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Forget the rest, breast is best

I remember the first time I was amazed with breasts.

I remember the first time I was amazed with breasts. 

I was in Malawi, and a kid started crying. A woman, who was almost two feet away, pulled her breast out of her shirt and passed it to the kid like a garden hose.

In Malawi, women breastfeed while working in the fields, pumping water and even riding on a bike. In my ignorance, I assumed that breastfeeding was an easy and instinctive activity.

There are few things in health care that have a global consensus, but breast milk over infant formula is one of them. Why?

Breast milk is like a three-course meal: you start off with a thirst-quenching soup, move on to a vitamin-rich main course, and end with a fatty dessert. Breast milk does not just change its composition during every feeding, but throughout the development of your baby, changing to meet your growing baby’s needs.

Other benefits include immune-boosting antibodies for the baby and mom enjoying an extra meal every day while still losing weight.

Knowing this, I was surprised to discover that while about 90 per cent of Canadian women start breastfeeding, about 45 per cent continue past three months, and only about 14 per cent of women follow the recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

Being a new breastfeeder, I now understand why the drop-out rate is so high.

Learning to breastfeed is a somewhat painful experience at a time when you are already in a lot of pain.  It hurts to sit, to walk, you haven’t slept well for days, and now your nipples are sore…and you want me to do this every two-to-three hours?

Soon you realize that the only thing you have done that day is eat, sleep, breastfeed, and maybe a load of laundry.

And it’s not like you can take a few days holiday or pass off the responsibility to your husband.

The good news is, breastfeeding gets easier, and some women really enjoy it.

There are many reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding early.

I am not trying to judge or condemn their decision, but I think it is important to realize that infant formula is not second best – pumping and bottle-feeding, using a breastmilk bank or supplementing what feeds you can do with formula are better choices than only formula for your child. 

As for me, I don’t know if I will ever enjoy breastfeeding, but I look forward to the day I can feed while riding my bike (just kidding).

- Serena Caner is a registered dietician who is currently on maternity leave from her position at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.