From my own experience (and what I’ve learned in the last 2 years), I’ve composed this handy list of the pros and cons of breastfeeding your baby. If you’re still deciding whether or not you want to breastfeed, this may be helpful to you. Remember, the main deciding factor should be: Do you WANT to breastfeed your baby? I know a lot of people, groups and organizations would disagree with me on that one. I don’t care. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A happy mom far outweighs the benefits of breast milk. Also? If you decide, “Hell yeah I want to breastfeed my baby!” and then for some reason, you cannot? Please try to let it go. Please try not to beat yourself up. And? If you do decide to breastfeed and your supply isn’t quite what it needs to be, for whatever reason? It’s okay to supplement with formula. If you’re anything like me, how many ounces you can pump per day may become a personal challenge. If that’s the case? Get over your damn self, cut yourself some slack, and supplement the kid with formula. It’s like a birth plan. Have one, but realize it’s okay if you don’t follow it. It’s okay. It really will be okay.
So, without further ado… (NOTE: This is a list of information I have gathered over the past couple of years–not a list of scholarly research articles. One can often find research to prove whatever one wants, so I’m not interested in a debate. And yes, it is biased. It’s biased because this is information I’ve gathered during my experience.)
Pro – Colostrum is intended to nourish your baby during the first 2 weeks postpartum (it gradually turns into regular breastmilk). It’s kinda amazing. Colostrum is made up of carbs, proteins and antibodies and it acts as a natural laxative [you want him to poop asap, as his poop contains excessive bilirubin, the presence of which can cause jaundice (by the way, I breastfed from day 1 and my baby was still jaundiced, so there’s that)]. Colostrum also passes Immunoglobulin A (IgA) and leukocytes to your newborn. IgA will help protect your little guy from sickness now. Leukocytes will help protect him in the future.
Pro – Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which helps your uterus shrink back to its normal size more quickly.
Con – Breastfeeding sometimes hurts…
Pro – …but only in the beginning. Once you and your baby both have the hang of it and she’s able to latch correctly, it shouldn’t hurt. If it still hurts, she’s probably not latching correctly, so try working on that (call your OB, your child’s pediatrician, a lactation consultant at your hospital, a local breastfeeding group, or the La Leche League for help).
Con – But sometimes it hurts because you have a plugged milk duct or even mastitis. If you have a very tender spot in your breast, you may have a plugged milk duct. The best thing for this is for the baby to nurse, nurse, nurse–even though it hurts. If you have a tender spot on one of your breasts and a fever, call your OB immediately. Mastitis is nothing to play with.
Con – Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s hard work in the beginning and sometimes very frustrating. However, on a personal level…
Pro – I don’t know of a single mother who regretted or disliked breastfeeding once she and Baby both learned how to do it.
Pro – Breastmilk contains antibodies. While your baby is breastfeeding, he is better protected against common illnesses.
Pro – Breastfeeding strengthens the baby’s immune system, which can lead to long-lasting protection that can allow her to resist disease and also to improve the normal immune response to certain vaccines.
Con – You have no idea how much milk your baby is getting, and that’s sometimes hard to accept. If your baby is growing and developing, you can rest assured that he’s getting enough milk.
Pro – Lots of people say that breastfeeding helps you lose your baby weight. I call bullshit on that one.
Con – You have to be constantly aware of the food you eat, what you drink, and any medication you take.
Pro – It’s pretty darned handy when you’re out and about. I can’t tell you how much I loved not having to plan how many bottles I would need, not needing to pack said bottles, and then not having to clean said bottles. Baby’s hungry? Whip out a boob and feed her. But…
Con – …if you’re at all modest, the first thing you think of when you’re going someplace is, Where will I feed my baby? You have to scout places out as soon as you get there so you know where to go when the kid starts screaming.
