the choice to breastfeed - or not

Breastfeeding. Why is this such a charged topic? When did breastfeeding become a phenomenon and who is suited to make the final decision? Spoiler alert - the answer is YOU!  

Guess what? You have a choice. Let me repeat that - you (ya know, the mama) have a choice! 

I did some historical research to help me understand where the pressure on how to nourish your newborn became such a big deal. 

Before the 1890s the only safe nourishment for babies was breast milk. However, it wasn’t always the birth mother who provided it. It may have been a wet nurse or another family member. Why, you ask? I know you won’t believe this but wealth played a role. Most wealthy women chose not to breastfeed. Also, some women were unable to breastfeed or produce milk for many different physical or health reasons. 

Then, about a 100 years ago, formula was introduced. It was about the time when the world was industrializing and women were going to start work outside of the home. This required babies to be on a schedule and mom’s supply was less and slowly all of these factors led to a need for another option. 

It does not surprise me that the same questions about breastfeeding are those that American women struggled with a century ago. Should I breastfeed? If so, for how long and where? And my favorite, what does everyone else think about it? One would think that how you choose to nourish your baby in calories is purely up to the mother. However, the pressure we place on ourselves and those placed by society, including friends, family, healthcare workers and even our partners ends up the forerunner in the decision making process.  

Here we are in 2021 expecting ourselves to do it all! I am here to give you permission to do what is best for you and your family. There is no right or wrong way to nourish your baby and the bottom line - you need to nourish yourself. 

To review: you can bond with your baby with breast or a bottle, you can make smart kiddos with breast or a bottle and you can take the pressure off yourself with breast or a bottle. YOU DO YOU!  

Cut yourself some slack, ask for help from a trusted source like your doctor/midwife, doula or lactation consultant - you just had a baby for crying out loud!



Dr. Barbara Frank is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and is affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Brookline Village OBGYN. She is also a faculty member of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Frank lives in Boston and is a wife and mom of two young children.

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