Healthy Alternatives to Breastfeeding
We all want the very best for our babies – and that means the best nutrition from the earliest days.
Human breast milk has been tailored through generations to meet your baby’s requirements in the best possible way. It not only contains all the nutrients your baby needs, it also contains maternal antibodies to diseases that will protect him for the first three months or so of his life.
But some mothers can’t breastfeed for various reasons – and luckily there are healthy alternatives.
Many people are concerned about “bonding” with their baby when breastfeeding isn’t their chosen method of feeding the baby. But think about it for a moment, the baby is born already bonded with his mother, he will take many years hopefully to fully snap the bond and be fully independent. And the first stage was the cutting of the umbilical cord.
Babies are already bonded to their mothers. But that bond can be strengthened and nourished by the right ways to feed your baby. And bottle feeding done with love and care can be just as fulfilling as breastfeeding. It also allows dad or other family members to start creating a bond that will last for many years.
Alternative ways of getting breast milk
Some women either cannot or do not want to breastfeed. Around 20-25% of new mothers may have some difficulty – and around 2-5 % simply can’t breastfeed. They may suffer from such complications as cracked nipples, engorged breasts, inadequate supply of milk, inverted nipples, or yeast infections. Fortunately, we have healthy alternatives. These include using your own milk with the aid of a breast pump, milk from milk donors, formula milk, and the use of wet nurses – popular not so long ago among the wealthier classes.
The baby is fed exclusively on the mother’s own milk – but it is pumped into a container and can be frozen or kept in the fridge until it is time to warm it up and use it. The baby is fed from a bottle. This is ideal for those mothers whose babies cannot latch onto the nipple for any reason. It is also great when the mother cannot breastfeed temporarily for any reason and needs dad or someone else to feed the baby at that time. For some women, it may also be seen as more acceptable than breastfeeding in public.
Some women find it uncomfortable when they are hooked up to a machine that sucks (forcefully) the milk from their bodies. The suction feels strong – and wouldn’t you rather be hooked up to your baby? But the baby has all the benefits of breast milk despite problems in breastfeeding. The mothers need to keep to a fairly rigid schedule to prevent the milk from drying up. This method can be quite demanding.
None the less, some babies refuse to take milk from a bottle. They want the warm, soft breast and they scream and carry on than they feel thwarted.
Some women produce copious amounts of milk – and where better to send the surplus than to a milk bank, where it can be issued to the mother with scarce milk. If you choose this way to feed your baby, there are some steps you need to take to ensure that the milk is safe.
- Has the donor been screened? Some diseases like HIV can be passed onto the baby through breast milk.
- Is the milk drug-free, has it been tested?
- Are there any other toxic substances in the milk?
- The level of hygiene. How does the bank ensure everything is clean and sterile?
Wet nurses or cross nursing
The wet nurse feeds your child when you can’t. This was the acceptable method of feeding the baby born into aristocratic families in many countries, not very long ago. Just as in the use of milk from milk banks there are certain things you should do to ensure your wet nurse is healthy.
- Are they eating a proper diet?
- Is she taking any drugs – prescription or otherwise?
- Has she any infections?
- Has she a healthy lifestyle?
- What are her standards of hygiene?
Formula milk is the most common alternative used to breastmilk, so let’s look at it in more detail. Firstly – what is it?
Formula milk is usually made from cows’ milk. The cow’s milk is treated so that it suits human babies. There are many different types to choose from – so you will need to read the labels carefully.
There are some inherent problems with formula milk – but when you take care it can be a healthy alternative to breast milk. When you are aware of the possible problems then you can be sure to avoid mistakes. Here are the most common difficulties you might encounter:
- Most formula milks come as a powder you mix with water to make it up to the required strength. You can buy ready liquid milks – these must be used by the “use-by” date, which may not be long once opened – and they are often dearer to buy.
- Formula milk comes packed with the nutrients your baby needs, but they cannot have the immunological benefits of breast milk – which can protect our baby from some infections.
- Another problem with formula milk is that it is easy to give too much. It is important not to give in to the temptation to mix the feed too concentrated in the hope that that will satisfy the baby’s hunger for longer. Breast-fed babies tend to be slimmer and this extra weight often carries on into adult life.
- Sterilization is another thing to contend with. The water must be clean and the bottles sterile. So you will need to make up the feeds with close attention to hygiene and storage.
- Clear instruction is often lacking. Many parents have to rely on the label on the tin!
Types of formula milk
Cow’s milk has two sorts of protein – casein and whey. “First formula” uses whey protein because this is easier for young babies to digest. This is suitable from birth. Whether you later change to another formula is up to you, but by six months of age, your baby will probably be wanting to adventure into baby and puried foods. First formula should be adequate for most babies for their first year – and then they will progress to cow’s milk or similar products.
