Breast is best…or not?

breastfeeding_friendly_logo.jpgI breastfed both my babies, one for 11 months, and the other for 9 months. I would have liked to do it for longer but she weaned herself unceremoniously from the breast. I loved nursing — I loved the feeling, the bonding and the practicality. I had the benefit of long maternity leaves so I was with my babies all the time and breastfeeding seemed to me the most convenient way of providing nutrition.
With baby number one it was hard at the beginning — it hurt and was not that easy to learn. But having given birth in London in 2005 after having attended pregnancy yoga classes and the NCT course, I was adamant I was going to breastfeed my babies. It was really important to me; thank God I loved the task.
I have to admit that back then I was a tiny bit judgmental and believed that those mothers who did not breastfeed were somehow denying their baby the best start in life. Years have gone by, I moved country, I met more mothers, I read more articles and now I am not so firm in my belief anymore.
My impression was always that all those medical statistics were a bit flawed in the sense that, when they reported all those advantages breastfed babies had over bottle-fed ones, they failed to take into account so many more variables that we know make a difference like the education and income of the parents, the type of homes and schools etc etc. After all, truly randomized studies are very difficult to do — who is willing to change the way they are feeding their baby just to take part in a medical study?
This article in the Atlantic is very long but really digs a bit deeper in the plethora of studies on which the recommendations of health organisations are based upon. The journalist concludes that the advantages, if any, seem to be thinner than fore-milk. Most importantly she suggests that these tiny advantages for babies should be compared to the (sometimes) bigger disadvantages that mothers encounter when they want to breastfeed for longer just because they feel the peer pressure to do so.
Do not be put off by the title, I honestly think it’s really well written by a modern (breast-feeding) mother!



Comments (16)

April 25, 2009

I’ve read the article, it was in a dutch newspaper as well (translated) and I thought the arguments in the article were just as thin as they claimed the arguments pro breastfeeding were.

Even IF the medical arguments are less hard pro breastfeeding I wouldn’t want to change the way I’m feeding my children! I think it is the most natural (and practical) way of feeding just as baby-led weaning.

My daughter can’t get enough of it. I don’t push her to continue, but I don’t push her to stop either. We’ll see where it ends… 🙂 Hopefully before she reached puberty.

April 25, 2009

some of the never ending stories i guess…
when I was pregnant I had, somehow, decided that breastfeeding is not for me….until….somehow again I changed my mind and thought that at least I will give it a try…well what can I say…my daughter is 20 month now and she loves it!
and I cannot imagine why on earth I did not want to do it…so practical, easy and comfortable.
however since I live in the Netherlands I must say that they make it very hard with the topic here
basically they tell you everywhere that you ” have to ” do it but on the other side they only give you a 16 weeks maternity leave…so I can understand if new mums do not want to start as they have , more or less, to stop (or to start to find out the working of a pump) the moment you found out all the tricks…
I would definitely recommend it to everyone asking me and do it again 🙂

Jenny Dalton
April 25, 2009

I breastfed my first child and won’t breastfeed the second. I was led into believing it would be best for baby and myself by the NCT / midwives / the Government. It was certainly easier than bottle-feeding in many ways, but I was absolutely exhausted at 3 months – my baby was a long feeder and I clearly was putting his needs before my own. I think a healthy baby needs a healthy mother and so I think the decision to breastfeed or not lies totally with the individual. Those of my friends who formula fed for so many different reasons have healthy, extremely intelligent children who are well-balanced and happy. My own son? He has asthma. The one thing I really wanted to guard against when I breastfed has happened anyway….

April 25, 2009

Hey Peggy! I think we started the same way: let’s just give it a try!! And my daughter is (let me think…) 32 months already. OW MY GOD! If anybody told me I would nurse her this long I would’ve told them they are completely insane. Hahah!

I agree, they do not really make it easy for moms. But starting to work and pumping is promoted and you even get paid time off until your kid is 9 months old. That is doable, I think. I’m pumping everything for my son (who is 11 months now) since he was born, because he cannot nurse himself, so I know what I’m talking about 🙂

April 25, 2009

Hmmm, fresh human milk or rehydrated cow’s milk?

