For some mothers, bottle feeding their babies is something they have always wanted to do as it gives them flexibility and helps them maintain a good level of independence.
Artificial infant feeding has been culturally marked as more advanced and is socially more accepted than natural infant feeding.
Fortunately, breastfeeding is on the rise as more and more new mothers acknowledge the endless benefits for themselves and, more importantly, for their offspring.
Yet, in order for the use of breast milk to become normal again rather than the “alternative”, we still have to overcome cultural taboos.
The History of Bottle Feeding
Archaeological findings have shown that breastfeeding substitutes were used thousands of years ago. Historically, substitute milk was given to infants whose mothers died or were too sick to feed their babies, usually with limited possibility of wet nursing at hand.
Cow’s milk or goat’s milk was commonly used to replace mother’s milk.
In addition, babies were sometimes given supplementary solid food, such as a paste made of bread or flour mixed with milk or water. Needless to say, that infant mortality rate was extremely high – from 50 to 99 %.
History and cross-cultural studies have revealed that the increase in bottle feeding resulted in an increase in infant deaths, especially where standards of hygiene were not met. It is a fact, that artificial infant feeding can hold more risks for the baby.
During the industrial revolution, artificial feeding became popular in Britain as women had to leave their children behind to work in the factories. The first scientific breast milk substitute was invented in 1867 by a German chemist.
It was a combination of cow’s milk, flour, potassium bicarbonate, and malt.
However, the popularity of bottle feeding increased when condensed milk was developed in the late 19th century.
The social consensus about how best to feed baby in a modern world which was filled with new scientific achievements changed towards artificial infant feeding. Bottle feeding was sold as nutritious, safe and easy to prepare with no need for refrigeration.
More importantly, pasteurization of milk and sterilization of feeding equipment made artificial infant feeding a safer alternative; thus, making bottle feeding more popular. In addition, medical representatives and scientists celebrated this new supposedly convenient way of feeding baby.
As a result, breastfeeding became comparatively unpopular as figures show that only 20 to 30% of babies were actually breastfed during WWII in the USA. However, the 1980s proved difficult for companies such as Nestlé when their involvement with medical establishments in order to sell formula feeding in the third world was revealed.
Bottle feeding is still the number one choice for many new mothers. This can have different personal or even medical reasons, although modern living standards are mainly to blame for the change in maternal attitude over the past century.
Why is Breast Feeding a Challenge?
Organizations such as the La Lèche League or the Breastfeeding Network help to promote breastfeeding with all its benefits which, as a result, is becoming increasingly popular.
Fortunately, more and more women decide to at least try to feed their newborn themselves. National statistics show that there is a steady increase in initial infant breastfeeding (66% in 1995 to 69% in 2000). However, statistics also reveal that many new mothers give up breastfeeding after only a few weeks:
after only one week, 55% of women breastfeed,
after six weeks 43% and
after 4 months 28% still feed their babies.
In our modern culture, natural feeding is a challenge because bottle feeding still tends to be regarded as “easier”. Generations of parents who bottle-fed their babies pass on what they have been sold decades ago.
In addition, new breastfeeding problems arise that find appropriate discussion grounds in our civilization, such as the “insufficient milk” syndrome. Yet, only about 5% of mothers show real physical difficulty to breastfeed, thus confirming that the idea of not making enough milk is a modern invention.
Women may actually feel that they do not have enough milk to feed their baby but the reasons are not physical. It is more likely that the early difficulties mother and baby experience together result from the stressful birthing environment, such as the hospital, where unknown staff and routine as well as doubtable reputation feed initial anxiety and thus, can add to the overall picture of the insufficient milk syndrome.
Breastfeeding can be highly influenced by psychosomatic elements, such as stress, anxiety, worries, depression and much more. Feeding is a natural self-regulating and extremely efficient process which is susceptible to how mothers feel, as much as anything. If a new mother does not receive the support she needs, the let-down reflex (milk flows from the ducts towards the nipple) is more difficult to be stimulated.
Besides the modern argument of “lack of sufficient milk”, many more interruptions help reduce the chance of breastfeeding, such as aesthetically motivated breast operations or if a separation of mother and baby after birth is unnecessarily prolonged.
In addition, our natural desire for information societies has caused multiple parenting theories to shoot out of the grounds.
Instead of helping reduce new parent’s fears they tend to increase and even confuse them.
One of the often cited parent strategies is “feeding on schedule”. However, feeding in intervals causes unnecessary stress because of the composition of the milk changes in a way that causes a baby to feel hungry all the time.
As a result, the mother will think that she does not produce enough milk whereas the truth is that she has waited too long.
Modern ways of living can make it extremely difficult for new mothers to embrace breastfeeding. Their cultural background, lack of support within their own family or friends and misleading parenting information facilitate the return to bottle feeding. Moreover, cultural expectations of women who often have to return to work early in order to earn a living or pursue a career do not improve early parenting conditions.
While breastfeeding is part of our natural survival strategy, bottle feeding is part of our modern culture.
It gives new mothers the chance to cope easier with expectations and to help handle natural infant needs in an over-regulated world. We are aware of the fact that human milk is best for baby. Thus, it is the mother’s individual choice of how to feed her infant and to build a strong bond.