‘Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life,’ advises the South African Department of Health. Yet just eight percent of South African mothers follow that guideline. Most moms combine breast and bottle feeds or focus on formula alone.
Despite the Department of Health’s recommendation, most South African moms combine breastfeeding with formula and solids. But mixed feeding is known to be responsible for high rates of diarrhoea and contributes significantly to infant malnutrition and deaths.
So is breastfeeding best? Or is bottle-feeding the way to go? It’s easy to be confused by the amount of information out there and there are plenty of people keen to win you over with both points of view. We sifted through the science.
US alternative medicine practitioner Dr Joseph Mercola strongly recommends breastfeeding. ‘It strengthens your child’s immune system, protecting him or her against many physiological assaults later in life,’ he says. ‘A healthy mother’s milk is high in essential fats, gamma linolenic acid and other precursors to prostaglandins (potent, hormone-like substances that control a wide range of physiological functions such as blood pressure, contraction of smooth muscle and modulation of inflammation),’ he adds.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) echoes Mercola’s views, confirming that breastfed babies appear to have better neurological development, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. (You’ll find the UNICEF information at http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/News-and-Research/Research/Breastfeeding-research—An-overview/)
And there’s the issue of bonding and interaction. Breastfed babies appear to bond more quickly with their moms. Commenting on information in a study supplied by Brigham Young University, child development expert Sandra Jacobson of Wayne State University School of Medicine deduced that ‘children who were breastfed for six months or longer performed the best on reading assessments because they also “experienced the most optimal parenting practices”. Read more about the study at http://news.byu.edu/archive14-feb-emotionalparenting.aspx
Breastfeeding pros for baby
Breast milk is free, hygienic and provides everything babies need for a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet. A mother’s milk initially contains colostrum, which gives a baby the perfect amount of protein, minerals and antibodies needed to build up its immune system.
Mother’s milk contains antibodies that fight the germs that your baby encounters, making him or her less likely to experience ear, breathing or urinary infections and gastro-enteritis.
You don’t have to sterilise bottles or mix formula.
Breastfeeding offers a permanent, portable and budget-friendly source of food for the first six months.
You won’t overfeed your baby.
The temperature of breast milk automatically adjusts itself – it is always right for your baby.
Moms who have problems with the amount of milk they produce should turn to herbal supplements such as fenugreek to stimulate and maintain milk production. Try www.floraforce.co.za/products/fenugreek-capsules/. But if you produce more milk than your baby needs, consider donating it to the South African Breastmilk Reserve for other babies who have no access to mother’s milk. The association is always grateful to its ‘awesome donors’ – details at www.sabr.org.za/
Breastfeeding pros for moms
Chemicals released into your body when you breastfeed encourage the uterus to contract and return to its original position sooner than in non-breastfeeding mothers.
Moms who breastfeed reduce their risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
Breastfeeding can help women lose weight gained during pregnancy.
[custom_frame_right shadow=”on”][/custom_frame_right]Sometimes new moms have little option other than bottle-feeding. The alternatives they have to consider include cow’s milk and formula. Cow’s milk is low in essential fats and other prostaglandin precursors and high in saturated fats. So it is not an adequate substitute for mother’s milk.
And baby formula? According to Dr Martha Neuringer, an authority on infant milk, the low omega-3, high omega-6 content in infant formulas causes an imbalance among the prostaglandins. These imbalances can impair your baby’s immune system and predispose your infant to cancer and heart trouble later in life. However, she continues, should you for any reason decide not to breastfeed, feeding your baby a few drops of flaxseed oil daily will help to make up the deficiency of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
The UNICEF report states that babies who are fed with artificial formulas are at greater risk of an alarming range of conditions such as gastro-intestinal infections, respiratory infections, necrotising enterocolitis (the bowel tissue starts to die), urinary tract infections, ear infections, allergies, diabetes and obesity.
So, bottle-feeding pros…
Of course, for some new moms, bottle-feeding is the only option. And it certainly has its advocates.
* It’s often easier to get a baby to start taking food from a bottle than the breast (although once you get the knack it’s really not an issue).
* Breastfeeding can be painful at first. Sore nipples and the feeling of discomfort experienced by some moms are inconvenient. Bottle-feeding bypasses the pain.
* Bottles are easy to fill and transport, helping new moms to adapt to their schedules.
* Almost anybody can bottle-feed your baby, especially partners and family.
* Milk formulas do not offer the same health benefits that breast milk does.
* They are can be quite costly.
* Sterilising bottles and equipment is time-consuming.
* There’s a chance the mom may not develop that special bond with her baby that breastfeeding offers.
It’s clear that breast milk is best for your baby. But being stressed about it doesn’t help. If, however hard you try, you cannot breastfeed or your baby shows no interest, do not feel a sense of failure. Breast might be best but it’s not the only way.