What you have to take into account is the vast amount of money funding research to say formula is equal or superior to breast milk. The funding comes from formula companies who have an interest in this kind of press (as if you can’t imagine). Public attitudes are very cleverly manipulated in this way.

April 25, 2009

I totally agree that nursing is fantastic, for many reasons.
I’m not too sure though that mothers have to do it no matter what.
Life is complicated and every human being is different, the fact that a mother does not want to breastfeed (or do it for a long time) for one reason or the other should be respected.
Working mums (and not only those) feel already guilty about so many things….

April 25, 2009

Vehement pro-breast-feeders make me just as angry as any other militant group. It simply has to come down to choice. I was unable to feed my first babies, born at 28 weeks, and I fought hard to achieve sole b/feeding with my second babies, born at term. I became so militant about exclusively b/feeding them that I ignored signs they weren’t thriving, till tests at 5 months revealed they were allergic to the dairy in my milk. They’ve been on formula ever since and haven’t grown horns yet…

April 25, 2009

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April 25, 2009

I’m glad you brought this up. For medical reasons I did not breast feed my first child, and, I wouldn’t have anyway. My mom formula fed 4 of us, and we all turned out healthy and happy. I can’t tell you the number of women who actually asked me if i breast fed, then went on to lecture me that I didn’t. It’s none of their business. They don’t ever ask me if I let my kids run in the street or anything else about my parenting, so why do they care about if I breast fed or not. Ridiculous. I envy those who do/did breast feed, and think it is the healthiest choice, just not the choice for me.

We adopted our second and now I can’t tell you the number of women who say, “oh, thank god she was breast fed”. Well, yea, breast fed for 3 weeks by a malnourished mother and was waaaaaay below height, weight, and behind developmentally. Not until she got home on good old western formula did she start thriving.

I’ve been wanting to get all of that off my chest for sometime…ahhhh, feels good. Thanks for the article and the input from everyone. I do believe the breast is the best-for those it suits!

April 25, 2009

Puf what a heavy subject. I breastfed my oldest for about 6 months. With the second one I decided beforehand, to great shock of a lot of friends not to breastfeed.

It wasn’t easy the first time around, but I persisted and hated it, but did it for the well being of my child. By the time my youngest was born, our sitiuation had changed and I would be spending most of my time alone at home night and day with 2 small children and decided in the interest of my children and my own sanity I would be a better mam bottle feeding.

I think people should be made aware of advantages & disadvantages of breastfeeding and encouraged to do so if possible, BUT shouldn’t be judged in case they decide not to.

April 26, 2009

This was a very interesting article, however, I wish the author had been able to look at everything more objectively. The impression I walked away with after reading it was that she really resented breastfeeding her kids even though she continued to do so. I can definitely appreciate her anger at the ads, etc, telling her how to raise/feed her children (who wouldn’t be angry if a stranger offered that type of unsolicited advice??), but I was left wondering why on earth she was still nursing given what she wrote.
Personally, I feel lucky to be home with our 2 children and have been able to nurse each for a year. However, I can’t imagine I would have, had I needed to go back to work. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, but I do feel, for me, it’s been worth it. Not because I think my kids have all manner of advantages over formula fed kids, but because we’re all happy and healthy and it worked for us.
I guess I just wish we women would feel comfortable enough to make the best decisions for our families and then not feel the need to defend our reasons to others, or, even worse, defend our reasons to ourselves.

April 26, 2009

Thank you, Michela, for your very balanced take on the subject! I read both the original Atlantic article (in fact, the magazine arrived as I was sitting attached to the dreaded breastpump) and a number of blog posts and comments, and have discovered it’s sadly rare to find someone taking that balanced view.

In my case, I was completely gung-ho about the idea of breastfeeding. My baby loved the taste of breastmilk, and I loved the bonding. BUT, my body just never made milk. One side maxed out around 2 ounces a day, and the other was lucky to produce a teaspoonful. I tried constant pumping, herbs, teas, and you-name-it for many weeks before finally giving up.

