Being a mum is a precious experience, whether it’s your first baby or your third. There’s nothing else quite like it! When it comes to choosing how to feed your newborn baby, it can be a daunting decision to make. As a mother of two, I know how different and challenging my breastfeeding experience was for both of our children.
Knowing the differences between breast milk and formula, and the impact they can have on both mum and baby helped me, but sometimes circumstances will lead your decisions. It’s always important to do what you feel is right for both you and your baby.
A happy mum makes for a happy baby.
Breast milk is nutritious and is a source of antibodies that protect against many childhood illnesses. It has all the energy and nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop during the first six months of their life.
As breast milk is a living fluid, it can adapt to your baby’s needs as they continue to grow. This means when your baby gets ill, your body produces additional white blood cells and antibodies that you pass on to your baby through your milk to help fight infection. Our bodies are incredible!
Even though there have been many advancements in how formula milk is made, the health benefits of breast milk are greater. But there are many reasons why you may not exclusively breastfeed your baby. Some women don’t produce enough milk to be able to breastfeed, while others may have a medical condition that prevents them from nursing their newborn. It’s nothing to be ashamed of
Breastfeeding can also be very difficult for some mums. Getting access to the support you need isn’t always easy, especially in different parts of the UK. Bottle feeding a newborn isn’t as uncommon as you might think. According to a survey by NCT in 2005, 45% of all mums exclusively breastfed during the first week of the baby’s life. Only 21% of all mums were still exclusively breastfeeding their baby at six weeks.
Breastfeeding can be a beautiful experience. It’s a practical and low cost option when it comes to feeding your newborn. Breast milk is fresh and is readily available when your baby needs it, whether you’re out and about or at home. Breastfeeding has many benefits for both you and your baby.
Breast milk isn’t just food for your baby, it also protects them from illnesses. It can reduce your baby’s risk of:
Breastfeeding also halves the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which affects more than 200 babies every year. Babies born prematurely or at a low birth weight are at greater risk, but SIDS is rare and the risk to your baby is low.
It’s not just your baby that benefits from breastfeeding - mums do too. Breastfeeding can help you lose your baby weight faster, as it can burn up to 500 calories a day. It’s important that you have plenty to eat and drink throughout the day when breastfeeding your baby to keep your energy levels up.
Mums who breastfeed are also at lower risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. The longer you breastfeed, the lower the risk of developing these problems in the future.
Not only does it require a lot of commitment from mum, but breastfeeding can also be very painful for some women. Engorgement and infections like mastitis can make breastfeeding more difficult because of the discomfort. For some women, the condition can be so severe that they have to stop breastfeeding altogether and formula feed instead.
With my first child, I really struggled and found the whole experience incredibly challenging and frustrating. My daughter arrived prematurely and weighed just under 4lbs. She spent her first few weeks in the SCBU at the Royal Free Hospital in London being fed by a tube. By the time we were able to take her home, she was already used to being tube fed.
I remember feeling under enormous strain to continuously breastfeed. There was so much pressure to increase her weight. With the fatigue that comes with being a first-time mum, breastfeeding just didn’t last very long. It wasn’t successful for us, and that’s okay.
Fortunately we went through a far more positive experience with our second child. I was able to breastfeed him for longer and with much more success, even though I went back to work after 4 months.
If you find breastfeeding difficult, it could just be that you haven’t found the right feeding position for you and your baby. This can take a little time while both of you adjust, but there is support available if you need it. Contact your GP or your health visitor for more advice.
Having the support of professionals and getting good advice from family and friends was as important for me as having the right equipment. Sometimes your state of mind plays a key role too - I know mine did.
By choosing to bottle feed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t let your baby benefit from the nutrients in your breast milk. Expressing your breast milk is often a more convenient option for some mums, especially for those of us who are planning on returning to work.
When people talk about breastfeeding vs bottle feeding, what they are actually referring to is formula feeding. There are many reasons why parents might choose to formula feed their baby. Bottle feeding formula milk is more convenient for many parents, as other people can help with the feed while mum takes a rest. Not only does this give mum a chance to catch up on her sleep, but it’s also a great opportunity for other family members to bond with the baby too.
For many of us mums who return to work, the reality is that bottle feeding is our only option. Stress in the workplace can affect milk production, which can prevent you from being able to express milk altogether.
Nowadays, baby milk formula has been scientifically developed to provide all the basic vitamins and minerals your little one needs for their growth and development. So you’re still doing right by your baby.
Formula feeding your baby can be very costly. Bottle feeding requires quite a lot of equipment including bottles, teats and a steriliser, while some parents may also choose to get bottle warmers. The list goes on.
According to figures from UNICEF, the cost of baby formula milk can range from £6.44 to £13.52 per week in the UK. For some families, formula is too expensive for it to be an option.
When bottle feeding, it’s worth prepping the bottles ahead of time so you don’t keep your little one waiting. Making all of the bottles for the day in the morning can be a nuisance, especially if you haven’t had much sleep the night before.
Now that both of our children are older and it seems like so long ago that we were waking for night feeds and freezing milk. Both experiences were completely different, but neither of our children are any more or less healthy than the other.
Combination feeding is when you bottle feed your baby formula or expressed breast milk alongside breastfeeding. It’s also known as mixed feeding. There are a number of reasons why you may want to consider combination feeding. Your baby may have trouble taking to the breast and you want to top up their feeds with formula. Or perhaps you might have to leave your baby for long periods of time to return to work.
Mixed feeding can be a convenient solution to gradually cutting down breastfeeding, which can prevent engorgement. If you want to replace a breastfeed with formula, it helps if you drop breastfeeds one at a time. It will take around a week for your breasts to adjust to missing that one feed.
You can also top up feeds with formula rather than replacing an entire feed. This is helpful if you want to extend the gap between breastfeeds, but it means your breasts will make less milk.
With combination feeding, your baby still gets the benefits of breast milk. They will still gain the nutrients and antibodies that help keep them healthy. How frequently you breastfeed will affect your supply of breast milk. Bottle feeding your baby formula can impact your milk supply. The less you breastfeed your baby, the less milk your breasts produce, especially when you first start breastfeeding.
If you introduce your baby to a bottle after breastfeeding, they may be hesitant to take it at first. Try giving your baby a bottle when they are happy and settled, not when they are crying of hunger. This can help them get used to the teat in a relaxed environment, and if they still struggle to take the bottle it may be that you need to try a different teat.
Being a new mum is an incredible experience - but it also brings its stresses. Deciding how to feed your baby shouldn’t be one of them. Everyone’s situation is different. Some mums choose to return to work earlier than others, so bottle feeding works perfectly for them. And some mums are too exhausted to consider making formula bottles at three in the morning.
As long as your baby is fed, healthy and is developing well, then you are doing your job right. Never feel pressured into making a choice that doesn’t suit you and your baby. If you do need more help or advice, contact your GP, midwife or health advisor. Or if you would like some parent-to-parent advice, try joining a local mum and baby group. It can be reassuring to hear that someone is going through the same experience as yourself!
Remember, a happy baby makes for happy parents.
Let us know about your experiences with breastfeeding and bottle feeding. We would love to hear your stories & experiences.
Comments will be approved before showing up.