Whether to offer bub the breast or a bottle isn’t a decision many mums spend too long pondering over. A large proportion of mums-to-be have no doubt they want to breastfeed their babies and in fact, the figures show that around 85 per cent of bubbas leave the hospital being breastfed.
But over time, this figure drops. Often for those mums who do eventually turn to formula, it’s not so much a ‘choice’ but a decision made after encountering difficulties on their breastfeeding journey. But there are also mums who choose not to breastfeed from day one.
Breast vs bottle
Over the years, extensive research has shown that the only food an infant needs during the first six months of life is breastmilk. Her mother’s nutritious milk contains antibodies that protect her from illness, and there’s evidence to suggest it may also reduce her chances of developing allergies. Other benefits of breastfeeding are that feeds are free and readily available and that it can help your uterus return to normal size more quickly after delivery, because of the release of the hormone oxytocin.
However, breastfeeding can come with difficulties. Women may encounter problems with their boobs, from inverted nipples to severe mastitis, and babies may have problems latching on due to conditions such as tongue-tie.
But when it comes to mummies making the decision not to ever breastfeed, there are certain aspects of bottle-feeding that may appeal to them. These women may find that bottle-feeding makes it easier to share the responsibility for caring for their baby, or they may appreciate that is doesn’t affect their lifestyle choices – for example, they don’t need to watch what they eat or drink, or what medications they take. Some may simply like being able to see exactly how much milk their littlie is actually drinking.
Or there may be other reasons…
‘My boobs are sexy’
Busy working mum Sandra Bell chose not to breastfeed both her children – Cassie, now six, and Lexi, now three. Sandra believes she made the best decision for her family, says that her children are healthy, happy and well-adjusted and notes that she has a close bond with both of them. Her main reason for not offering her bubs the boob? “I saw breasts as more of a sexual thing and just couldn’t make that connection between them and feeding.”
Another reason was work-related. “I had a busy catering business at the time. I went into labour at work with both my children and I went back to work within three days with my first one and five days with my second. I’m very lucky that I had a good family network that could help me with the bottle-feeding.”
For Sandra, it was important to get as much information as possible about bottle-feeding, so that she could make an educated decision. “I read a lot about it and I decided my babies would still get what they needed to be healthy and happy children.”
There is still a lot of debate about whether bottle-feeding affects a mother’s ability to bond with her child. Experts say that skin-to-skin contact is an important part of a baby’s development and it may
be the case that breastfeeding mums hold their babies for feeds more often and for longer.
Like so many other mums who have chosen to bottle-feed, Sandra believes you can still bond very well with your child, even if you don’t breastfeed. “I’ve a very natural bond with my kids and don’t feel we missed anything at all by feeding with formula. I still held them close to me a lot.”
For women who do bottle-feed, there are simple ways to make sure bonding is still strong, such as holding your baby close while feeding, talking gently to her as she drinks and encouraging eye contact throughout. And allowing her to feel your skin as much as possible is a loving, nurturing experience for the both of you.
One of the other main concerns women have about not breastfeeding is that they won’t be able to provide their baby with all the nutrients she needs. While it’s true that breastmilk is best and contains a multitude of elements that can’t be duplicated, formulas are designed to meet babies’ needs as best as possible. They must comply with strict Australian food standards and their production is based on extensive research.
Sandra never felt the need to supplement her children’s formula with breastmilk. “I was confident they were getting everything they needed from the formula – they were always healthy. I never needed to add to it and they made the transition to cows’ milk really well.”
Often the biggest obstacle women encounter when they choose to bottle-feed is judgment from others. Sandra found that she came across a lot of negative reactions to her decision, but she was determined not to let this influence her.
“When I talked about it with other mothers, their opinion was predominantly that breastfeeding was best and they just couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to do it,” she says. “I listened to everything that they had to say, but in the end I made up my own mind. I went with what I believed and what I knew in my heart was right for me.”
But it wasn’t just other mums who voiced their concerns about Sandra’s decision. “At the hospital, though I didn’t quite feel pressured, let’s just say that I was very aware of just how strongly I was being advised to breastfeed. I wasn’t offended, though. I just stuck with my feeling. At check-ups I’d be told breastmilk was better, that my children would miss out, but everything had always been normal with my bubs,” she says.
“It’s not easy being a busy mum and sometimes you just need to do what you can to get through the day. In many ways I was a lone soldier, but I would do it again.”
- The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends babies be exclusively breastfed until around six months of age, with breastfeeding to continue alongside appropriate first foods until at least 12 months of age. While breastfeeding is the ideal way to nourish your baby, we recognise that not all mums are able to do so. If you have any concerns about your breastfed or bottle-fed baby, see your child health nurse or GP.