Is Breastfeeding Always Best?

Mother's milk is ideal for babies -- but breast-feeding may not work for every mom.

Can You Choose the Bottle?

At a mothers' brunch in New Haven, Connecticut, Amy Kimball had plenty to smile about: good company, fresh bagels, and -- best of all -- newborn Alexa gurgling in her arms. But Kimball was close to tears. "I felt as if I'd failed," she recalls. Despite help from a lactation consultant, Alexa wasn't learning to nurse gently -- and for Kimball, feeding her often meant agonizing pain. Her husband urged her to soldier on. "He said, 'Don't you want to do what's right for her?' It felt as though he was guilt-tripping me," she says. So were Kimball's in-laws. Still, she couldn't help wondering: Is it ever okay not to breast-feed?

The answer, experts say, is yes -- but it's not a decision to be taken lightly. Study after study has found that breast milk is more nutritious than formula, with benefits that include fewer allergies and ear infections, lower rates of SIDS and obesity, and possibly even higher IQ scores. Psychologists tout breast-feeding as an aid to mother-infant bonding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends doing it for at least a year.

Yet for all its virtues, breast-feeding doesn't work for every woman. And using formula doesn't make you a bad mom -- though disapproving friends, relatives, and strangers can sometimes make you feel that way. Millions of children have done just fine on formula. In fact, although the number of mothers who tried breast-feeding soared from 24.7 percent in 1971 to 64.3 percent in 1998, only 28.6 percent are still nursing when their babies are 6 months old.

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