For this weeks Keep Britain Breastfeeding post, we asked April Hunter, a local La Leche League leader, doula and breastfeeding Mum to give her top tips for breastfeeding. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did. Scavenger hunt details are at the bottom of the post!
There are several things that are said about breastfeeding and the early days of having a baby that are sound familiar and true. Certain phrases are said so often that we subconsciously accept them as truth, and allow them to influence our early decisions and opinions and expectations about breastfeeding.
So much of our success at breastfeeding depends on the information we have, and the support system around us. It can help to renew the mind and shift certain thought patterns that may have crept in during our pregnancy as we’ve read books, surfed the internet, and spoken to other parents.
Breast is not “best”
Yes, you have just read that. You’re reading an article about breastfeeding and it says breast isn’t best? Isn’t that the mantra? Isn’t that the phrase that’s supposed to motivate a mother to breastfeed no matter how hard it gets? Remembering that it’s “best”?
Unfortunately, this slogan is one of those well intentioned phrases that has simply played right into the hands of the formula industry and has likely been responsible for many mothers throwing the towel in early on in their breastfeeding experience.
When you say something is “the best”, you elevate it, you put it on a platform, and you set it up as a goal to achieve, but usually the underlying connotation is that only the few can actually take hold of it and own it. The rest of the masses settle for what’s normal, and in terms of infant feeding, we end up with a situation where breastfeeding is seen as something super moms do, and bottle feeding is what the rest of us do. Bottle feeding is thought of as normal, breastfeeding is for the few elite who are lucky enough to be “able to”. So when a new mother runs into problems, and hears “breast is best” she thinks “ok yeah, maybe…but I think I’m just going to have to admit that I’m not a supermom, I’m just normal”.
Instead of thinking that breastfeeding will give your baby “extra benefits” the reality is that formula feeding can put your baby at risk. So throw out the word “best” when it comes to feeding your baby. Breastfeeding is Normal. It may not be culturally normal in the UK yet, but it is the biologically normal way to continue the process of providing for and nurturing your baby. A woman’s body does a pretty amazing job growing a baby from a few cells into the gorgeous bundle in your arms, it’s not going to just pack it in now when it comes to feeding. Breast is not “best” it’s just normal!
Breastfeeding is not necessarily “harder” and bottle feeding is not necessarily “easier”
A new mother who has just given birth sits on the maternity ward. She is struggling to latch her baby on, and across from her, she see’s another new mother pull out a bottle and simply stick it her baby’s mouth, the baby seems to feed enthusiastically. For a split second the first mother can’t help but think “wow that looks so easy” as her baby slips off her breast, again.
Here is something to think about. The main food for babies the first year of life is meant to be breast milk, and if a mother is not breastfeeding, she is advised to give formula in this time period. So that means that for at least 12 months, mothers have to give their babies either breast milk or formula.
Breastfeeding can indeed get off to a tough start. It’s not always easy. However, once the early days have passed, and mother and baby have gotten the hang of it, many mothers find it’s easier than they had imagined. Even if it takes a mother up to 12 weeks to really feel confident feeding both at home and out and about, (many mothers get the hang of it much quicker), it means that she has 9 months ahead of her of ease. No bottles, no sterilizers, no big heavy baby bags full of milk to transport, much money saved, and of course, less risk of baby being ill, constipated, etc.
Now, if a mother decides to bottle feed, avoiding those first few weeks of learning how to breastfeed, she may have had a technically easier time in those first few weeks, but she still has ahead of her 9 months of bottles, sterilisers, having to calm a baby down who’s already had their bottle, and of course the higher probability of illnesses and infections.
So taking a look at the big picture of 12 months. Is bottle feeding really easier or breastfeeding harder? It’s a very relative generalization to say one way is “easier” or “harder”, and it helps to look at the big picture.
There are a lot of assumptions made about bottle feeding. It is often said that bottle fed babies sleep for longer*, are more settled, and less hungry. One of the best things a mother can do is right from the start realize that all babies are different. There are formula fed babies who do not sleep well, and breastfed babies who will sleep all night long. Much of a baby’s behaviour is down to their personality, and not just how they are fed.
*Formula fed babies may sleep longer, but it is not as a result of being full and satisfied from their bottle, it’s a result of the fact that their little bodies have to work quite hard to digest formula, which results often in them being physically exhausted.
You really can “know” your baby is getting enough.
It has been said that successful breastfeeding requires 90% confidence, and only 10% skill. However you often hear this: “you just don’t know with breastfeeding” from an inexperienced mother, or a mother who’s never breastfed. Bottle feeding mothers often get excited over the number of oz. or millilitres a baby managed to down in one go, measuring it as a mark of a baby taking enough food to grow and thrive. All mothers want their babies to thrives, and breastfeeding mothers cannot measure the milk going in, in the same way, and this may lead to feeling of uncertainty and anxiety over how much milk is actually getting to their baby.
There are several signs that a breastfed baby is getting enough. The first indication that the baby has fed well is when it passes it’s meconium, which is a black tar like poo. The colostrum, or “first milk” the mother feeds her baby is especially good at helping this pass through. Then parents can start to look forward to several wet and dirty nappies. As well as weighing the baby, if a baby has 3-4 dirty nappies a day in the first few weeks, of a mustard type colour with little seed like curds in them, they can be confident the baby is taking plenty of milk.
Breastfed babies feed often, and for varied lengths of time. It’s important to not try and breastfeed a baby in the same way you’d bottle feed a baby. Many parents worry that because their baby does not seem to be conforming to a bottle feeding like routine, that they are not getting enough milk. It’s helpful to read books like “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” in order to get a realistic expectation of what the first few weeks can be like, and to understand what’s normal when it comes to breastfeeding.
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