Breast milk is a whole food that provides perfectly balanced nutrition for your baby. Breastfeeding is also perfect for mom providing a portable, free, baby food that in addition to benefiting baby’s health, profits her own.
If you are able, breastfeeding your baby is the absolute best route to go for the health of your baby. HOWEVER, social and societal pressure to breastfeed can be extremely difficult if you are experiencing challenges. Yes, “breast is best”, but FED is the most important, and if your situation, whatever it may be, makes it difficult or impossible to breastfeed – then there are options available that will sustain your child and still help them thrive.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is easily digested and absorbed by a baby’s delicate gut and contains antibodies that help fight common infections including those that affect the ear, respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract. Breast milk is 54% fat, 39% carbohydrate, and 7% protein and provides the perfect balance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, probiotics and cholesterol. Breast fed babies have been shown to have higher IQ scores to lower rates of childhood obesity, asthma, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, leukemia, atopic dermatitis and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding is also beneficial for the nursing mom. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which decreases the stress hormone cortisol and facilitates relaxation, trust and bonding. Oxytocin also helps the uterus to contract and return to pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding moms are at a lower risk for Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers and postpartum depression.
If possible, it is recommended to breastfeed your baby for at least 6 months after which it can continue along with the introduction of food to 1 year and beyond for as long as mother and baby want to.
Breastfeeding can be very challenging with many new moms experiencing multiple difficulties within the first 2 weeks. Problems include difficulty with latch on, pain during nursing and fear of insufficient milk production. Often, this results in supplementing with formula or abandoning breastfeeding altogether. It is clear that support is needed postpartum for assistance, reassurance, and problem resolution.
Even if initial breastfeeding issues are overcome, obstacles are numerous. Moms work away from their babies in environments that may not be conducive to pumping. Social environments can be unfriendly to nursing moms making feeding on demand difficult or impossible. Nursing and pumping are time intensive and sometimes the pressures of modern life makes this almost impossible.
A few strategies new moms can implement to prepare for a successful breastfeeding experience.
- Read breastfeeding books, on websites and in online forums.
- Attend a support group while pregnant. llli.org may help you find one in your area
- Educate your spouse, friends and family members on the benefits of breastfeeding and the possible difficulties and obstacles that might arise. Ensure they are aware of your plan, including the doctors and nurses at the hospital.
- Find a lactation consultant in your area as referred by your doctor or through the International Lactation Consultant Association and schedule an appointment sometime during your first week postpartum.
Of course, good nutrition is important for mommy’s and baby’s health during breastfeeding. It is definitely possible to follow a Paleo diet whilst breastfeeding (more on that here) and some people actually find their milk supply increases and is more nourishing. However, if you are accustomed to eating a standard American diet and want to switch over to a Paleo diet, make the transition gradually if you are breastfeeding.
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Doctors agree that the best option for baby whenever possible is to breastfeed. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option. Motherhood is hard, and the topic of breastfeeding is especially painful (and often polarizing) for many moms.
This post is not here to debate the issue, and certainly not to judge moms for decisions either way, but to offer some practical alternatives for those who don’t or can’t nurse their babies.
There are multiple reasons why formula can come into play and if breastfeeding is not an option. Adoption, health issues, going back to work, low supply. Bottle-feeding can still create a bond with your baby and it can be done in a healthy way. A mom always knows best, so you need to do what is right for you and your baby.
Donated milk can be a slightly controversial topic because, depending on personal circumstance and possible health, autoimmune or food intolerance concerns, you may be wary of using someone else's milk unless you had full knowledge of their dietary and lifestyle habits. This can be really difficult.
If you are interested in sourcing donor milk, simply do your research well. There are many trusted websites and online communities that can guide you in the right direction, including Human Milk 4 Human Babies, Eats on Feets, Only the Breast, and Milk Share, to name a few. Another option could also be a friend who you know and trust well that has an abundance of supply and is willing to be your donor.
In past generations, wet nurses and milk donors often nursed babies until they were old enough to eat. Eventually, crude substitutes were created or different types of animal milks were used. Now, the infant formula market is a multi-billion dollar a year industry.
Unfortunately, most commercial formula options, even organic ones, contain ingredients, additives and preservatives that aren’t good for baby.
Non-organic formula options often contain higher amounts of corn syrup solids, hydrogenated oils, soybean oil and sugar.
American formulas, even organic brands, can include some unusual ingredients that aren’t very healthy for your baby. The standards for ingredient quality also are not nearly as high as in Europe, and sourcing an organic European formula is your healthiest option. Some high quality brands can be sourced here.
Ingredients to Avoid in Formula
- Non-organic ingredients– organic formula does not imply it's completely safe, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. A USDA organic certified formula must be free of GMOs, antibiotics or growth hormones, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and conventional seed oils which are typically extracted with hexane.
- Soy (including soybean oil and soy lecithin) – non-organic soybeans are generally GMO. Most soy formulas contain synthetic l-methionine which is often produced using toxins. European organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic l-methionine, but US formulas still contain it. Soy lecithin is processed with a chemical called hexane and all soy containing foods contain natural-occurring phytoestrogens.
- Carrageenan – this stabilizer and thickener is often found in processed lunch meats, store-bought nut milks, and other snacks as well as in baby formula. Although naturally derived, it has been linked to intestinal inflammation and even colon cancer. Carrageenan is not permitted in Europe.
- Processed Sweeteners (Sucrose, Maltodextrin, Cane Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup)
- Corn (including Corn Syrup Solids, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin)
- Added Fatty Acids (ARA and DHA) –fatty acids are vital for good health and brain development. Unfortunately, those added to formula are synthetic forms of DHA and ARA and many of the forms are extracted with hexane or aren't as bioavailable.
The Weston A. Price foundation has a whole-foods-based formula recipe which is highly recommended by many. If making your formula yourself is something you wish to do, you can find the recipe and learn more about the benefits of this on their website. There's a choice of raw cow's milk or goat's milk. What you choose is dependent on your baby and what they tolerate best. Be sure to read all of the comments and the FAQ section before you embark on the process.
Read on here for more on dairy and the Paleo diet.
Probiotics are an important addition to formula feeding, especially if your baby has been born via caesarian. Microbial colonization may start in utero, but the most important exposure to bacteria occurs during a natural vaginal birth with subsequent exposure during breastfeeding. There are many recommendations about how to expose your newborn baby to that bacteria after a c-section, and it is important to choose a method that both feels comfortable to and works for you. If choosing a powdered infant probiotic, simply dust your nipples before your baby latches on or dip a pacifier in it and allow them to suck it off. If your baby is bottle-fed, I add 1/4 teaspoon to 1 bottle a day. Be mindful that the milk isn't too hot, as that will kill the bacteria strains.
Breastfeeding can be a challenging experience for many women, as modern-day challenges play a major role in breastfeeding success. Sources agree that breast milk is the best option for your baby, but if nursing is truly not possible, these are the options to nourish your baby. It is also important to find a qualified and knowledgeable doctor before using any of the alternative options besides breast milk for babies.