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Guilt-Free Infant Feeding

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

Nursing an infant is a natural function, but that doesn't mean it comes naturally to every woman, including me – at least not right away.

Breastfeeding my first baby was a rocky affair for the first few weeks. When I was near the end of my rope from exhaustion and frustration, and ready to give up breastfeeding, I hired a lactation consultant for a home visit. Luckily, she helped me get over my initial difficulties. It was well worth the money.

While nursing went better after our visit, infant formula was always part of my feeding plan. I wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible, but I didn't want to be the sole source of good nutrition for my child. Within a month after she was born, my daughter knew how to take nourishment from a bottle containing breast milk or infant formula as well as she did from the breast.

I'm a dietitian and I highly recommend breastfeeding. But I also know that nursing isn't an option for every family. Moms must balance whatever else that's going on in their lives, including taking care of other children, working, and managing a household, with feeding their baby. Plus, every mother/child feeding relationship is unique. For example, I nursed my first daughter for five months, my second for four, and my third for eight months.

I'm not sure why, but infant formula is the source of a lot of motherly guilt. Given the fact that most moms use infant formula exclusively until solid foods are introduced or they supplement with formula within the first six months of life, there's apparently plenty of guilt to go around.

Motherly angst may be due in part to the recommendations from health experts to breastfeed for as long as one year, or longer. While nursing for 12 months or more is admirable, it's not always realistic, especially for working mothers who may not want to pump breast milk at work, or who may face difficulties in doing so.

Perhaps you planned to nurse your child and it just didn't work out, or maybe you never wanted to breastfeed. Whatever your choice, it never pays to feel bad about your lifestyle, and it's always best to do what's right for you and your family. As long as it's safe and healthy for your baby, it's most important to feel confident about your infant feeding decision, which may include using infant formula, breastfeeding, or a combination of the two.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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