The Importance of Breastfeeding
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
There are many very important decisions to be made about raising baby in their first year, and deciding whether to breastfeed or give formula is at the top of the list. Hopefully by the time 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 added bonus of having to feed this new person and care for all of their bodily needs. This can be a very traumatic expectation of 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 for deciding to use formula are 1) not being aware of the potential damages formula can cause for baby, 2) not being able to produce enough breast milk, and 3) lack of time/being a working mother.
When given careful consideration the decision to breastfeed seems like a natural and intuitive one. Of course it is a good idea to breastfeed, right? Well this is the first dietary decision of many that you will make for baby that will have a lifelong impact on their health. Certainly this decision seems like a no-brainer, but just as with anything in life, there are other options. Whatever the reasons for considering formula, it is important that one be fully informed of the ramifications of this decision prior to committing.
Reasons to Breastfeed Exclusively
The obvious reason to breastfeed is that it is nature’s perfect food for baby. This depends to some extent on mother’s diet, but breast milk is nonetheless the clear first choice.
Some less obvious reasons to breastfeed have to do with the dangers of formula for baby, of which there are many. The short-term dangers 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/or cancer, and developing an imbalanced gut micro biome. Formula feeding has also been 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 over weight, or obese. There is something inherently unnatural about an over weight infant, but for those that 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 negative side effects, including infant obesity and having 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 to postpone feeding baby solid food for as long as possible. There are few things 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 over weight or obese babies that are exclusively breastfed.
That being said there are times when breastfeeding simply is not an option.
How to Overcome Obstacles to Breastfeeding
The first challenge most mothers face is producing enough milk for 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 throughout the world has recognized the importance of feeding nutritionally dense foods to mother before child arrives. Part of the reason is gearing up mom’s body so she is ready to produce an ample supply of milk. Eating better before, during and after pregnancy is something that absolutely comes intuitively; the challenge is having the knowledge to choose the right foods today in the midst of so many terrible options and outright misinformation about nutrition. Most pediatricians will 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 in check, the next recommendation is to get a hospital grade breast pump like the Medela Symphony. There is simply no substitute for a top-end pump like this, and I whole-heartedly recommend that all mothers purchase or rent one for the duration of the time they plan to breastfeed. Having a pump like this can absolutely be the difference maker in having an adequate milk supply – especially if mother will be away from baby for hours at a time, such as going to work, or dropping 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 of mother not having enough time to breastfeed baby. 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 with 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. This can be the difference maker in being able to provide 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/day at work, and the Medela Symphony breast pump that 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 baby loses weight the first few weeks after being born. This is a well-documented and totally natural phenomenon, regardless of how well 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 turn into a life altering decision for baby, so be well informed and choose very carefully when considering feeding options for your very little baby.
Studies have shown that even one single feeding of formula can have damaging effects on baby’s developing gut micro biome 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.