Will You or Won't You?
The best times are when babies come.
Melanie, in Gone With the Wind
Only in relatively recent times has there been any question at all as to whether or not a baby would be breastfed. In earlier days, if a mother was either unable or unwilling to nurse her baby herself, she had to find another woman to do it. Early in the twentieth century, however, the advent of dependable refrigeration and pasteurization and the development of ways to modify cow's milk for infant consumption meant that babies could be fed a specially formulated product that was both digestible and nutritious.
Today you have a choice in the way you feed your baby. You can decide whether you want to feed your baby with the milk produced by your own body the way mothers have done from time immemorialor whether you want to provide your baby's nourishment in a bottle. Many factors will enter into your decision: the customs of your community; the attitudes of your doctor, your husband or life partner, your friends and family; your lifestyle, including your work commitments; your personality; your feelings about mothering; and how much emotional support you receive.
We hope that once you read this chapter and see all the benefits that breastfeeding holds for you, your baby, and the world you live in, you'll give nursing a try. You might look on it as a thirty-day money-back guarantee. You will most likely find it gratifying for both you and your baby and go on to nurse well beyond those initial thirty days.
But suppose you begin to nurse your baby and you feel that you must stop. You haven't lost anything; you haven't invested in anything; you can always stop. The stores will always have those bottles, nipples, sterilizers, and formulas. You haven't made a lifelong commitment. You can easily change your mind.
Meanwhile, you have given your baby the wonderful substance of colostrum, which, as you'll see, is like giving your child an injection of antibodies at the most vulnerable time of his or her life, right after birth. And while exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months confers the most benefits on you and your child, some breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding.
However, if you decide to bottle-feed right away, it's much harder, and sometimes impossible, to change your mind later on. Initiating breastfeeding after only a week has gone by requires a great deal of determination, persistence, and patience. It has been done by mothers who found that their babies needed breast milk to survive and by women who discovered that bottle-feeding has its own problems, but it is not easy.
For many years in the United States, the nursing mother was the nonconformist, a member of a minority group. By 1971, formula feeding had become the norm in this country, with only 25 percent of women (only one in four) nursing. Since then, however, the long-term trend away from breastfeeding has been reversed, so that today 60 percent of new mothers nurse their babies. (This book was first published in 1972, and we like to think that the advice and encouragement it offered helped to accelerate the trend toward the rediscovery of breastfeeding!)
You probably have heard many of the reasons why breastfeeding is good for babies, most of which we'll talk about in this chapter. You may not be as aware of all the benefits it can hold for you, which we'll also talk about in this chapter. One of the prime benefits for the mother is the all-around good feeling you're likely to derive from the experience.
In talking about their breastfeeding experiences, women often emphasize how good it feels (or felt)emotionally, physically, and intellectually. One proof of the enjoyment many women get from this aspect of mothering can be seen in the fact that when a woman has breastfed one baby, she almost always nurses the next.
Women who have bottle-fed one baby and nursed another tend to feel closer to their nursing infants in the early months of life. One mother told us, "I never knew what I was missing by not nursing my first baby. I loved him and I enjoyed him, yes, but I never got so many of the 'extras' that I get from this onethat little hand that touches my skin as she's nursing, the way she'll pull away from the breast, smile at me, and go right back again, the happiness that I feel at being able to give her what she wants."
The "nursing pair"mother and babyforge an especially close and interdependent relationship. Your baby depends upon you for sustenance and comfort, and you look forward to feeding times to gain a pleasurable sense of closeness with your infant. If a feeding time is too long delayed, both of you become distressedyour baby because of hunger and you because of uncomfortably full breasts. Each of you needs the other, yearns for the other, is intimate with the other in a very special way. Because of this unique symbiotic relationship, many women consider the period of nursing among the most fulfilling times of their lives.
In addition, nursing can be an intensely pleasurable, sensuous activity. And finally, knowing all the health benefits that breastfeeding confers on both mother and baby affirms a woman's conviction that she is making the best possible decision for herself and her baby. Let's see what some of these benefits are.
BENEFITS FOR THE BABY
Human breast milk is the ultimate health food for human infants. For at least the first six months, it is the only food most babies need. Even after other foods are introduced in the latter half of the first year, breast milk continues to supply such important nutrients as essential fatty acids, lactose (the predominant sugar in milk) for proper growth of brain cells, and the correct balance of proteins. (See Chapter 3 for more about this ideal food.)
In recent years nutritionists have voiced concern about overly high levels of protein in the American diet. Since cow's milk contains about twice as much protein as human milk, formula-fed babies usually receive more protein than they need (much of it in the form of the less digestible casein). The stools of formula-fed babies are so bulky because the babies cannot absorb so much protein, and excrete the excess in their stool, whereas breastfed babies absorb virtually 100 percent of the protein in human milk.
In the United States today, there's a new awareness of the serious problem of overnutrition and of the problems caused by overweight. Bottle-fed babies tend to be fatter than breastfed babies. One reason for this may stem from the fact that bottle-feeding mothers who see milk left in the bottle tend to encourage their babies to drain the last drop, while breastfeeding mothers usually assume that their babies know when they have had enough. When the baby stops suckling, the mother takes her off the breast.
Another way that nursing may discourage overfeeding lies in the difference between the high-protein milk produced at the beginning of a feeding (fore milk) and the high-fat milk produced at the end (hind milk). The richness of the hind milk may make the baby feel full and send a signal that mealtime is over.
Breastfed children like vegetables better than do formula-fed infants when they're first introduced to them, probably because breastfed babies become more familiar with the varied tastes and smells that come through the milk of their vegetable-eating mothers. Thus, by encouraging a diverse and healthy diet, breastfeeding can offer health protection later, when babies will be more receptive to new foods.
In fact, research has shown that even before birth your baby becomes familiar with different tastes and smells in the amniotic fluid; the variety of tastes and smells that then come through your milk accustoms your child to the foods of your particular culture. While your breast milk varies from day to day, depending on what you have eaten, commercial formula tastes and smells the same, day after unvarying day. Consequently, the formula-fed baby misses out on the rich and varied sensory experiences transmitted through a mother's milk.