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Breastfeeding: Is Breast Really Always Best?

Breastfeeding, often promoted as the gold standard in infant nutrition, has long been championed for its numerous benefits for both the baby and the mother. However, as with any aspect of parenting, the decision to breastfeed is not without its challenges and considerations. In this article, we explore the complexities surrounding breastfeeding, its advantages, drawbacks, societal pressures, and alternatives and answer the question ‘Is breast really always best?’

It is commonly known as the best way to nourish a new-born. It not only provides essential nutrients to the baby but also fosters a unique bond between mother and child. However, the conversation surrounding breastfeeding is multifaceted, with differing opinions and experiences shaping the narrative.

Benefits for the Baby

The benefits for infants are well-documented. Breast milk is a complete source of nutrition, containing antibodies that bolster the baby’s immune system and protect against infections and diseases. Additionally, it has been linked to lower rates of obesity, asthma, and allergies in later life.

Benefits for the Mother

Beyond its advantages for the baby, it offers numerous benefits for the mother. The act of breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, promoting maternal bonding and reducing the risk of postpartum depression. It has also been associated with a lower incidence of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.

Challenges of Breastfeeding

Despite its benefits, it can present challenges for some mothers. Physical discomfort, such as sore nipples and engorgement, may arise during the breastfeeding journey. In addition, the time commitment required for breastfeeding can be daunting for mothers balancing childcare and other responsibilities. It’s also not always easy to know how much breastmilk the baby is taking in other than through regular weigh-ins. And for some, it is simply not possible due to baby struggling to latch on due to tongue tie or other reasons.

Alternatives to Breastfeeding

While breastfeeding is often considered the ideal feeding method, it is not always feasible for every mother and baby. Formula feeding and donor milk are viable alternatives that provide adequate nutrition for infants who are unable to breastfeed.

Societal Pressures

Societal pressures and expectations can influence a mother’s decision and experience. The stigma associated with feeding in public settings may deter some mothers from nursing in certain environments. Additionally, the pressure to breastfeed exclusively can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and guilt among mothers who supplement with formula.

When I was unable to breastfeed and eventually switched to formula feeding, I did not disclose this to other mum friends for a long time due to the stigma in society around not breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and Mental Health

The relationship between breastfeeding and maternal mental health is complex. While it can promote emotional well-being through the release of oxytocin, some mothers may experience challenges such as postpartum depression or anxiety related to breastfeeding difficulties. For example in the UK, the NHS recommends exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only) for the first 6 months of your baby’s life.

In my case after giving birth, the midwife would not discharge me from the hospital until I could demonstrate that I was able to breastfeed, despite the fact that hardly any colostrum was coming in the first couple of days and typically your milk doesn’t come in until 3 to 5 days after birth. I persevered with breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks from my baby’s birth and my mental health suffered in those first few weeks because my baby struggled to latch and I was not producing an adequate supply of milk, despite support from midwives and lactation consultants. When I switched to formula feeding, it was definitely a case of happy baby, happy mum as my baby was fed and content and it helped me to develop a closer bond with baby as I no longer had the anxiety that I carried when not being able to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding Myths

Several myths surround breastfeeding, perpetuating misconceptions and influencing parental decision-making. Debunking these myths, such as the notion that it always comes naturally or that formula is equivalent to breast milk, is important in supporting informed choices.

In conclusion, breastfeeding undoubtedly offers numerous benefits for both infants and mothers. However, it is essential to recognise that it is not always feasible or straightforward for every family. By acknowledging the challenges and supporting informed decision-making, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for all mothers. A fully fed child, whether they are fed with breast milk alone, formula alone, or a combination of both, will have better health outcomes than an infant that is malnourished from a failed attempt at exclusive breastfeeding without adequate milk supply, which is why ultimately, ‘fed is best’.


Is breastfeeding always best for the baby?

It is beneficial for most babies, but individual circumstances may vary. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help determine the best feeding option for your baby.

What if I am unable to breastfeed?

If it is not possible, formula feeding or donor milk are alternative options that can provide adequate nutrition for your baby.

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by continued breastfeeding alongside complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.

What if I experience difficulties with breastfeeding?

Seeking support from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group can help address any challenges you may encounter.

How can I navigate societal pressures surrounding breastfeeding?

Surrounding yourself with supportive individuals and seeking out breastfeeding-friendly spaces can help alleviate societal pressures and promote a positive breastfeeding experience. However if it is not an option, that’s also ok, as long as baby is fed.

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