The guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) for infant feeding recommends exclusive direct breastfeeding for the first six months of life. After the first six months, a baby should be given complementary nutritious food but to continue breastfeeding the baby up to the age of 2 years and beyond.
At the Smart Parenting "All About Baby" Mom Workshop at the Discovery Suites Hotel, lactation counselor Sylvia Malabanan of L.A.T.C.H. Philippines shared that when a mom cannot do direct breastfeeding, WHO then recommends feeding the baby with expressed breast milk. If that is still not possible, the next best choices are breast milk provided by a wet nurse or the milk bank. (The least preferred but not necessarily bad option is formula milk.)
For moms who go back to work after their maternity leave, direct breastfeeding (when the baby lactches directly to the breast) and expressing breast milk with the help of a pump usually go hand-in-hand. But there are those who decide to exclusively pump even when they're physically with their baby, and they get criticized for doing so. Many have asked: how can pumping breast milk be second best when it is still the same precious liquid gold?
There are reasons direct breastfeeding has always been considered ideal by experts. Here are the eight benefits they usually highlight.
1. Expressing milk can be stressful and time-consuming. Malabanan, who nursed all her three children up to age 2 while working full-time, admitted that using a breast pump can be tedious with the parts you need to clean after every pumping session. You also have to always bring it with you because you need to pump about every three hours that you're separated from the baby.
2. There's always the possibility of wastage. You need to build your milk stash before going to work. That means you need to get well acquainted with how to correctly handle and store breast milk to avoid wasting any of it. Pumping milk is also still not as easy as latching baby to the breast whenever he needs to feed, especially during nighttime feedings.
3. Hand expression is more safer than using a pump. "Using your own hands to express milk is the preferred method of removing the milk from your breast," Malabanan recommends. "If you’re not using your pump properly or if you're using an ill-fitted flange, you could damage your breast tissue," she explains. Hand-expressing breast milk takes practice to learn, though.
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4. Latching helps your body produce milk your baby needs. When your baby latches to your breasts, your nipples absorbs his saliva, which sends a signal to your brain to produce more milk depending on your baby's needs, Malabanan explains. It's the reason why breast milk constantly changes its composition. When your baby needs more antibodies to fight a bacteria he was accidentally exposed, you've got that covered when you're direct breastfeeding.
5. Direct breastfeeding stimulates breast milk production. Breastfeeding follows the law of supply and demand. If you don't empty your breasts often, your body will think you don't need to produce more milk. Exclusively pumping makes it difficult to sustain your milk supply. Malabanan cites a study that claim that babies whose moms only pump breast milk tend to wean earlier.
6. Nursing directly gives babies needed jaw and tongue exercise. "[Your baby's] tongue move in a wave manner, so your nipples are stimulated to make more milk," Malabanan says. Your body is producing milk based on your baby's demand for it. Bottle-feeding does not exercise tongue and jaw of the baby. It's also the reason why cup feeding is recommended by experts more than the bottle.
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7. Direct breastfeeding helps baby regulate his milk intake. According to Malabanan, breastfeed babies stop sucking on their mother's breast when they're full. When expressed milk is given to the baby via a bottle, there's a tendency to let the baby drink every drop because you cannot refreeze and rethaw the milk in the bottle. Some bottle nipples also tend to release milk even if the baby isn't sucking.
Malabanan points out how direct latching allows the mom to bond with her baby. It is this connection or attachment that moms can miss out on when they give their baby milk through the bottle. She believes, "It is fun and relaxing and emotionally rewarding to breastfeed a baby than to pump."
Malabanan, however, clarifies, "While direct breastfeeding is the most preferred choice, all breast milk, whether pumped or given directly, is beneficial to your baby." It's a mother's choice we should all respect.