hand as well. Breastfeeding can be as physically taxing as it is emotionally rewarding.

PRO: Nursing gives you special one-on-one bonding time with baby.

CON: Breasts don't detach. No one else can pitch in on the feeding duties.

PRO: If you're on a budget, breastfeeding is a big cost-cutter. Aside from the high cost of formula itself, you can save on bottles, bags, cleaning gadgets, and other formula-feeding purchases.

CON: You might have to purchase or rent a breast pump and buy a personal kit to use with it, which can also be costly.

PRO: As a breastfeeding mom, you're taking part in a tradition as old as motherhood itself and giving your child something no one else can. The experience is priceless.

CON: Unfortunately, there are still many unenlightened knuckleheads out there who can't get past their perception of the breast as strictly a sexual object and who will relegate you to the corner or the closet, if given the chance.

PRO: Many women who breastfeed experience faster postpartum weight loss.

CON: Although you may be taking your figure back, your breasts belong to baby — leaks, sore nipples, and all.

Bottle-feeding pros and cons:

PRO: Feeding isn't only mom, all day and all night. Your partner can get up at 4 A.M. once in a while to feed the baby.

CON: Feeding isn't only mom, all day and all night. The special mother-child bond and skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding brings can be harder to achieve.

PRO: You can give your baby a bottle just about anywhere, anytime without feeling self-conscious or raising eyebrows.

CON: Before you hit the road, make sure you pack sterilized bottles and nipples, formula, bottled water for mixing powdered formula, a can opener for opening premixed formula, and an ice pack if you've made the bottles in advance. If the bottles are chilled, you need a place to warm them, and don't forget the extra formula in case you're gone longer than you anticipated. Convenience is in the eye of the beholder.

PRO: No worries about keeping up your milk supply when you return to work.

CON: You may miss out on a golden opportunity to spend special nursing time together at home once your busy work schedule starts encroaching on family time again.

PRO: You can assume control of your body again after many months away from the helm.

CON: After so many months as one, you're suddenly severing a close physical bond that nursing can prolong.

I'm going back to work soon. Should I even bother breastfeeding now?

Even a short period of breastfeeding can have big advantages for your baby. Many women do return to work and continue to nurse. Pumping breast milk, or gradually reducing the number of feedings to nurse in the morning and the evening only (and supplement with formula) are options.

Being Comfortable with Your Decision

You are not an uncaring and self-absorbed mother if you choose to bottle-feed. Likewise, if you breastfeed your child openly and even through toddlerhood, you are not a militant mother-earth nut.

Try to weigh the risks versus the benefits in your situation. All things being equal, women who are well-supported at home, are healthy, and don't face an excessively demanding work schedule should consider giving breastfeeding a try even if they feel a little awkward about it. Often the awkwardness evaporates with a little practice and through the bond forged with baby in nursing. And the health benefits gained by baby will last a lifetime.

On the other hand, if you're a single mom who works two jobs and is already stretched to the limit emotionally and physically, don't be pressured into breastfeeding by others because it is “the right thing to do.”Excessive stress can do more damage than good, impairing your parenting skills, putting your health at risk, and straining the time the two of you do have together. Not every life situation is ideal for breastfeeding, even if you are capable of doing it. Make the decision that works best for your family.

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