Breast or Bottle?


I don't think that anyone will deny that breastfeeding is generally the best choice for a baby, and for the mother, as it brings with it so many benefits. The mother gets reduced risk of breast cancer, her uterus shrinks faster after childbirth, she looses her pregnancy weight easier and breastfeeding also acts as a natural contraceptive while it is exclusive. It is best not to rely on this as a contraceptive though! The baby has protection from illnesses, and develops its immune system faster, has less risk of allergies, asthma and vision problems. It can even boost the babies intelligence! Breastfeeding also facilitates bonding (the hormones released during a feed make you bond easier) and is of course completely free.

There is no evidence that ME/CFS can be passed on by breastfeeding.

From an ME/CFS perspective breastfeeding prevents the need to wash, sterilise and make up bottles of formula. You can lie down in bed to feed and if co sleeping don't even need to get up in the middle of the night. I personally found that co sleeping worked very well as once I had got the hang of latching my baby on in the dark I could fall back to sleep while he fed. Breastfeeding also affects your hormone levels and some women find that their ME/CFS is better while they are breastfeeding, indeed the pregnet website (part of the Action for ME website - now closed) even went so far as to suggest it "should be continued as long as possible, even if only once a day to relieve overnight breast congestion, should the child still demand it." Breastfeeding also acts as a natural tranquillizer for the mother and the baby, which helps you both fall asleep and will make baby calmer (very useful with babies/toddlers that are teething or bump themselves often!).

You don't need to eat a special diet to breastfeed, just eat as healthily as you did during pregnancy and remember that you will still need to eat slightly more food, eat and drink to your hunger/thirst demands. If there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema you may need to be more cautious of dairy products as well as other known foods that cause allergies, such as peanuts. If your baby shows signs of colic it is worth taking note of what your eating and whether any food triggers it, common foods babies may show sensitivities to include: dairy, eggs, peanuts and other nuts, wheat, soy, corn, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, berries, nuts, spices, pork, seafood, citrus fruits and juice and chocolate.

However some women with ME/CFS find that breastfeeding is very tiring, especially as baby gets closer to weaning age (now recommended at 6 months), and it may also prevent you taking some medications.

I would recommend that everyone with ME/CFS at least try breastfeeding. If you later find that breastfeeding is too tiring you can try combined feeding (both breast and bottle), or change completely to formula.

Some links on breastfeeding:

Kelly Mom, Parenting, Breastfeeding
Babyworld: Breastfeeding
La Leche League UK


Combined Feeding

This is next feeding method by order of my preference. Often women turn to combined feeding after breastfeeding for a time, either because they are returning to work or (more likely in women with ME/CFS) because breastfeeding alone is too tiring. Combined feeding allows you to continue breastfeeding while replacing a few feeds with formula milk. It may offer you the break you need if you are finding breastfeeding too tiring, but remember that the energy you save by giving a bottle may be outweighed by the energy lost in sterising and making up the bottle.

You shouldn't start offering formula bottles until after breastfeeding is well established, at least 6 weeks. Beware that if you introduce bottles too quickly you may affect your breastmilk supply (which can become a spiral of needing to give more formula, having less breastmilk etc).

Some links on combined feeding:

NCT: Mixed feeding: Combination of breast and bottle feeding
Breastfeeding Basics: How can I combine bottle and breast feeding?
Kelly's Attachment Parenting Has links to sites about combined feeding and getting breastfed babies to accept bottles.


Bottle Feeding

Some mothers with ME/CFS find that bottlefeeding is the best method for them, it allows them to return to all pre-pregnancy medications and means that other carers can feed baby at least some of the time. This is especially useful for night feeds if you have a willing person who can do these for you, allowing you more rest so you feel better during the day.

Bottle feeding does of course require cleaning, sterilising and making up of bottles, it may be possible for someone else to take on the majority of this for you though.

Some links on bottlefeeding:

Baby World: Bottlefeeding