Meanwhile, all I heard from breastfeeding advocates was rote repetition that “women’s bodies make as much milk as we ask them to,” with the logical extension that low supply meant I wasn’t trying hard enough or gave in to formula supplementation too soon. Like Molly above, today I got lectured about formula feeding by a total stranger. One of my baby care books devotes two chapters on why “breast is best” and how to breastfeed, but not even a paragraph to best practices for formula feeding. And even our CANS OF FORMULA bear a warning that “breast is best.” So thanks, world, for making me feel like dirt for choosing to feed my baby a factory-produced product rather than let her starve!!

My 2 tips for other women who may be having trouble with supply: First, an incredibly informative website — Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues (MOBI), at And second, the Breastflow bottle by First Years, which has a double nipple that’s intended to replicate the compression action of actual breastfeeing. At least in our case, the Breastflow bottle solved “nipple confusion” within a day.

April 27, 2009

I am really against the pressure put on women to breastfeed. It is the right thing to do if you are comfortable with it, but the guilt people feel if they cannot do it is crazy. I do think a happy mom is more important.

April 27, 2009

Great post and thanks for sharing the article. I have to agree with some of the other commenters in that I feel however someone chooses to feed their child is their personal choice. I have just had my second child (yay) and I’m breastfeeding and enjoying it, but this is just my personal experience. I was very shocked first time round (I breastfed for 8 months) at the sometimes appalling attitude of those that breastfeed to those that don’t and have seen some horrible consequences like post natal depression and malnourished children. Whatever way we choose to feed our children has to be a positive decision (don’t really see the point in breastfeeding if you practically resent the idea of it) but that also has a positive impact on your child – i.e. they thrive. I really feel for anyone who chooses not to breastfeed or has difficulty because there is a queue of people doling out unsolicited advice and lecturing and preaching breast vs formula. The interesting thing as well is actually, breastfeeding has a lot more press behind it than formula as formula is heavily limited in how they can ‘market’ themselves. The stories that appear on the news and in the press about breastfeeding every week are marketed by various organisations and it all just feeds into the pressure cycle. There’s a fine line between being informative and nannying everyone.

April 30, 2009

this is such a ‘hot’ topic isn’t it. We all want what is best for our children. I desperately wanted to breastfeed both of my children – besides from the practical reason I find breastfeedng beautiful natural and a lovely way to feed. Having lived in NW London when my first child was born I went to NCT and saw the ‘breast is best’ posters all over the doctor’s surgery – I was determined to do it.
However after 7 weeks of pain (both physical and emotional) and countless breast-feeding advisors helping me a very down to earth midwife advised I give up with my son – you may be shocked but she was right – for some people breast-feeding is just more difficult than for others, as a result I was exhausted, in pain and my baby wasn’t putting weight on – the first 2 months of my baby’s life was clouded by a horrible stress and pressure (my husband later told me that all I talked about in those months were my boobs and feeding!)
As soon as I started bottle feeding him my son was a happier baby and we were a happier family with the pain and stress removed – but I did always feel embarrassed to ‘bottle-feed’ my son in public ( it really isn’t the done thing in NW1) and felt judged by my sister-in-law who I was sure thought of me as giving up at the first hurdle!
I should have been more relaxed with number 2 knowing that baby number 1 had thrived despite being bottle-fed but again through pregnancy I was determined that this time it would work and worried about it far more than labour or a possible 2nd c-section. I mentioned it at my ‘2nd time round’ NCT class and was surprised to find out that 75% of the class also had had trouble feeding 1st time round.
We must remember Mums who desperately want to breast-feed but for one reason or another can’t – it doesn’t however make them in any way lesser Mums.
I’m not sure where I stand on this article – what I know is my husband and I were both bottle-fed (both being children from the 70s) we’re both fine except for a bit of hayfever and dust allergy – however I know many a breast-fed baby with allergies too. I think if it works its perfect but if it doesn’t knowing that formula ain’t all that bad should give Mums who make that choice confidence to enjoy all the other wonderful aspects of bringing up children.

Annie Bai
May 5, 2009

I think that breast or bottle, the babies are equally well nourished, but since we’re talking about mothers’ freedom of choice and happiness, we must also consider the important issue of health benefits for us moms.

Breastfeeding can dramatically reduce a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I never thought about the decision in these terms, but after all the labor of nursing 3 babies and a father who died from breast cancer, I find it assuring to have this protection.

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