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Bottle feeding: Does that make me a "bad" mom?

QUESTION: I am planning on bottle feeding my new baby. I am so tired of hearing what a bad decision I'm making. I know the pros and cons and I just don't feel comfortable nursing. Can't I be a good mom and bottle feed too?

ANSWER: Of course you can! While breastfeeding has the advantages of supplying closeness with your baby and optimal nutrition, bottle feeding does not preclude holding your baby while you feed her and it also allows the father an important and satisfying connection in satisfying his baby, too!

Consult your pediatrician about finding the best possible formula for your baby and one that makes it less likely that your newborn will develop food allergies. Soy or other alternatives to cow's milk are popular choices on which babies can thrive.

Mom-baby fit is important

A key factor in mother-infant bonding is meeting the needs of both baby and mom. Breastfeeding can provide a perfect way to feed for many mothers, and should definitely be supported and encouraged for those who choose it as a preferred choice to nurture their newborn. But, if you have weighed both the pros and cons and concluded that for whatever reasons, breastfeeding is wrong for you, then it cannot be right for your baby! If you are decidedly uncomfortable with breastfeeding, your baby will experience your tension around it. And ongoing tensions surrounding breastfeeding can decrease your milk supply, creating a vicious cycle which can affect not only your bond with your baby, but your self esteem as a mother, to boot!

Feeding time should be enjoyable

The most critical aspect of feeding, beyond nutrition, is that it is an enjoyable experience for both mother and child. An emotional advantage of breastfeeding is that it sets the stage for increased and periodic interaction between a mother and her infant. This can be a boost to bonding (though by no means a guarantee!) that mother and baby will get to know each other's rhythm and develop a healthy and emotionally rewarding feeding ritual. In the beginning of the postpartum period, feeding (including breastfeeding) can be frustrating. But learning about your baby eases the adjustment. Breastfeeding promotes an atmosphere in which mother and child tend to look more at one another and touching and cradling occurs naturally during feeding.

In the middle part of the last century bottle feeding became popular in the United States, and many women were discouraged from breastfeeding. Bottle feeding did not include touching, holding and interacting with the newborn. And many babies were immediately put on rigid feeding schedules that served to decrease intimacy between mother and child. Babies were seen with bottles propped on diapers, holding their own bottle and left swaddled in a crib, while adults busied themselves with other tasks nearby. Many people today still associate bottle feeding with less touch and interaction. But this does not have to be the case!

When bottle feeding, you can look into your baby's eyes and your baby will look back into yours! Sorrel Madrona, MSW, MPH (University of California at Berkeley) studied maternal and child health with specific attention to the ways that mothers and babies bond. She discovered that cradling your baby when feeding and looking into each other's eyes an important behavior that forges attachment, during feeding. Whether bottle feeding or breastfeeding, attention to the quality of love and care is key to a satisfying emotional bond.

Create a satisfying and loving feeding ritual. Feeding should be enjoyable, rather than tense. Bottle feeding or breastfeeding is not the determining factor in the quality of your parenting.

What to say to critics?

Your response to women who criticize? Let them know that you are happy for their choice and hope that they can also respect yours. It is likely, too, that once your baby arrives, and bonding has taken place you will be less likely to doubt yourself. It is clear to all of us who have been parents, that there are a multitude of factors that contribute towards being a good parent. And although this is the first time you find your values in parenting challenged, it certainly will not be the last!

Focus on your values and learning from your child. Create the fit that is right for the two of you, and enjoy!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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