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The Value of Flexibility in Breastfeeding

There are so many reasons why breastmilk is the optimal feeding choice both for your baby’s health and your own health. In addition to physical health benefits, breastfeeding can also bring the wonderful psychological benefits of bonding between mom and baby. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding after that along with introducing complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer.

How Realistic is Exclusive Breastfeeding?

As a new mom, you want to do what’s best for your baby. In theory, exclusive Breastfeeding is the perfect choice for every mom, however in practice it doesn’t always turn out that way. Not every mom is able to produce sufficient breastmilk, whether it be related to a physiological reason or related to a circumstance in her life. It’s very easy for moms to get discouraged when they can’t exclusively breastfeeding and many women choose to stop breastfeeding completely, seeing breastfeeding as something that is “all or nothing”. I am here to tell you that when it comes to breastfeeding "some is better than none", even if it means deviating from the "perfect" ideal.

Even Some Breastmilk Can Be Beneficial

As a Certified Nurse Midwife and as an internationally board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) for the last 14 years, I can tell you that while you should strive for exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life, breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing and there are many benefits to providing your baby with as much breastmilk as you are able to produce.  Here are some benefits that even a small amount of breastmilk can provide:

  • Nutrition: Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants providing nutrients that cannot be replicated in synthetic formulas. Breastmilk is easy to digest and has been shown to better benefit brain development compared to alternative options. As adults we may not eat perfect foods at every meal, but we know eating nutritious whole foods at some meals is better than never eating them. Even if a baby doesn’t receive breastmilk for every meal, the nutritious benefits of some breastmilk outweigh no breastmilk.
  • Antibodies: Breastmilk is abundant in antibodies, which offer babies protection against illness. Your body can even customize these antibodies based on the illnesses to which they are exposed. Research shows that even minimal amounts (less than 2 ounces) of breastmilk per day can help prevent diseases in breastfed babies. The body increases the concentration of antibodies as milk supply decreases, ensuring strong protection even when smaller amounts of milk are provided.
  • Emotional Connection: Breastfeeding can be a very special time of connection for mom’s and babies, especially upon first waking in the morning and at bedtime. These moments of connection can be very meaningful and important even if they don’t occur around the clock 24 hours a day. Having a time to come together, even once a day, can be greatly beneficial and stress relieving for both mom and baby.
  • Keeping Your Options Open: Many women quit breastfeeding when things are really tough. Sometimes this provides immediate relief, but later women experience regret about their decision. If you take the approach of continuing to produce some breastmilk without the pressure of providing exclusive breastmilk, you have the option to work towards increasing your breastmilk supply again at a later date or stopping breastfeeding when it feels right, as opposed to when things are really tough. 

Exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life is the ideal choice if possible. For mothers facing the choice between "all or nothing," it's essential to remember that "some is better than none" in breastfeeding. It is important to be flexible and adaptable in the journey of motherhood. It is also important to know that perfection isn't required to be a good mom. Often, offering what we can is enough to significantly benefit our families.

Elizabeth Mollard, CNM
Elizabeth Mollard, CNM

Elizabeth Mollard, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at the CHI Health Birth Center at Lincoln.

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