Thursday, August 21, 2014

Breastfeeding , formula feeding and the data-less tamasha.

So this has been a simmering rant for the past few months, and I really wanted to wait to blog it out when I am in a more composed frame of mind, and not simmering and apoplectic.

Lets start with something else though to put things in perspective.

Exercising is good for you. There is one ton for data, your own experience, and plain common sense to back that. But perhaps you don't exercise, or perhaps close family members don't. Sure you feel a bit bad about it. But do you spend every ounce of your energy worrying about it, complaining about it, nagging about it?

Eating 'good food' is good for you. Ditto about backing data, common sense and probably your personal experience to support that. But how often and how much do you follow common sense here?

There are various other things like that, which measurably and unmistakably improve our lives and  the lives of our children. However we usually don't spend all our time and energy worrying and nagging about it.

So what makes breastfeeding such a different case? Breastmilk is a gazillion times better than formula ( and we will come to the data on that in a minute). Even assuming that it has the same easily measurable and quantifiable data to back that, ( and it doesn't, yet), even if thats so, surely it deserves to be treated at the same level as your own exercise and healthy eating?

But no, its like the moment the topic is breastfeeding, we throw our common sense to the winds, mothers get trapped in guilt trips, and the whole world feels like it has full freedom to tell you that you must breastfeed. Its one thing to ask about it,  but quite another to give advice on various mythical reasons why it must be done. When you meet a person with no stamina and visibly out of shape , do you directly start expounding the case for exercise and good food to him/her? And that is a more straightforward case of cause and effect than breastfeeding will ever be. What happens to your urge to give them good advice for their own good then?

I have been told various things, ranging from the likely to the ludicrous. If the baby sucks a nipple and not a breast, his jaws will not develop and he won't learn to swallow well. The bottles will cause infections. The mother-child bond will not develop. He will fall ill more often. You will die of breast cancer. I tried to find the data behind them. Its iffy at best.

I personally feel breastmilk is probably better, mostly based on my bias for things natural vs things artificial. Also what literature I could find on the internet, often pointed to the great things breastmilk has: antibodies, balanced amino acids, perfect ratio of protein and fat, adequate hydration, and droplets of elixir / amrit to make the baby a superman/hanuman.. Ok, maybe not those last.. ! But there is actually very little literature to prove how much this actually affects the baby in a quantifiable and measurable way. The best that most sites can do, is say that breastfed babies fall ill less often. If you google for breastmilk vs formula, you will find lots of respectable sites rooting for breastmilk. When you open them, you will find a dazzling array of the advantages of this elixir. Just one thing, if you are in an open frame of mind. Read them carefully, and then make a list of words like usually, may, probably. BM may do this wonderfully, BM probably does that wonderful thing. The less respectable and more sensationalist sites probably dispense with those carefully inserted may/probably.

In that case, lets go searching for some studies. Studies which will stand up to dispel doubts in a sceptic. Studies with adequate sample sizes, accounting for correlation vs causation, ensuring a double blind, and most importantly, measuring the effect of the milk and not just the constituents of milk. Now that is a really difficult one, because the data is minimal, and its really hard to eliminate other correlations. Here's a skeptical one which goes contrary to established wisdom.

Personally, I don't breastfeed directly. It was the most painful thing in my life, ( even counting labour, induced labour after a missed miscarriage, post c-sec pain with very few painkillers). I found a compromise solution in pumping and giving. I am lucky that nn could afford an expensive machine, and I have the time, space and facilities at home to do this. If I didn't, I would largely and perhaps even exclusively, formula feed.

Parenting is a lot more than just feeding. A whole lot more. And the differences between the effects of formula and breastmilk are minuscule and not well understood, compared to various other things you can do for your child.

Advice to self : laugh at the advice givers, rather than getting all laal-peela. If you give breastmilk, they will turn their energies to how you are not eating right and hence not producing the right milk. And if you are eating right, they will then tell you that the food today is full of chemicals and pesticides. One way or the other its all your fault that the baby cries. These people are basically looking for someone to blame, and in a new mom, they usually find the perfect guilt-filled person. If you check further, you will also usually find that they are either child-less or parents with normal flawed children. After all, no one raises perfect children, and then we all feel that we failed as parents. Perhaps setting more stringent standards for someone else, will give us an outlet for our own guilt. 

1 comment:

Gunjan said...

This topic is really close to my heart. I had lot of trouble initially making my LO latch on. And then when he was comfortable on BF, every time he cried people felt he was hungry! Even if I had fed him a few minutes back!

I followed my paed and he said the child should be fed well whether by Breast Milk or Formula milk. And obviously suggested to prefer BF over Formula.

My older one hasn't had a drop of BF and younger one just left it on his own. I have no regret for this whatsoever. We have good relationship with or without BM :)