Breast milk is the perfect food for a new baby. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all babies be exclusively until 6 months of age, and that breastfeeding should continue until at least 2 years of age. Exclusive breastfeeding has been linked to a variety of health benefits for both mother and baby, including increased immunity, reduced risk of obesity, and lower risk of cancer and osteoporosis in mothers. Most mothers, especially in the industrialized world, are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, and according to the 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 75% of American babies receive SOME breast milk. But by 3 months, 65% of babies are receiving some kind of supplement, and by 6 months that percentage jumps to 0ver 85%. By 12 months, the minimum breastfed age recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), less than 25% of babies are receiving ANY breast milk. So even though it seems most mothers know enough about the benefits of breastfeeding to initiate it, the majority of them encounter challenges at some point along the way that makes it difficult for them to continue nursing their child.
So what should a mother do when she encounters such challenges? The World Health Organization has explored the various options available to new mothers who are for any reason unable to continue breastfeeding:
Mother’s Breast Milk in a Bottle
There are many reasons why a mother may prefer to pump her breast milk and bottle feed. Some mothers experience pain with breastfeeding, while others find it difficult to continue breastfeeding once they return to work. Many families do a mixture of breast and bottle-feeding in order for another adult to care for their child. This is the safest alternative to breastfeeding, since your baby still receives the natural health benefits of breast milk. However, some mothers find that exclusive pumping is in some ways even more difficult than breastfeeding, especially since pumping is the less efficient way to empty the breast, and find it necessary to turn to other supplements. Since many mothers return to work between 6 and 12 weeks, this could explain why 65% of babies are at least supplemented with formula at 3 months, or why less than half are receiving ANY breast milk at 6 months.
Another Mother’s Breast Milk in a Bottle
If a mother is unable to produce milk to sustain her child (e.g., adoption), the next alternative is giving the baby another mother’s milk in a bottle. This is possible through either private mother-to-mother donations or through a milk bank.This provides your baby with the next best nutrition, but can be inconvenient (driving all over town to pick up donations) and is definitely more expensive than formula, but mothers who choose this method consider it worth it to provide their baby with the best nutrition. Obviously, not everyone has the time and resources to feed their baby donated breast milk, in which case formula is their only remaining option.
Infant Formula in a Bottle
After considering all other methods, if a woman still finds it difficult to feed her child, the third option is of course formula. Formula is a nutritious substitute for infants not receiving breast milk, but should only be used when other more nutritious options have been explored. It is more expensive than breastfeeding or pumping, but also more convenient and socially acceptable. Formula has been linked to poorer health during infancy, including higher rates of illness, digestive problems, and allergies. Although most of these problems can be addressed through further medical care, some babies do experience life-threatening or even fatal reactions to infant formula. It is essential that if you choose to give your baby formula that you follow the necessary precautions in order to ensure your baby’s optimal health.
A forth option?
Another option not mentioned in the World Heath Organization’s list is the use of a Wet Nurse, or a lactating woman who breastfeeds other women’s children. Wet nursing used to be common, even in our own culture, and was once even a respected profession, but as breastfeeding has fallen out of public favor, so has this vocation. However, it is still possible to find women who believe so much in the power of breastfeeding that they are willing to nurse other women’s children. It may even be possible to make an informal arrangement with a friend.
However you decide to feed your baby, make sure you are doing it safely and try to mimic breastfeeding as much as possible. Breastfeeding is about more than just nutrition, it is a connection between mother and child. Bottle-fed babies should be held lovingly by the caregiver, perhaps even skin-to-skin, and interacted with just as he would be while nursing. In this way you can be sure that your are providing the best possible experience for your child, regardless of what he is being fed.