Con – It’s exhausting. You’re the sole food source for your baby. Sure, you can pump in advance and let your partner feed the baby a bottle, but guess what? You still have to get up and pump again while he’s feeding the baby. For the first 16 months, while J was breastfeeding multiple times a day, our arrangement was this: I’m in charge of input, Bo’s in charge of output. During the first few months, before J was sleeping through the night, my husband would get up when he would cry, change his diaper, and bring him to me. I would nurse him and then put him back to bed. Or, if he refused to latch (like he so often did in the beginning), Bo would feed him a pre-pumped bottle and I would pump. That was just exhausting for both of us. But…
Pro – …once you master the side-lying nursing position, you can pretty much snooze while your baby is nursing.
Pro – It’s more economical–if you’re a stay-at-home-mom. But…
Con – …I’m not sure that’s the case if you’re a working mom. I had to buy a pump, pump supplies, bottles, freezer bags, supplements to maintain/increase my supply, etc. I don’t know if it’s more economical or not because I never sat down and compared it. But it sure as hell ain’t free.
Con – If you’re a working mom, it’s hard work. You have to make time throughout your work day to pump and find a relaxing, clean environment in which to pump. Some work environments are more conducive to this than others. Lucky for me, mine was fantastic and supportive–but I don’t think that’s always the case.
Pro – I know this statement is going to piss some folks off (I don’t care): It is the perfect food for your baby. No, formula isn’t toxic. In fact, it’s damn good stuff. Formula has a healthy mix of protein, fats, carbohydrates and calcium. But the fact is that the contents of breastmilk change over time as your baby gets older, throughout the day (it’s thinner in the morning and thicker at night), and with the weather (when it’s hot, breastmilk has a higher water content). Your breastmilk is specific to your baby’s changing needs. That’s some pretty cool stuff.
Pro – Breastmilk doesn’t stain. However…
Con – …if you over-produce, it might cause your baby to do a whole lot of spitting up. Which does stain. And this leads me to…
Con – Sometimes you under-produce or over-produce. Under-producing is a problem for obvious reasons. However, over-producing can cause just as many problems. When you have too much milk, it may come out too fast, making it difficult for the baby to eat. If you’re under-producing, try to encourage your baby to nurse more. If you’re over-producing, try block feeding.
Con – Breastfeeding can make you feel tied down. It’s hard to get time to yourself, have a girls’ night out, or spend time alone with your partner, when you’re always worried about the next time your baby will need to be fed. Even if you pump enough milk so that you can leave her, you still have to pump while you’re away. And since pumping isn’t nearly as efficient as the baby, you also have to worry about your milk supply decreasing while you’re away from her.
Pro – Breastfeeding has many benefits to the nursing mom. It can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. Extended breastfeeding can sometimes have a positive impact on the reduction rates. In some cases, the reduction is only slight, but I’ll take what I can get.
Pro – Once you get the hang of it, breastfeeding your baby can be an awesome confidence booster. Dude–your body feeds your baby! How cool is that?
Con – If you struggle with producing enough milk, or if you cannot produce milk at all, it can be a major confidence killer–or even cause depression. But dude–your body grew your baby!! That’s pretty damn cool!
Pro – If you use cloth diapers and exclusively breastfeed, you can just toss those poopy diapers directly into the washer. No need to rinse them.
Con – Sometimes you feel “touched out” and just really want your body to be yours again.
Pro – Breastmilk is friggin’ magical. That stuff heals cuts right up and even cures pink eye. No lie. (The rest of the items on this list really fall into the “the verdict is out” category, since research isn’t conclusive. But I’m listing them as pros because they are pros if they’re true.)
Pro (or at least not a con) – Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of ear infections (although I’m convinced that it’s the shape of the ear that determines the occurrence of multiple ear infections).
Pro (or at least not a con) – Breastfeeding may significantly reduce the respiratory and gastrointestinal morbidity rate in infants.
Pro (or at least not a con) – Breastfeeding may protect your child against allergies, asthma, obesity, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer.
Pro (or at least not a con) – Studies have shown that children who were breastfed tend to have a slightly higher IQ and fewer psychological, behavioral and learning disabilities (although there are so many correlating factors, I’m not convinced). (Like this post? Make sure to check out parts 1, 2 & 4 of Feed Your Baby!)