Breast Is Best, But Is Bottle OK?

Dear Mamas,

I’m 8 months pregnant with my second baby and I’m really starting to stress about the nursing thing. After my first was born I struggled through breastfeeding. The trouble began on day 1 when she couldn’t latch on, and continued through too little milk production, an awful case of mastitis, and horrendous cracked and painful nipples, until I finally weaned her and switched to formula at 2 months.

Now I’m dreading a repeat of the first time around, and the fact that all my friends (not to mention my husband) are putting on the pressure to breastfeed doesn’t help. I feel like such a failure! But at the same time I resent being judged about this. Don’t plenty of babies grow up perfectly healthy on formula? Please give it to me straight … breast or bottle?

Guilty Gwen

Dear Gwen,

Plenty of moms struggle with this, so let’s ditch the guilt and look at the facts.
It’s true that breast milk is Mother Nature’s ideal option for baby, and there are some clear advantages over formula, so let’s get those out of the way.

Breast milk is the simplest form of nutrition when it comes to digestion. The proteins, fats and carbohydrates are in smaller ‘packages’ and are more easily broken down and absorbed. In addition, breast milk contains immune factors your baby can’t get any other way and that contributes to lower rates of common infections during infancy. Breast fed babies also tend to have fewer food allergies during childhood than those who are formula fed.

Having said that, you’re absolutely right — there are loads of healthy, productive kids and adults in the world who were never breast fed and are doing just fine. All the major brands of infant formula are carefully made to meet baby’s nutritional needs, and they do a perfectly good job of it.

The way I see it, it’s much more important to be a relaxed and happy mommy enjoying your newborn than it is to force yourself to fit a parenting mold based on peer pressure. You clearly had a difficult time with your first, and that’s stuck with you and made you wary of trying again. But let me reassure you that experience #1 is NOT a predictor of experience #2. Each baby is different and each situation is different. One has nothing to do with the other.

The bottom line is this: if you’d like to give nursing a second try, you may find it to be an entirely new and satisfying experience. If so, ask the nurses at your hospital for hints to avoid the pitfalls. They’re great and know them all. If not, and you feel strongly that it would raise the tension and anxiety levels too high for comfort, then be entirely at peace with formula. Your baby will grow just as healthy and strong in either case.

The important thing is to enjoy feeding time with your newborn. Cuddle close, dim the lights, and make it bonding time. Bring hubby and big sister into the party, too … it’s all about creating and growing your family!

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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3 responses to “Breast Is Best, But Is Bottle OK?”

  1. Lisa

    Gwen, I know it’s been a while since you posed your question, but I’ve been in your shoes and want to tell you not to worry. I had a lot of trouble breast-feeding my first–I saw a (wonderful) lactation consultant, pumped multiple times a day to stimulate milk production, etc, etc. Even so, I had to supplement with formula because my daughter still wasn’t getting enough nourishment. At that point, so that I wouldn’t confuse her by giving her a bottle, I used one of those setups where she got the formula through a tiny tube next to my nipple as she nursed–and I still remember how her eyes flew open in shock when her suck finally produced an abundance of milk, and how eagerly she nursed at that point. It was right around then that I decided that I didn’t want my daughter’s babyhood to be all about struggling to nurse her, and I switched to the bottle. She’s 15 now and healthy; believe me, her lack of breast milk has not hampered her development. I completely agree with Rachel…breast milk is best, but your baby will do just fine whichever way you go. I wish you the best!

  2. Gwen

    Thank you, Lisa, for your comment. I feel much more comfortable with however my decision turns out. Some nursing moms do it easily, but I don’t, and I guess you don’t either. Thanks again for your help!

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