This post is a response to a question posed on one of my online discussion forums. The mother is pregnant with her first baby and trying to decide which makes the most sense - breastfeeding and it's "commitment", or bottlefeeding and the "convenience". She felt that she would be tied to baby all the time and unable to leave him or her for any period of time, and how can dad bond with baby if he can't give a bottle? She also didn't feel comfortable nursing in public, so how do you have a life? It was very interesting because after writing the post, the mom wrote that she didn't know any of these benefits of breastfeeding (and thanked me for the novel! Wahoo!) And everyone else who posted in response really gave a huge shout out for breastfeeding, the ease and benefits, how they got used to nursing in public, and how it was so easy to comfort their baby.
Here goes. I breastfeed for all of the reasons [another mom] said. I grew up with breastfeeding as the norm. I knew that was what breasts were for (and more!!) and that it's such an awesome way to connect with my baby. It is so cool to know that for 9 months my DS grew in my body, nourished by my body, and that hasn't stopped. DS grew and doubled his birthweight on the milk I made, and is still growing on it! It is just so cool and amazing!
To address some of the things you mention - DH has plenty of things to do to bond with DS. Our favorite is snuggle time after he nurses in the morning. When DS was born, he'd wake early (6 or 6:30 every day) and after nursing he would fall right back asleep. I'd pass DS over to DH and DS would lay on his chest. DH said that was so important to him - calm, relaxed time together when DH had been feeling anxious that DS didn't like him because he didn't know how to calm him. This time was Daddy Time every morning, and they still snuggle like that to this day. It was really REALLY reassuring for Mark. And DH feels that one thing he does not want to take away from us is that nursing is a mommy thing. He feels no need to "feed the baby," though I know some partners do. In that case, it's helpful to show that there are other ways to bond that don't double mom's work - because who wants to pump and clean bottles unless necessary!!
We haven't had to worry about birth control for months, (though of course it's NOT a guarantee). We don't have to pay any money for formula. Breastmilk from the breast is always portable, always the right temperature, never goes bad, provides baby with immediate antibodies to viruses and bacteria in the environment. It is hydration, nutrition, comfort, stem cells, alive... each of these words describe breastmilk well.
My DS has milk protein and soy sensitivities. The potential issues with giving him formula are HUGE... if he'd gotten formula, the reactions would have been significantly worse than what we dealt with (spitup!) - eliminating those foods from MY diet was much cheaper and easier than requiring elemental formulas (which probably cost $4000 or more a year), and now that DS is eating solid foods, any foods that I can eat are also safe for him to eat - we don't have to have special foods for him.
Regarding the commitment: Someone is responsible for a baby 24 hours a day. It becomes natural to have an "appendage" as it were... (and yes, I go to yoga once a week. Saturday mornings I pop out and am gone for 2.5 hours minimum for Me Time). And I've been gone for 4-5 hours at a time by the time DS was 3 or 4 months old, and never had to deal with pumping in any regularity. I do find it easier to get out for errands here and there without a baby, but our limitation isn't baby, it's DH's work schedule as he owns his own business. If he were home so I could run errands, I would leave baby at home more often!!
Your experience and your choices may be different - you may find that you want more time out, but that is totally do-able. Many moms work full- or part-time successfully, and the cost of a breast pump and bottles is significantly cheaper than even the cheapest formula. Some insurance companies even cover the cost of pumps! Some insurance providers also cover lactation consultants.
The health benefits are another reason why breastfeeding was my only option. I like that I'm halving my child's risks of diabetes, and reducing the chances of obesity. I'm doing the best thing to reduce my babies' risk of SIDS. I'm increasing their chances of eating healthy for the rest of their life and being able to self-regulate their food intake. Illnesses will be less severe, and breastmilk is the original Pedialyte - the best thing for them to get when they're sick or unable to tolerate much else.
My health is also all the better for breastfeeding: the longer I am cumulatively breastfeeding or pregnant in my life, the lower the risks of breast and cervical cancer, also reducing my risks of obesity and diabetes.
As you can tell, I am an advocate for breastfeeding whenever possible. I know that there are occasions where it isn't possible, but with support and education, most women can breastfeed their babies.
For me, even the "work" put into breastfeeding at the beginning because of the steep learning curve results into immeasurable benefits. I do believe that it is easier than bottlefeeding - no cleaning, no running out to get formula if you're running out, etc. If you want to go out for the day, take a couple diapers and go. No counting bottles, figuring out if I've got enough, make sure I have clean water to mix it with, etc. A sick baby is much easier to care for with breastfeeding, and much less likely to require hospital admission. The health care costs you/your child will bear will be significantly lower over your child's lifetime.
Formula doesn't have long-term benefits like this. In fact, it has risks.