Breast feed or bottle feed? Choice can leave women feeling guilty

According to new research, the slogan “breast is best” in regards to feeding newborn babies may cause mothers who formula-feed their infants to feel guilty about it and a need to defend their actions.

The researchers surveyed 890 mothers of infants up to the age of 26 weeks, all of whom formula-feeding their infants at the time of study. Two in three reported feeling guilty, 68 percent felt stigmatized, and 76 percent felt they had to defend their choice of feeding method.

The highest levels of guilt were felt by mothers who planned to exclusively breast-feed and those who initiated breast-feeding but stopped.

In a second study, the researchers recruited 845 mothers of infants aged up to 26 weeks who were either exclusively breast-feeding or combination feeding with part breast milk, part formula. In this group, 15 percent reported feeling guilty, 38 percent reported feeling stigmatized, and 55 percent felt the need to defend their feeding choice. Both studies were published in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months of life. After that, breast-feeding should continue while slowly introducing solid foods. Studies show that breastfeeding can lower the baby’s risk of allergies, obesity and SIDS, and the mothers risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of breast and ovarian cancer.

However, not all women are successful. “The ‘breast is best’ message has, in many cases, done more harm than good and we need to be very careful of the use of words in future breastfeeding promotion campaigns, said Victoria Fallon, Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool England, a coauthor of the studies. “It is crucial that future recommendations recognize the challenges that exclusive breast-feeding to 6 months brings and provide a more balanced and realistic target for mothers.”

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