When I wrote about breastfeeding on this blog for the first time, the subject was near and dear to my heart, but still - purely theoretical. I had no idea that in a year I would already be married and expecting a baby. A lot of things have changed, but not my convictions about breastfeeding. I remain of the opinion that unless there's a strong medical reason not to breastfeed, breastfeeding is the best option for Mom and baby.
I think we are all familiar with arguments such as, "I didn't breastfeed/wasn't breastfed/know mothers who didn't breastfeed their babies - and they all turned out just fine". Yes, of course it's possible to "turn out just fine" with formula. That's what happens most of the time, otherwise all the formula companies would go bankrupt. However right now I'm not talking about what that, but about what is the best for a baby.
Mother's milk contains a balance of nutrients ideal for the baby, and gradually adjusts itself to the growing baby's needs. When the formula companies add this or that nutrient to their formula, they brag about it as if it's a remarkable innovation - but remember that no matter what they do, they will never be as good as mother's milk. In the first days after birth, breastfeeding has a vital influence on the baby's immune system. Breastfeeding is perfectly designed to encourage satiety signals in a baby at just the right time (which is why breastfed babies tend less towards being overfed). Mother's milk is safe, readily available at the perfect temperature, and is naturally given in a way that enhances bonding between mother and baby. To sum it up, it's designed by God, which means it will always beat man-made formula. Oh, and did I mention that it's free?
In the not-so-distant past, mothers knew that if they didn't succeed at nursing their babies, the alternative would probably be cow's milk, which really isn't a good option. Therefore, women did all in their power to breastfeed. I was born prematurely and couldn't nurse properly until I was about a month old. During all that time, my mother pumped milk for me and gave it to me in a bottle until I was ready to nurse. Here, she would probably be advised to give me formula. By the way, because she had a lot of milk, she was also able to give enough to another baby, whose mother couldn't breastfeed for medical reasons. The baby boy is now all grown up and lives in Israel.
So, you all know I have zero experience in breastfeeding, but I think a good deal depends on proper guidance - and lots of determination. And determination is difficult to keep when the option of easy feeding with formula pops up whenever there's a challenge. Baby doesn't feel like eating when hospital schedule says "feeding time"? Oh well. Instead of encouraging the mother to nurse whenever the baby shows signs of hunger, let's just give formula!.. A nursing relationship that is disrupted from the very first days doesn't get a good start.
It depends on the hospital policy, of course - some hospitals, I've heard, are amazingly baby-friendly and breastfeeding-friendly. Here, hospitals get lots of money from formula companies who want to promote their products. I might not have believed that before, but after spending a few months in one of the largest Israeli hospital, I saw it with my own eyes. Why do you think new mothers get free formula samples as they leave hospital with their baby? Certainly not for their benefit; the formula companies want to "plant" these samples to be used in a moment of weakness: middle of the night, an exhausted mother, a fussy, hungry baby who is having difficulties nursing, a natural powerful urge to feed the baby... after a few times, getting back to breastfeeding is more difficult, and the mother is forced to buy formula. You know what this reminds me of? Tactics of drug-dealers. They lure you with free samples because they know that if you accept them, later they'll have your hard-earned money!
Another concern to keep in mind is that the formula-making process is not immune to human mistakes and neglect. There have been cases when an essential nutrient wasn't added at all, or not in sufficient quantities. For a baby who is exclusively formula-fed, the consequences can be disastrous. A few years ago, a terrible tragedy occurred in Israel when a certain brand of formula didn't include a sufficient amount of Thiamine:
"Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is vital for development of the nervous system in babies. Israeli Health Ministry officials say more than 20 infants suffered from a disorder caused by a deficiency in the vitamin after drinking the formula, and three have died."
I realize sometimes breastfeeding isn't possible - and in these cases, it's good we have formula. However I can't help but think that a large number of mothers who end up not breastfeeding, could have succeeded if the importance of breastfeeding was fully realized by their medical care providers.
I'm determined to do everything in my power for a successful nursing relationship, when time comes. Fortunately, I can get advice from women in my family who have successfully breastfed (such as my mother and mother-in-law). And there's always the option of seeking a lactation consultant.
For more information on the sinister tactics of formula companies and the damage they cause all over the world, read this article by Amy.