Before I was pregnant I knew nothing about babies or breastfeeding. Honestly, it was Greek to me. Well, no, because I understand some Greek. But it was a whole other world.
Since having my little girl 11 months ago, however, everything has changed. So for just a few minutes here, I want to ignore what I’ve since learned about the health benefits of breastfeeding and ignore the nutritional value of formula versus breast milk and focus on the practicalities of breastfeeding in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way.
I know some people medically cannot breastfeed and everyone has a right to make their own decisions on how to feed their children, and I’m fine with that, but it really fascinates me that anyone would choose formula feeding over breastfeeding for two simple reasons: effort and money.
Sterilising bottles, mixing bottles, carrying around bottles, powder, mixing measures, waking up in the night to mix bottles (as you’re not supposed to add formula to cooled water, nor keep bottles made up for more than 2 hours) and sitting up with a baby that needs to feed and then be burped!
It’s no wonder new mothers are so tired if that’s what the majority have to do from about six weeks on.
And some of the mothers I’ve spoken to are constantly confused by what the different brands are: which one is better, which has the best ingredients or less of the worst. One of the forums I use has questions every day regarding which number formula babies of x-y-z age should be on, plus in some places a visit to a paediatrician is recommended before you can move up to the next ‘stage’.
Then there’s follow-on milk, which is essentially the same stuff with a little iron and vitamin C added. The World Health Organisation says it’s totally unnecessary, and some even believe it was created purely to raise awareness of the brands available â€“ since it’s allowed to be advertised, whereas newborn milk isn’t.
I have to admit, I’m a lazy mother.
I prefer just popping my boob out at any time of the day or night and having food on tap, at the right temperature, germ free, perfectly suited to my baby, with antibodies that appear when my daughter is unwell, and extra water when it’s hot outside and a hundred other things.
Breastfeeding also means I’m in no rush to wean. None of this solids at three months business for us. We truly do live by the ‘food is fun till one’ philosophy in this house. I don’t have to puree anything, mash anything and I do not spend hours spoonfeeding a refusing baby. Baby led weaning is this breastfeeding mama’s best friend.
I’m also not worried whether she’s eating enough, because being fed on demand means we both know she can eat whenever she wants to. No healthy baby starves herself willingly either.
I escaped a particularly driving London rainstorm a few days ago by ducking into a local shop. Needing nothing, I browsed around and discovered the cans of formula. Well, I nearly fell over in shock. I do not know how people afford it.
I’m shooting in the dark here, as I’ve never needed to buy any, but apparently you can expect to spend between $1500 and $2000 in your babies first year on milk powder alone â€“ none of the other accessories. Polling a few of my Twitter friends, formula feeding in the UK is considerably cheaper at roughly Â£400 a year, for powdered formula only, Â£150 of which can be subsidised if you’re on a low income. (In South Africa you can expect to spend between R7000 [roughly Â£600] and R8000 a year.)
A quick Google tells me your basic ‘bottle feeding essentials’ kit will cost you about Â£65 on top of that.
So, breastfeeding has its expenses too, I guess. I mean, my breast pump cost about Â£70 on sale and two months supply of milk storage bags cost me Â£8, so an additional Â£48 a year. I received a bottle and teats with my pump, so that didn’t cost any more. I microwave sterilise in a bowl of water, and use crushed vitamin C tablets which are about 100 for Â£20, but must admit I normally stock up when Holland and Barret have a sale, so only pay about Â£10 for it. Even so, if I sterilised every day, which I never have, at full price that would be another Â£60 a year.
(I must also admit that I haven’t spent much on any of this as my daughter refuses to accept a bottle with anything other than plain water in it, so I drink the vitamin C tablets as it passes through the breast milk, so she gets it. Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron, so whatever she eats with iron in it is sucked up happily by her little body.)
Many people never express at all, which is fine too, but it does help when you want someone else to feed the baby from time to time.
I never bothered with breast pads past the first six weeks, but you can buy reusable pads for Â£5 for six. If you don’t want to wash every day, you’ll probably buy two sets, so that’s another Â£10. Tommee Tippee even do cooling breast pads, also for Â£10 for two sets. If you use disposables, it will cost probably about Â£10 a month.
So all in, a year’s worth of breastfeeding has cost me Â£190, including all accessories â€“ the food itself has been totally free of charge. My second year will cost me nothing in equipment, and maybe Â£48 in freezer bags, although really, nothing is stopping me from just freezing it in the bottles.
I know some mothers are medically incapable of breastfeeding, and for them I feel sympathy and empathy, but I honestly, truly cannot understand how anyone could choose not to breastfeed. Health and nutrition aside, as I said in the beginning, just these two factors alone are enough to persuade me.
I would love to hear from those who chose to formula feed why you made that choice. Not because you have to justify it to me, but because I’m really curious.