Recently an expectant mom was in the store getting some last minute supplies for her baby. I love getting to know our customers, and since I'm a lactation consultant, I usually ask moms if they plan to breastfeed. Usually they say "yes." Sometimes they are undecided, but want to try. And every once in while, a mom will flat out say "no." That's what this mom said. But her reason absolutely floored me. She said, "I don't have to pay for formula, I'll just get it free, so there's no need to breastfeed." I was so taken aback by her comment that I was speechless!
I've had some time to think about it now, and if I could have that conversation again, here is what I would say:
"Breast Milk actually sets the standard for what your baby needs. We often say it is 'ideal' or 'nature's perfect' food for baby. However, it really is the norm. Anything else is substandard. Breastmilk is a living fluid filled with antibodies, enzymes, proteins and nutrients that are specifically designed for your baby. In fact, your breast milk changes as your baby grows.
"The very first milk your baby receives is called colostrum. It is particularly high in antibodies. In fact, doctors sometimes refer to colostrum as baby's first vaccination. It helps to protect baby's lungs, throat and intestines, and to "seal" baby's intestines to prevent harmful substances from penetrating the gut. It also has a laxative effect to help baby eliminate the meconium more quickly and prevent newborn jaundice. The small quantities of colostrum that your newborn receives are the perfect amount for his tiny stomach and readily digested. It is low in fat, but high in proteins and carbohydrates so baby gets exactly what his body can handle.
"No formula has ever been created to even attempt to replicate the properties of colostrum. So even if a mother isn't planning to breastfeed, we encourage her to pump her colostrum and give that to her baby.
"Between the 2nd and 6th day of baby's life, your breast milk "comes in." The breasts fill up and begin producing more copious supplies of milk designed to fill baby up and help baby achieve optimal growth. Actually for about the first two weeks, colostrum is still present in the milk, so we call it "transitional milk."
"Your milk changes from morning to evening and continues to evolve to meet your growing baby's needs. In the morning you have a more abundant supply of milk, but in the evening it is higher in long-chain fatty acids. No man-made substance can copy these diurnal variations!"
That is what I would have said if I had been able to collect my thoughts quickly enough. And I would have told her that when her baby gets a little older, the amount of free formula she gets won't be enough to satisfy him, so she'll still end up buying formula. Then I might have added that by not providing breast milk for her baby, she is increasing her baby's risk of developing a myriad of health problems from juvenile diabetes to obesity to childhood leukemia.
Do you think it would have made a difference?