Many Ways to Feed Human Milk
At first glance, you might think that this is an article describing the many ways to position a baby to eat. There are many: cradle hold, football hold, side lying, even while wearing baby in a carrier or wrap! But today’s focus is on encouraging families to discard preconceived notions about infant feeding. Rather than believe that there is a “correct way", parents should be encouraged and empowered to design a style of feeding that works best for them.
Discretion. Different people have varied comfort levels surrounding nursing in public or even just around other people in general. Some parents feed their babies openly without thinking twice. Others tend to be more discreet, using creative clothing choices or a cover in a way that makes it difficult to even see that feeding is taking place. Some choose to pump their milk to feed via bottle when out and about. There is no wrong way to offer your milk to your baby. Finding what works best for each individual is the goal.
Duration. Breastfeeding is recommended by the AAP and WHO as the exclusive food source for the first 6 months of a child’s life, and as a part of their diet for up to 2 years (yes, years!) and beyond. But any amount of human milk is better than none at all! Some people feel that breastfeeding children long term is best for their family, while others like the idea of weaning at a set age. Some people know that they only plan to provide human milk until they return to the workforce. Occasionally, we even see families that want to provide only colostrum to their babies while they are in the hospital after delivery with no intent to continue after discharge. Each of these is a valid choice, but the majority of families don’t have a specific goal in mind and instead set out to provide their milk for as long as it feels like it is working for them personally.
Combination Feeding. Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding is not always black and white, all or none! While exclusive human milk is the recommendation, it is not always possible or desired. Sometimes babies need to be supplemented with parent’s pumped milk, donor milk, or formula for medical reasons. Sometimes it’s an educated choice that families make consciously. Even when exclusive human milk can be provided, a majority of today’s parents need to return to the workforce at some point. Most people are able to pump their milk for baby’s bottles when they are separated, but others decide to use formula while away and still nurse when they are home with baby. Other parents decide right from birth that they will exclusively pump their milk for their baby and never attempt latching. This option can feel particularly accessible for some people depending on their personal history and preferences.
When all the pieces of the breastfeeding relationship are not working as planned, a lactation consultant can help identify goals and priorities to find sustainable solutions. In any case, asserting your own personal style into your feeding relationship with your child can make parenting in the early months and years more manageable and enjoyable.
Nicole Troop, RN, is a lactation consultant at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.