When you’re a new mum, deciding how to feed your baby can be one of the most difficult and pressured decisions you can make. ‘Breast is best’ is the message that has been drummed into pregnant mums for generations, but new guidance from the Royal College of Midwives says that whether a woman chooses breast or formula her decision deserves to be respected.
New mothers can often feel pressurised to breastfeed, according to the National Childbirth Trust. But it cuts both ways – new mums who breastfeed can feel dictated to and constrained in the places they can feed, while mums who choose the bottle for whatever reason can feel stigmatised and ashamed.
What’s great about the new guidance is that it recognises a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her. If you’re too tired to feed during the night, giving your partner a bottle and asking them to get on with it is no longer frowned on.
Is breast best?
Yes, it is. Studies show that there are health benefits from breastfeeding that can’t be matched by formula milk. However, those benefits may not be as extreme as sometimes claimed and looking after your own wellbeing can often be as beneficial to the baby as following the strict guidelines.
Up to 5% of women in the UK struggle with breastfeeding and it can be a devastating experience not to be able to feed your baby. In a 2014 study of 14,000 women, new mums who wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t were two and a half times more likely to develop postnatal depression. The RCM’s new advice and support should help pregnant mothers feel a lot more relaxed about making the right decision not just for baby but for their own mental health.
Making an informed choice
There are obvious benefits to both breast and bottle. Breast milk is free, convenient and contains unique nutrients that formula can’t replicate. Bottle feeding gives a new mum flexibility and can take the pressure off when latching on or lack of milk start to cause problems for the baby. What the new guidance does is respect a woman’s choice to do what’s right for her and her baby with the right support whether she decides on bottle or breast.
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