Breastfeeding vs Formula during the first 6 months
The World Health Organisation, the UK NICE guidelines and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. We won’t get into the health benefits here, but if you’re interested, the sources at the end of the post have some great information.
Despite the guidance, in the UK, of the 73% of women that start breastfeeding, only 17% of them are still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and in the US, of the 81% of women that start breastfeeding, 52% are still breastfeeding at six months.
Why is there a gap between the guidance and what women choose to do? Obviously there are lots of reasons – we can only share with you our experience.
Kate breastfed exclusively for 6 months, whereas Em took a mixed feeding approach pretty much straight away. Here’s why…
Why did you choose to breastfeed?
Kate: I chose to breastfeed because I knew it was the best thing for my baby, because I believed my body could do it and that’s what was modelled to me by my Mum – I didn’t really consider formula or mixed feeding at all. Breastfeeding for me has been easy, The Girl latched on with no problems – we have had a few issues along the way (tongue tie, mastitis) but I never considered stopping.
Em: Breastfeeding was always my plan. Like Kate, I believed in the benefits for The Boy, but also for myself in protecting from breast cancers, and I had always assumed that I just would. Unlike Kate I definitely had a few more doubts about how it would work for me and what it would feel like, based on experiences from friends.
When did you start using formula? Why?
Em: The first night we were home with The Boy (when he was one day old) he was inconsolable with hunger and my milk hadn’t yet come in. We really struggled with latching, I was exhausted from being in hospital and the physical demands of labor, and so we gave him some formula. In some ways I hate that I feel like I need to justify it – I had always planned to mix feed – possible not that early, but because I was returning to work, and wanted to be able to have flexibility with feeding I hoped to mix and match. After that initial formula we got into a routine of mixing formula and expressed milk for the last feed of the day so that I could sleep and my husband could feed The Boy. I got into a routine of pumping three times a day, breastfeeding on demand and topping up with formula as necessary. Unfortunately the “top up” became more and more frequent as The Boy became frustrated with breastfeeding. I spent a lot of the time really upset about this – I felt like I was letting him down by not breastfeeding exclusively, and as our formula use expanded, I felt worse and worse. Ultimately looking back I don’t understand the stress. At no point did breastfeeding stop hurting for me. Both of us had repeated thrush and despite interventions from lactation specialists and the health visitors we never got a “good latch”. I hated pumping even more than breastfeeding – so formula it was! One thing that I think all breastfeeding Mum’s need to remember is that it takes two to tango – both you and your baby have to want to breastfeed.
Kate – I started using formula after the girl was 10 months old. Before that point, I’d use expressed breast milk. I started to use formula because since The Girl was more active, it was hard to have the time to express. I know this is absolutely ridiculous — but I felt guilty about giving her formula. Even though I’ve said it so many times to my friends that can’t breastfeed that it doesn’t matter, formula isn’t bad, I still felt that way!!! I hate that I felt that way, but it’s been drilled into me growing up that formula is “bad” — but it’s not! Sometimes, other people’s words say it better than you can:
“…We all know that our breastfeeding ‘number’ is a concrete way to compete with one another. A mother’s score is reduced if she mixes in formula, relies too heavily on a breast-milk pump or actually breast-feeds for too long. In middle-class circles in the United States, many mothers treat infant formula as practically a form of child abuse. The fact that breastfeeding requires endurance, inconvenience, and in some cases physical suffering only increases its status”
-French Kids Don’t Throw Food (Bringing up Bebe) by Pamela Druckerman
I’ve felt that pressure from other mums, and I know Em has too. It’s ridiculous I felt that way, that Em felt that way. I call bull s**! Fed is best – 100%!
Why do you think OTHER mothers don’t choose to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months?
Kate: Breastfeeding is a personal decision and an intimate, if not revealing, experience. The mothers I know that haven’t exclusively breastfed fall into two camps: one, they weren’t ever able to (e.g. inverted nipples, fake breasts) and two, it was too hard for either the baby or the mum. I also think it’s because of the lack of 1-on-1 support during the first few weeks that is needed to get the latch right and test different feeding positions just isn’t there. If one can’t afford a lactation consultant who can visit you, googling can quickly lead to a downward spiral!
Em – In one sentence – because its hard! I think there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed exclusively and a lot of judgement around formula feeding. It’s a cliché but a fed baby is a happy baby and I think that if more people were encouraged to mix feed, then breastfeeding longer would be more sustainable.
We are super interested to hear from you – what you fed your baby during the first 6 months and why?
“More than 73% of women in the UK start breastfeeding, and 17% of babies are still being exclusively breastfed at three months.” https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/benefits-breastfeeding/