Monday, March 5, 2012

Is It Really About What's "Easier?"

First of all, happy birthday to Jessica on Babies! This blog is officially a year old as of Saturday. I thank my loyal readers for keeping me writing, and my kids for giving me ever more to write about! I expressed interest in conducting a giveaway of my Kindle book in celebration of this milestone, but I need to know if people will participate in the sweepstakes if I run one. If you think you'd want to enter for a chance to win a free copy of my book for yourself or someone you know, please comment below or on my previous post and say so! Thanks! If I don't get any comments, I'll scrap the idea.

The great debate in infant feeding rages on, especially now that the AAP has updated and clarified its guidelines on infant feeding:
"Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition. Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaf´Čürms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant."
The strong statement about breastfeeding as a public health issue, and not just a "choice," is a huge step forward in breastfeeding language and thought within the medical community, and I think the AAP should be commended for taking such a stand.

I often read and hear people debating about which is "easier," formula-feeding or breast-feeding, with fair points on both sides. There are ways in which feeding formula from a bottle is "easier," and there are ways in which feeding human milk directly from the breast is "easier." I'll even outline a few of each for you here, from my own experience.

Some ways in which formula-feeding is "easier" than breast-feeding:

  1. Other people can feed the baby without mom having to pump.
  2. There is a very short learning curve.
  3. You can see how much the baby is eating.
  4. Mom doesn't have to worry about what she eats and drinks.
  5. Mom can be away from the baby for an extended period of time.
Some ways in which breast-feeding is "easier" than formula-feeding:
  1. No bottles to wash or prepare.
  2. You don't have to wake up all the way for the middle-of-the-night feedings.
  3. Never have to worry about running out of food for the baby.
  4. Food is always the right temperature, quantity, and composition.
  5. It's cheaper.
When you look at it, it's kind of a silly list. It's all about the bottles and the preparation and who feeds the baby. Is that really what's most important? Is that really what the "choice" is about? What's easier? It's also "easier" to plop our kids in front of the TV all day instead of engaging with them. It's easier to take them to McDonald's every day instead of cooking healthy meals for them. It's easier to let them roll around in the back seat than install car seats and buckle them in every time. It's easier to let them do whatever they want than to try to discipline them. Heck, it's easier to keep them in diapers than to potty train them (believe me). But we wouldn't dream of making any of those choices just because they're "easier," would we? (Gosh, I hope not!)

How and what we feed our children, not just as infants but throughout their childhood, is a small percentage of the enormous body of choices we make for them as they grow. All of these decisions matter, some maybe more than others, but every choice we make for our children affects their health, well-being, happiness, and future. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether a particular choice we make is going to have a long-term consequence or benefit for our particular child, but we can look at statistics and research to make as informed a decision as possible based on overall trends. For example, it is quite clear that, when looking at a total population, people who were fed formula as babies are more prone to a host of diseases and problems, from food allergies to ear infections to diabetes and cancer, than people who were breastfed as babies. Evidence mounts. The risk for your specific child may be somewhat small, and perhaps it is a risk you are willing to - or must - take, given a medical, emotional, or family situation that makes breastfeeding an insurmountable challenge or undesirable option. However, it is important to admit that every choice you make has the potential to deeply affect your child's life.

I don't mean to cause you any terrible anxiety about what you feed your kid for breakfast tomorrow or whether you send them to preschool or what brand of jeans you purchase for them. I firmly believe that, for the most part, as long as we follow our instincts as parents, stick to our own moral codes, and, most of all, show our children that we love them, most of our other choices probably will not have lasting impact. However, the choices that are more likely to have long-term consequences for your child's health and well-being should be considered more deeply. So, while having French fries for all three meals one day is not likely to be a big problem, you probably don't want to get your child in the habit of eating that way on a regular basis. (Hey, I have a three-year-old. I sympathize!)

Since studies and statistics and research have shown that there is clearly a difference between breastmilk and formula in the long-term, this is a parenting decision that we need to think longer and harder about and educate ourselves about more, rather than choosing based on what's "easier."

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