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  • The Healthy Dad

The Importance of Breastfeeding

Updated: Apr 19

Mother breastfeeding her baby

The Importance of Breastfeeding

The importance of breastfeeding cannot be overstated. There are many critical decisions about raising a baby in their first year and deciding whether to breastfeed or give formula is at the top of the list. Hopefully, by the time the baby gets here, you (and your spouse) have already opted to switch to a traditional foods-based diet, and you have nutritionally prepared yourselves to deal with a very physically and emotionally challenging few years as you raise your new baby from birth through the toddler years. As if it weren’t enough to have a new person in your life to care for, there is the bonus of having to feed this new person and care for all of their bodily needs. This can be a very traumatic expectation for new moms, especially given the fact that many women struggle with maintaining adequate levels of breast milk (more on that below). 

Nonetheless, the decision must be made as to whether or not you are willing to commit to breastfeeding full-time. Some of the contributing factors to deciding to use the formula are:

  1. Not being aware of the potential damage formula can cause to a baby.

  2. Not being able to produce enough breast milk.

  3. Lack of time/being a working mother. 

When given careful consideration, the decision to breastfeed is natural and intuitive. Of course, it is a good idea to breastfeed, right? Well, this is the first dietary decision of many that you will make for a baby that will have a lifelong impact on their health. Indeed, this decision seems like a no-brainer, but there are other options, just as with anything in life. Whatever the reasons for considering the formula, one must be fully informed of the ramifications of this decision before committing. 

Reasons to Breastfeed Exclusively

The apparent reason to breastfeed is that it is nature’s perfect food for babies. Although this depends to some extent on the mother’s diet, breast milk is nonetheless the clear first choice. 

Some less obvious reasons to breastfeed have to do with the dangers of formula for babies, of which there are many. The short-term risks include, but are not limited to, infant obesity, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, constipation, and a weakened immune system. The long-term and potentially more costly implications include but are not limited to a much higher likelihood of developing obesity, allergies, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer and creating an imbalanced gut microbiome. Formula feeding is also linked to lower IQ scores in several large-scale studies.

The most startling difference I have noticed in formula-fed babies is a trend towards infants presenting as overweight or obese. There is something inherently unnatural about an overweight infant, but for those who are unconvinced by visual evidence, there is ample research to back up this claim. In the last 7 or 8 years, research scientists have begun publishing studies supporting the notion that formula feeding, even as a supplement to breast milk, has a whole host of adverse side effects, including infant obesity and a much higher likelihood of developing long-term chronic conditions and diseases.

In each study, the recommendations for curbing this trend are for parents to exclusively breastfeed and postpone feeding baby solid food for as long as possible. Few things are so universally agreed upon by research scientists as the fact that breastfeeding is more of an imperative than an option.

One thing that we can all agree on is that there are no overweight or obese babies that are exclusively breastfed.

That being said, there are times when breastfeeding is not an option.

How to Overcome Obstacles to Breastfeeding

The first challenge most mothers face is producing enough milk for the baby. This is a natural worry for any mother, but it can be overcome. The first proactive solution is to eat a nutritionally dense traditional foods diet, such as the one recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation. Nearly every culture worldwide has recognized the importance of feeding nutritionally dense foods to mothers before the child arrives. Part of the reason is to gear up the mom’s body to produce ample milk. Eating better before, during, and after pregnancy comes intuitively; the challenge is having the knowledge to choose the right foods today amid so many terrible options and outright misinformation about nutrition. Most pediatricians recommend eating the typical fish, beef, eggs, “low-fat” dairy, whole grains, etc. Key differences to be made to this list are that the dairy should be FULL FAT and come from pastured animals, the whole grains should be traditionally prepared through soaking, souring, or sprouting, and the cooking oils should be from natural sources like lard, olive oil, or coconut oil. Organ meats from pastured animals are also a great source of added nutrients.

In addition to eating better foods, there are a few natural supplements known to increase milk supply, such as fenugreek, barley, and brewer’s yeast. Fenugreek supplements are readily available at most health food stores, and high-quality stout beer is a good option in moderation.

Once the food intake is checked, getting a hospital-grade breast pump like the Medela Symphony is recommended. There is no substitute for a top-end pump like this, and I wholeheartedly recommend that all mothers purchase or rent one for the duration they plan to breastfeed. A pump like this can be the difference in having an adequate milk supply – especially if the mother will be away from the baby for hours, such as going to work or dropping the baby at daycare. This pump can often be rented for a reasonable price from a La Leche League branch location or rented directly from Medela online. The cost to buy is very high, but there is a decent resale market for these on sites like eBay.

Mentioning the importance of a high-end breast pump leads to the next topic: mothers not having enough time to breastfeed their babies. This is an understandable challenge for mothers, most especially when they must work a full-time job. But this problem can be overcome with a dedicated pumping regimen and the best pump on the market.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a hospital-grade pump—this is not a detail to be overlooked or skimped on financially. It can be the difference maker in providing a baby with an abundant supply of breast milk, so write it down and make it happen!

My wife worked full-time with both of our babies, and we credit her absolute dedication to pumping twice a day at work and the Medela Symphony breast pump, which maximized the amount of milk she was able to pump in the short period of time that she allotted for pumping sessions. I am not a sponsor of Medela and am not compensated for my recommendation in any way. I simply write this because it is the truth.

Doctors’ Scare Tactics

Doctors often use scare tactics to get parents to use formula, much in the same way they tend to bully parents into getting vaccines. The first obstacle to watch out for is when a baby loses weight the first few weeks after birth. This is a well-documented and natural phenomenon, regardless of how well the baby is fed. Most parents will confront their pediatrician about this in a panic, and the pediatrician’s only advice is to wait it out, or why not supplement with formula to “make sure” baby is getting enough food. This seemingly harmless recommendation can quickly become a life-altering decision for the baby, so be well-informed and carefully consider feeding options for your tiny baby.

Studies have shown that even one formula feeding can damage a baby’s developing gut microbiome and immune system for up to 30 days – potentially longer!

When Breastfeeding Is Not An Option

When breastfeeding is simply not possible, there are other options better than using store-bought formula. The first option is to use sterile human breast milk from an online or local agency such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, or Only The Breast.

If that doesn’t work then another option to consider before using formula is to make your own formula using real, wholesome ingredients. There is a kit available online (with instructional how-to video) that provides everything you need to make a wonderful substitute for mother’s milk, one that is leaps and bounds better than any store-bought formula.

The bottom line is that before making this very important decision for your baby, do everything you can to be well informed from trusted sources. Take it upon yourself to do some research, and challenge the status quo recommendations from run-of-the-mill pediatricians.

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