Formula milk is fortified with the vitamins your baby needs so you do not need to add vitamin D drop every day as you do with breastfeeding. Breastfed babies require 400 IU every day to prevent bone disease such as rickets. Mothers should also ensure that they, too, have sufficient vitamin D.
Advantages of formula milk
One advantage is that anyone can feed the baby and others can bond with the baby during feeding. It’s also easy to obtain supplies at most grocery stores. Many mothers do find it’s easier than breastfeeding – a plus if the mother is exhausted – maybe someone else can get up in the middle of the night sometimes to feed the baby! It’s also acceptable in that mothers do not have to either feel embarrassed at public breastfeeding or have to find a secluded place when they are out and about.
Many people are still uncomfortable when they see a woman breastfeeding her baby in public. Most countries have laws to protect women how chose to breastfeed in public, although some people can be very antagonistic. It’s easy enough to use a shield of some kind for some – but others find the darkness and heat upsets the baby who fights the feed – it doesn’t work for them. The use of a bottle and formula milk obliterates this as a problem.
Another advantage can be when the mother has a sudden emergency and either her milk dries up or she has to deal with other disturbing problems, and I mean big problems. Problems that would disrupt her baby’s routine.
One other advantage of bottle feeding is for the slow feeder. Some babies just want to linger and may even go to sleep while feeding. When bottle feeding you are able to adjust the size of the hole in the teat so the flow is faster – just don’t drown your child! Feeding too fast causes indigestion, excessive burping. and your baby might simply regurgitate or vomit the feedback up.
How do parents choose which formula to use?
The label on the tin is often the deciding factor! And will the baby drink it is the other crucial factor?
Some people are reassured if the label says “organic” since they feel more certain that harmful substances have been eliminated. “hypoallergenic” is another word that encourages mothers to try this brand. They may be influenced by the country of origin – close to home often feels safer. Ease of supply is another factor – if you can’t rely on a steady supply it’s not for this baby!
Many new mothers take advice from anyone willing to give it. This might be medical professionals, or mothers, grandparents, or even from advertisements. Sometimes the advice is good, sometimes less so. One’s own experience is usually reliable so how have previous babies of yours responded? Maybe the brand is important in making a choice since you feel you can trust it. Advertising has so many ways to persuade us.
The link between formula milk and obesity
Although the link between formula milk and obesity later in life is not fully understood, we do know that overfeeding with formula milk is easy. Obesity in adults is less likely to develop when the child has been breastfed.
Milks you should avoid
When your baby is under a year old you should avoid giving any of the following types of milk – your baby’s digestive system has not developed enough to cope with them – and unpasteurised milk has its own dangers of infection, food poisoning, and possibly serious illness.
Raw milk might contain bacteria like E. coli, Campylobacter, Listeria, and of course, Salmonella. Pasteurized milk has been heated to a specific temperature that kills these harmful bacteria. You also need to avoid the following milks:
- Condensed milk – too dense and too sweet. (It would probably clog up the teat on the bottle too.
- Evaporated milk
- Dried milk – ordinary dried cow’s milk does not have the necessary added nutrients that formula milk has and it’s all too easy to make it up too concentrated. It is not a healthy alternative to breast milk.
- Cow’s milk as a drink before the child’s first birthday – but you can use it in cooking
- Unpasteurized milk – that includes unpasteurized goat or sheep’s milk. They are fine if pasteurized
- Soya, rice, almond, coconut kinds of milk. These may contain glucose which harms the baby’s new teeth, so best only use if a qualified medical practitioner advises you to. It may be an alternative for those babies who are allergic to cow’s milk.
After the first birthday, children can drink whole cow’s milk (pasteurized) and once your child is two then semi-skimmed milk is a good alternative provided your child is getting a balanced diet.
Breastfeeding has many advantages. It is safe from contamination. It contains every nutrient your baby needs – except sufficient vitamin D. It’s a well-proved method, tested over thousands of years! It can be a wonderfully satisfying procedure for both baby and mother, it nourished the bond between them.
But some mothers either cannot or do not want to breastfeed. There are several healthy alternatives. These include ways to give your baby your own milk or the milk from another human being who produces a surplus and donates it to a milk bank. Provided you take suitable precautions these are both excellent healthy alternatives, although some women find it using the breast pump is uncomfortable.
The most common alternative to breastmilk is the use of formula milk. These have been perfected over many years and contain all the nutrients and vitamins your baby needs. Provided the water is clean, hygiene is maintained and over-feeding is not encouraged, formula feeding provides a healthy alternative to breastfeeding.