Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Breastfeed?

Consider these two meals:

While the hamburger and french fries look fairly tasty, and I'm sure many of us have been known to indulge occasionally (or often) in high-fat, relatively unhealthy foods, most of us also know that the pretty salad would be a better choice. We know that eating vegetables and fruits that are in a form closest to nature are better for our bodies. We know that deep fried, white carbs are the antithesis of a healthy diet, and we know that red meat, high in saturated fat, clogs our arteries and could shorten our lives. We know that our bodies absorb nutrients from natural sources more readily than from multivitamins or "enriched" foods. We know that fast food is prepared and processed with artificial flavors, excess salt, and with little regard to the health of the person consuming it.

We know these things.

And because we know these things, we try to make good choices as often as we can. We eat fruits and vegetables more often than McDonald's. We offer our kids water instead of Hi-C or sodas. We provide carrot sticks instead of cookies. Cupcakes are an occasional treat, not an everyday snack. At the very least, we allow ourselves to feel a twinge of guilt when we reach for a doughnut instead of a carrot stick.

We want what's best for our kids. We want them to live long, healthy lives. Part of giving them that gift, the gift of health, the gift of a great start, is feeding them well and teaching them good eating habits.

What does this have to do with breastfeeding?

Well, everything.

Consider these two meals:


Both are legitimate ways to feed a baby. Both are common sights. Some babies eat formula. Some babies eat breastmilk. Some eat a combination of both. When we choose how to feed our babies, do we make the same considerations about these early milks as we do about their diets at three, four, 12 years old? We should!

Formula is also known as "artificial baby milk." It is a hodgepodge of cow's or soy milk that's been modified to alter the fat and sugar content to more closely mimic human milk. It has sweeteners, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fats added to it to try to bring the nutritional balance as close to human milk as scientists can manage. The vitamins in formula are chemically derived from various animal and vegetable sources. Formula is engineered food.

Breastmilk is nature's baby food. It has everything the baby needs, in exactly the proportions he needs it. Its nutrients are readily available to the baby's body, just as the iron in spinach is more available to our bodies than that in an iron supplement. It is natural. It is delivered in the proper portion size directly from the breast.

Just as people can survive on prepared, processed foods and fast food, babies survive on formula. Just as eating Burger King and Hungry Man dinners every day provides calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to adults, artificial baby milk provides calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins to babies.

But surviving is not the optimal state. Surviving is just getting by. We don't want our kids to just get by, we want them to thrive, to reach their full potential, to be as healthy as nature intended them to be. For that, they need those healthy foods, the foods nature intended them to eat, and at the very tippy top of the list of those natural foods is breastmilk. If we start them out on breastmilk, we are providing the food they are meant to eat, the nutrition their bodies are designed to understand and use.

A newborn baby will eat at least eight, and sometimes closer to 10 to 12, times in a 24 hour period. Imagine if you ate fast food or frozen dinners for every single meal, three to five times a day, every day, for a year. It sounds harsh, but that's basically what feeding a baby formula is. The human body is incredibly adaptable and will attempt to continue to grow even in difficult circumstances, but we can't develop fully on a diet that is only letting us survive.

It's time to be honest with ourselves about how we're choosing to feed our babies. Do we want them to have everything they need or mostly what they need? Do we want them to simply survive, or do we want them to thrive? The issue is not whether breastfeeding or formula feeding is "easier." The issue is not about guilt or "mom-petition." The issue is creating a healthier society, one baby at a time.

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