"Oh my, you just HAVE to breastfeed! How dare you consider giving your new baby formula! If you don't nurse, you will never bond with your baby."
Does any of this sound familiar? I heard that and much more when I was pregnant with my first child. It's some pretty heady stuff for a first-time mum. And it wasn't just my friends, it seemed as if everyone I came in contact with had to - unprompted of course - implore me to breastfeed my yet-to-be-born child.
Who are these people? Did I even ask their opinion? The thing that I found interesting was I was told I "had to" without an explanation of why. Why was nursing the most important thing in the whole wide world according to everyone and their mother?
I did a little research. It turns out all these advice-giving people were actually well-meaning, enlightened individuals. Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your child.
Why is breastfeeding so important?
The number one reason breastfeeding is the optimal choice for feeding is because our bodies are designed to provide breast milk that is the perfect mix of nutrients and antibodies for your own child. And, amazingly, the milk's composition changes as your baby's nutritional needs change. Besides, breastfed babies on average experience fewer incidences of constipation, colic and other stomach issues. They have greater protection against ear infections, respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, bronchitis, allergies and a whole host of other childhood ailments. There is even some evidence that supports the idea that breastfed infants develop higher IQ's, and have improved brain and nervous system development.
And it's not just the babies who benefit from nursing. Breastfeeding is good for the mums too. Mothers that breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast, ovarian, cervical, and endometrial cancers. Nursing also gives you a little 'mummy high'. When you nurse your body provides hormones that have an endorphin effect giving you a relaxed feeling; it's really quite blissful.
And the best part - when you nurse, you burn tons of calories! Your body has to work hard to produce that perfect food, and you reap the benefit by a much higher metabolic rate. You'll be amazed at how quickly you will get back to your pre-baby weight when you nurse.
What if you're struggling to breastfeed?
However, it is important to remember that while breastfeeding is completely natural, the ability to breastfeed doesn't always come naturally to every mother. Many women have problems when they first try and nurse their baby. There can be latching issues, sucking issues, milk-development issues. You name it, and a mother can have an issue with it. But, that doesn't mean you are a bad mum. And it doesn't mean you won't be able to nurse eventually. If you do experience trouble nursing, talk to your doctor about getting help. Don't be afraid or embarrassed - for millions of women, nursing takes some practice before they, and the baby, get the hang of it.
The reality is, the benefits of breastfeeding for both mum and baby go on and on. It's what our bodies were designed to do. But, it may not work for you and your baby, and if it doesn't, don't beat yourself up: nursing should be a happy, peaceful time for you and your baby. If the process becomes stressful, it's not worth it.
So, bottom line, breast is best if you can make it work. But, all is not lost if you can't. You'll have many more chances to do the 'best' thing for your child.