Breastfeeding vs. Bottle Feeding: Intermountain Healthcare Experts Offer Suggestions
It's one of the earliest parenting decisions. An Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital lactation coordinator talks about the benefits and realities of breastfeeding.
St. George, UT (PRUnderground) August 23rd, 2022
With all the joy that comes with the birth of a child, any seasoned parent will tell you the opportunity to raise another human comes with plenty of challenges as well. For some, one of the earliest challenges comes in what many mistakenly assume to be a very intuitive process — feeding the baby.
It’s one of the first major parental decisions: breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding. And it doesn’t need to be either/or – many women do some of both.
In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Kayleen Lowe, lactation coordinator for Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital, said it is important to shine a light on the benefits, but also the realities, of breastfeeding.
Clinical research has shown that breastfeeding is linked to decreased rates of lower respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, ear infections and obesity. Breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, and other protective effects.
“We all know the benefits of breastfeeding, from the immunological and protective health benefits for baby and the bonding experience it can be, but we also need to understand the normalcy of it,” Lowe said.
Since 1970, the number of women who breastfeed immediately after birth has quadrupled, leading to a growing demand for breast milk.
That normalcy often includes sore nipples, engorgement of the breasts, trouble getting baby to latch, all of which can make the process very difficult in the first couple of weeks. Even still, Lowe said if new mothers can just hang on, those issues will often resolve themselves or can be helped by guidance, information and encouragement from a certified lactation consultant.
“Our bodies know what they are supposed to do,” Lowe said. “In most circumstances, if you do the work to learn and understand about how breastfeeding works, it can lead to a satisfactory experience.”
The reasons women choose to stop breastfeeding — or never start — are as individual as the babies they are feeding. However, there are some general challenges Lowe works to help mom and baby overcome, including sore nipples, perception of milk supply, and managing expectations.
“It’s almost like we’re expecting our bodies to fail us,” Lowe said, referencing a concept she’s been studying recently about the idea that people don’t walk around anticipating or expecting their kidneys or their digestive system to stop working.
“For some reason with lactation, it’s the one body system we constantly question; it’s the organ we feel is going to fail us,” Lowe said.
Yet even as she champions the idea of breastfeeding to women throughout Southern Utah, Lowe said she is very aware there are women struggling with postpartum issues, lack of support, returning to work, or an unsupportive work environment, or other factors that contribute to a decision to bottle feed. And parents should be supported in their decision.
“We need to take the guilt out of breastfeeding,” Lowe said. “I think as long as moms are doing the work of breastfeeding, if they’ve made every effort to change or fix the problem and it still doesn’t work out, there’s no need for them to feel like a terrible mother. They shouldn’t feel guilty, they should pat themselves on the back for all of their efforts.”
That said, Lowe is often surprised by how quickly in the U.S. many healthcare professionals back away from encouraging breastfeeding if it presents any difficulty for mom.
That seems to be changing with the recent update on breastfeeding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which highlight the benefits of breastfeeding beyond one year. In the past, the organization recommended breastfeeding for one year. But this new guideline brings things in line with what the World Health Organization has recommended for years.
They recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. And acknowledge there are continued benefits from breastfeeding beyond one year, and up to two years, especially in the mother. Long-term breastfeeding is associated with protections against diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast and ovaries.
“Breastfeeding should never be forced, but we (as healthcare professionals) need to practice what we preach,” Lowe said. “We know it is the recommended feeding option for most babies. We just need to practice what we know.”
Yet even once a woman chooses to breastfeed, the challenges may not end. For some, public breastfeeding becomes a big concern with some people taking issue with the practice.
“It’s a tricky topic because it involves a delicate part of a woman’s body and there is so much emotion tied to it,” Lowe said. “Yet when you look in magazines and even people walking around, you see parts of non-nursing women’s breasts. It’s like we, as a society, are OK with the sexualization of the breast but not the functionality of it.”
With the recent nationwide formula shortage, some women are choosing to breastfeed to ensure access to food for their children. But Lowe said for the most part the formula shortage has only bolstered the decision of women who had previously decided to breastfeed, not necessarily changed the minds of those who already decided to bottle feed.
“I see a lot of people who are tired of being pushed to breastfeed because of the formula shortage,” Lowe said. “But I think for those women who are choosing to breastfeed, it warrants doing what they can to protect their milk supply, so those who are formula feeding will have a better chance of accessing the formula they need.”
For more parenting tips, see Intermountain Moms or Intermountain Parents. For breastfeeding tips, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/pediatrics/services/lactation-consultation/ and for a consultation in the Intermountain region, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/womens-health/salt-lake-womens-specialists/services/breastfeeding-support/.
About Intermountain Healthcare
Headquartered in Utah with locations in eight states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information and updates, click here