Guide to Informed Decision-Making: Breast or Bottle?

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It’s time to get back to the Informed Decision-Making Guide, don’t you think?  Nourishment seems to be the next big and obvious topic.  We’re going to take it in two parts — first, breast or bottle?  And then, when cows milk/solids?  The debate around each of these questions seems different enough to warrant separate coverage.

Let’s get some semantic game-playing out of the way first.  I do think women must determine for themselves how to go about feeding their own babies — there are too many complicating factors that can enter the picture.   It also is as close to fact as we are able to get that “breast is best” — at least nominally, from a health standpoint.  Theoretically that makes me “pro-nursing.”  And I am, AS LONG AS IT IS WORKING FOR MOMMY AND BABY!!  Those all-or-nothing labels we like so much to bandy about do nothing other than to create defensiveness.   You can be “pro-nursing” and supplement.  You can be “pro-nursing” in general, but not for this particular baby who isn’t thriving because the latching isn’t working for whatever reason.  You can be “pro-nursing” in the privacy of your bedroom.  ”Pro-nursing” suggests there are hoards of “anti-nursing” people out there, just like “pro-life” assumes that people with a different point of view are “pro-death.”  That’s nonsense in both cases.

Now that I’ve made clear it’s all a continuum, let’s take a look at the more polarizing arguments.

Nursing is Natural!  Breast is Best!  Boobs are the Bomb!

1.  There are health advantages to nursing.

Yes, there are.  For the most part this has to do with immunology, and frankly a lot of that benefit cements itself within the first weeks.  You pass along your antibodies in the colostorum, actually.   Now, if your baby is struggling with nursing and is losing more than the anticipated 10% of initial weight, it is time to take supplementary measures — this possible failure to thrive business is a very serious health issue as well.   Guilt about supplementing will not help.  Also, no one said you must throw in the nursing towel at the first drop of supplemental formula.

There are some studies out there about IQ points and such but I am a little suspicious about that.  (Could it be that on balance moms who nurse are also less time-constrained and are therefore reading more to baby too?  Great, then it’s the reading that counts, not bottle vs breast.)    Full disclosure:  I was bottle-fed.  I am a smartypants.

2.  Nursing moms and babes bond better.

Babies bond when they feel nourished and loved and attended to.  If a mom is more comfortable using a bottle, she’ll bond better that way.  For others, nursing is a very intimate, pleasant bonding ritual.  If so, by all means keep it up!   While we are on the bonding topic, I’ve got general anxiety over all the arguments for natural parenting that seem to exclude dad from the picture.  If dad wants to give a bottle in order to bond and be part of things, that’s probably setting a good precedent for his involvement down the line, isn’t it?

3.  Women who are shy about revealing their bodies should get over it.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on mom.   Let’s start with making the rest of the world get over it first, so she doesn’t feel the need to be ashamed in the first instance.  A mom who prefers to nurse in private should not be sentenced to house arrest for the first X months of her baby’s life, either.

4.  You can always pump.

Tell that to the exhausted bleeding mom with her electric pump plugged into the lighter in her car because there is no private space in her cubicle or work bathroom, much less a policy that allows her the five 20-minute breaks a day full-time pumping takes.

5.  If you are bottle-feeding you probably gave up.

Well that’s a lot of assuming, isn’t it?  Nursing can be very difficult for any number of reasons.

6.  Formula is just a giant, money-making industry.

Indeed.    And, yes, the practice of sneaking free bottles into the take-home bags for exhausted moms is a little skeevy.  Fight it through information campaigns.

Nursing is uncomfortable, gross and lewd.

Ok, very, very, very few women fall wholly into this camp, but we said we would look at extremes.  There do seem to be a number of women who understand that nursing is good for babies, and good for other mommies, but just aren’t comfortable themselves breastfeeding.

1.  The bottle is just so easy!

Perhaps (mileage varies on that one).  It is also expensive as all get-out.

2.  My baby doesn’t like it.

Well, babies do not like to be hungry, that’s for sure.   So until you and junior have the hang of the whole nursing thing (comes quicker to some than others) it might seem like you are getting resistance.  It’s so, so easy these days to get a lactation consultant that if this is really your strongest argument, it may be worth trying some more strategies for nursing.    It’s such an individual thing.   Boppy-lovers, boppy-haters.  Pillows, “My Brest Friends” (love the product, hate the name) — everybody has their own favorite ways to go about nursing.

3.  I feel like my breasts belong to my husband.

For those who feel strongly that breasts are exclusively sexual, that can be very hard to get over.  You might try immersing yourself in a group of nursing moms to see if it changes your point of view.   Your husband’s point of view is probably going to matter too, and I don’t want to get in the middle of that.

4.  I am a working mom with little support close by.

Respect.   Do what you gotta do.   But ask around about other working moms because we might have some good tips or at least a sympathetic ear.  And remember, it’s not all-or-nothing.  You can have a bottle fed babe that gets a nice “welcome home” nursing at the end of the day.

5.  I am a (single) Dad.

Drop me a line if anyone gives you shit about the lack of breastmilk for your baby and I will set loose the hounds.


Here’s my best advice.  Whatever feelings you have going into it, give nursing a try.  Take it day by day.  Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go smoothly.   And remember it isn’t all-or-nothing.  One bottle won’t kill the tot, and neither will 1,000.


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2 Responses to “Guide to Informed Decision-Making: Breast or Bottle?”

  1. I’m loving all this discussion lately about breast v. bottle. Just thought I’d share that I have three children who were exclusively breastfed for two years each. Yes, two years each! Not one of them ever touched a drop of formula. I am very proud to say that, however, I in no way dismiss those women who feel they can’t/shouldn’t/don’t want to breastfeed. And for those women who feel their breasts are sexual… do you really think women have milk-filled breasts for their husband’s pleasure? Why have milk if it’s not meant to be used?


  2. Daisy says:

    The sex argument is indeed a weird one that seems to involve putting on blinders to the reality of things. It’s just so fraught with emotion that gentle reasoning seems unlikely to help.

    I can’t wait for you to chime in on the next post — you will no doubt agree that it seems strange to distinguish between nursing a 364 day old baby and a 366 day old tot! (For me, that’s how extended nursing came about…the bar of what seemed natural just kept moving, uh, naturally.)


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