For a newborn, it is indeed best to breastfeed as far as possible. Breast milk has all the nutrition that a baby needs, and it also has all the antibodies that protect the baby because she doesn’t have a well established immune system in the beginning. There is, however, a dilemma many parents face, where in certain situations it might be prudent to introduce a bit of formula milk into the baby’s diet.
Let me address this dilemma a little bit. Before our baby was born, I hadn’t even considered buying formula milk as part of our shopping list. I had read and understood the importance of breast milk and was pretty confident that formula milk would only be something that we introduce after a few months. However, the day we brought our baby home from the hospital, I found myself arranging for some formula milk at the last minute. And it was because I realized during our stay at the hospital that there could be many situations, even that early, where breastmilk might not suffice for the baby. Because there is a difference between theory and practice.
When a baby is born, it is so exhausted that it barely has any strength for the first 24 hours and even our mid-wife told us that it is common for babies to not feed for that time period. And babies tend to lose a little under 10% of their birth weight due to this. However, when this period is over, it is time for the baby to start feeding and regain the lost weight within the next 2-3 days. But, not all babies are experts at sucking milk properly that early. Sometimes, they try for a few minutes but get tired quickly and fall asleep and need to be waken up frequently to feed. On top of that, the flow of milk from the mother’s breast may not be as good as desired, which might further contribute to tiring the baby out without a proper meal. And, even when it appears as if the baby has been well fed, she might still be hungry. And what if the baby continues to be hungry mealtime after mealtime without the parents realizing it? In those early days, we did face all these situations and we were advised by the mid-wives to give our baby a top-up feed at the end of each breastfeeding session to ensure that the baby really was full. And in case the baby was not getting breastmilk supply, to feed her a small amount from a tiny plastic cup (and not from a milk bottle) so that her attachment to the breast was also not lost, and she continued to get the feed that she needed.
Keeping this factor in mind, I learned that it was not a bad idea to keep some amount of formula milk at home to be used when needed. I – sorry, We – realized that introducing formula milk as a part of feeds for the newborn really did not mean that she would be deprived of breast milk. It was supposed to be used as a supplement to breast milk.
And it is not just about the supply of breast milk that is the only factor. You also need to consider the health and suffering of the mother. New babies need feeding every couple of hours even for weeks after they are born. Add to that the fact that even the most well fed baby has problems with sleeping properly at times. It is not obvious to us men how distressing the whole phase becomes for a mother who is herself in need of being taken care of in order to recover from the trauma of the delivery. I have seen my wife feel miserable at times trying to feed our perfectly healthy baby while exhausted by the irregular sleeping schedules. She cried about how much pain she felt in her back most of the times and how every moment of feeding the baby made her back even worse.
Like I said, it is almost impossible to understand completely what a new mother goes through unless you have been one and, at times, I have made the same mistake and insisted for my wife to try and breastfeed against giving formula milk. And this is where, we need to have an open mind and consider the practicalities of the situation. The baby needs breast milk, but don’t forget, it first needs milk so that it is not hungry and even the mother needs to be relieved of her stress regularly.
Until now, I hadn’t mentioned that pumping breast milk and then using it for top-up feeds as well as complete meals when the mother was resting is a great option, and this reduces the need for formula milk. Before our baby had completed her first week, I had already been compelled by the situations described above to buy a motorized electric breast pump. And, to be honest, it turned out to be a fantastic investment as we did use it a lot. However, one needs to understand that even a breast pump can be of little use if the milk supply from the breast is too slow, or the mother is very tired. Moreover, the electric pumps can be quite expensive and not everyone may be able to afford them, and the more affordable manual pumps take too much effort to pump. And if you run out of pumped milk at odd hours, it may not be feasible to set up and start pumping again while your baby is crying bloody murder and the mother is already exhausted. Having some formula milk handy can really be a life saver.
So, for new parents, the first few weeks are almost certainly a tough time and they are also a time to overcome challenges. While the importance of breast milk cannot be overstated, it is also important to remember that timely feeding of the baby is also very important as is ensuring that the mother is not subjected to undue stress in some situations.
How has your experience been? Do you think there is more to this debate than what I have written? Do share with me by posting in the comments below.