When it comes to an infant's diet, there is no one "right" way. The primary caregiver’s mental health overrides any formula vs. breast milk debate. But in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, let’s review some nursing pros and cons:
The mother-infant bonding that happens during breastfeeding helps to build a secure attachment relationship while the physical touch, eye contact, and mirroring of facial expressions during a feed helps release the “feel-good” hormone of oxytocin. This can also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. And breast milk itself is amazing! Skin irritations can miraculously be healed by a drop of breastmilk. A mother’s breast milk contains essential nutrients and antibodies to promote growth and cure illness in her infant, while the infant’s saliva contains microbes that are passed through the nipple during breastfeeding that target specific ailments in the lactating body. It is a process that is beautifully symbiotic.
On the other hand, breastfeeding can come with a cost, and is hardly a positive or easy experience for all lactating people. The unpaid labor of pumping and nursing an infant every 2-3 hours can be literally draining, demanding, and at times isolating and restrictive. In addition to an array of physical complications including supply issues, nipple pain, or mastitis, some women also experience overwhelmingly negative feelings while breastfeeding called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex, which includes strong feelings of sadness, disgust, anxiety, or rage during the first 10 minutes of each feed. This syndrome was first coined in 2007, so research around the scientific etiology is still emerging around the hormonally-induced stress response to breastfeeding that involves fluctuating levels of oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine. Weaning and decreasing the number of feeds throughout the day can also trigger an increase in anxiety, and lead to feelings of shame around the length of time breastfeeding a baby.
Sustaining a fully dependent human is hard work, regardless of how it’s done. Cheers to all those feeding littles world-wide.
Original photo by Lucas Mendes via Unsplash
Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C