Breastfeeding or Not? It’s Your Choice
As a Muma of a newborn you’ve probably found a lot of your “plans” haven’t gone quite as “planned”. Images of serene lullabies and quiet evenings may have turned into crying sessions for both baby and you. Walks in the park and strolls around the city have become sprints to restrooms with awkward change tables; and imagined earth-mother inspired breastfeeding moments may have turned into a reality of exhaustion, sore nipples and frustration.
If this sounds familiar, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone- it’s all part of the norm for a new Muma.
In the first few weeks of parenthood, life changes rapidly and while you may have an idea of how you would like it to go, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t. Breastfeeding is one of the things I find most women intent on doing, yet overwhelmed when the time comes. And this perfectly normal. Although breast milk is the most natural form of nutrition, the process of getting the milk from breast to baby is a skill that needs to be learned by both Muma and baby? So forget the made-for-TV moments where baby naturally crawls up to your breast and begins to feed only a few minutes after being born. The reality is, for most Mumas and babies it takes time and practice, but with the right guidance and support you’ll find a way that works for both you and your baby. And in the end, remember that breast milk may be the most natural option, but not the only option.
Make Use of Professionals
Use your time while in the hospital to seek advice and guidance from the midwives or lactation expert. Most hospitals provide this service and now is the time to draw on their experience. If you get conflicting advice, stick to the person you trust and “click” with most. I encourage new Mumas to try and offer a feed within the first few hours after birth. The sucking reflex is very strong at this time and if you can take advantage of that, all the better. However it is possible that your baby isn’t all that hungry, especially if he/she is mucousy. If this is the case, pop your baby with just a nappy onto yours or your partner’s bare chest, covered with a blanket. This is called skin-to-skin contact and is an awesome opportunity to bond, keep your baby warm and encourage the feeding instinct to take hold. If you’re feeling anxious about not providing enough milk in the first few days, remember your baby’s tummy is very tiny. In fact here are some surprising comparisons just to give you an idea of how small their stomach actually is:
Day One: Size of a cherry
Day Three: Size of a walnut
End of Week One: Size of an apricot
End of Week Two: Size of an egg
Keep this in mind during moments when you’re worried about not producing enough milk. Your supply will fluctuate and that’s ok.
An average sized baby is likely to lose up to 10% of its birth weight during the first 10 days. Remember if this happens it’s not due to your lack of milk.
Technique and mechanics are key when it comes to the success of breastfeeding. This is where expert advice is essential. Like I said, try and practice as much as you can in hospital while you have the supervision around. To help develop a strong foundation and deal with any issues you may be having, be sure to schedule home visits from experts in the first few weeks home. Having someone there who’s experienced from a professional point gives you the direction you need, plus the added confidence that you are doing it correctly and your baby is getting all the nourishment it needs. As tempting and comforting as it may be, it is best not to rely on an “experienced” friend. Every baby, breast and nipple is different- even on the same person! What’s easy for some is impossible for others and vice versa. A good expert will give you advice and direction that is unbiased and tailored specifically to you and your baby’s needs. Spend time with friends doing things like going for walks and having chats, leave the technical stuff to the experts.
The First Few Days
Colostrum is produced already from around 3-4 months into your pregnancy and when breastfeeding it will be the first form of nutrition your baby gets. It’s rich in antibodies and immunoglobulin and also acts as a mild laxative to help babies get rid of their first black and sticky poo- also called merconium. Mature breast milk comes in within 3-4 days after vaginal birth, and 4-6 days following a caesarian section.
Feeding on demand- feeding whenever your baby roots for food-is essential at this point since the sucking will help to ensure a healthy milk supply. For most this means feeding every 2-3 hours, even at night. Don’t worry you won’t have to do this forever! If everything goes smoothly the feeds will start to space out a little.
It’s important that you not use a breast pump at this time, unless there is a medical indication for you to do so. Pumping too early can over stimulate your breasts which can lead to pathological engorgement. This can be extremely painful and hinders the breastfeeding process. So unless you’ve been told to pump very early on for medical reasons, let your baby, rather than a pump, stimulate your milk supply and leave the pumping until the breastfeeding has been established- which can take up to a few weeks.
A lot of women ask me, “how will I know when my milk comes in?” Trust me you will know. Either that or you may think someone wheeled you in for breast implants while you were sleeping. The breasts will be noticeably larger and tender. You may even begin leaking milk. You are now officially on your way to successful breastfeeding.
Take Care of Yourself
One of the most important things to remember at this time is that your body needs adequate nutrition in order to provide your baby’s needs. Instead of three big meals a day, shoot for 5-6 smaller ones making sure to include unprocessed, slow releasing carbs, protein, healthy fats and fibre. Eating healthy foods more often will help to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent you from resorting to quick fixes such as refined sugars and processed foods- which will only make you feel worse. Instead, focus on homemade snacks such as nut butters, smoothies and healing bone broths. Again if you have a friend that is eager to help, put her on snack patrol, the extra help and handy snacks when you’re exhausted will be a lifesaver.
Hand Over the Reins
Once your milk supply is established and you’re confident with breastfeeding, now is a good time to introduce a bottle of either expressed milk or formula late at night. A late evening bottle-feed is a great way to work towards an evening routine, and give your baby, and your partner/relative etc the opportunity to spend some irreplaceable time together. It will also get your baby used to the bottle and it will give you the chance to go to bed early and get a good stretch of uninterrupted sleep. If this makes you feel guilty, think about the fact that you’re giving your partner the opportunity to feel just as close to your new little one as you are, as well as the time to build confidence in caring for your baby.
What if breastfeeding simply does not work out for you?
First thing to remember is that breast milk is the most natural option, but it isn’t the only option. In a perfect world babies would latch, feed, sleep and be happy, but we all know sometimes this isn’t a reality. Breast is only best if it works, if it doesn’t, for whatever reason, the important thing to remember is that there are safe feeding methods that work just as well for babies as breastfeeding. Finding the one that works for you and baby is more important than following the “rules”. Don’t be swayed by public opinion or pressured from friends or relatives; surround yourself with people who understand that you are on your path and not theirs. If you are having problems seek help from a professional you trust. It will set you up for a much calmer experience, even if this includes calling it a day. Breastfeeding may be the most natural form of nutrition, but if it gets in the way of your enjoying being a mother, it certainly is not the best option for you. Keep an open mind, don’t be too hard on yourself and remember you may not feel like it, but you are a superstar whether you’re breastfeeding or not-you just created another human being! Now that doesn’t sound like a failure to me.
So remember, breastfeeding, like everything else may not go as “planned”, but if it is what you want to do, get help, practice and give it your best shot. If it doesn’t work out, so be it. Healthy babies are raised in many different ways, and there is no one size fits all solution to feeding your baby. Whatever method you choose, this is a special time and years from now you will cherish the quiet moments you shared, not regret that it didn’t go “by the book.
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