Tuesday, 27 August 2013

breastfeeding! 8 things I know now

OK, before I get into it, let me start off by saying that bottle feeding your baby is an OK thing to do.  Formula milk is pretty good.  So long as you follow the instructions your baby is likely to be healthy and grow up fine.  That said I'm afraid it just isn't as good as breastfeeding, either for you, or for your baby.  I don't mean to criticise anyone in saying that.  Sometimes doing the second best thing is the best thing to do for your family.  Ask any Mum and they'll agree that you can't be perfect, sometimes you can't even be good.  You just have to be good enough.  We can manage that, right?

Picture from a fab blog post on the topic by Attachment Mummy

The truth is that before I was a Mum I was lucky enough to work in the Mother and Infant Research Unit at Leeds University (it's in York now, I think).  I worked on a project about infant feeding, and what I found out about breastfeeding just blew my mind.  It's not good.  It's great.  Now I've done it myself.  I've breastfed three children until they were around two-ish, and I haven't given a single bottle, so I'd best talk about what I know, so here goes:

8 things I now know about breastfeeding

1 Breastfeeding is incredibly good for your baby

In the first few days you make colostrum - there isn't much of it, but it's amazing stuff, and then after that you make baby milk.  But don't think it stays the same... Your milk changes according to what the baby needs.  It's full of bacteria that help baby get a healthy gut (so helps baby avoid allergies), and help give them a strong immune system without baby actually having to be ill!  On top of that, nursing helps baby's mouth develop, which will help with eating (on which more in a future post), and talking, and helps strengthen the bond between you.  The oxytocin helps baby get to sleep, and helps them feel happy.  Breastmilk is fantastic for at least a million other reasons, and there are lots of places to find out more.  I would recommend La Leche League, the Breastfeeding Network, and the NCT, if you want to find out more.

2 Breastfeeding is incredibly good for you

Did you know that your breasts are not fully formed until you lactate?  They are like trees inside, with springtime leaves curled up in bud, waiting to unfurl (and become more like Dolly Parton, as mentioned previously).  Breastfeeding will help your womb go back down to fist-size more quickly, it will help you sleep better, because of that wonderful hormone oxytocin, which is released when you breastfeed, causing contentment all 'round, and helping you bond with baby.  Breastfeeding reduces your risk of breast and ovarian cancers - the breast bit is probably because breastfeeding allows your breasts to fully develop, and the ovarian bit is probably because breastfeeding tends to stop you ovulating, and getting many periods.  You might not want to rely on it, but if you're breastfeeding at least once every four hours, it's very unlikely you'll get pregnant.

3. To breastfeed, you need boobs, and that's pretty much it.

The gorgeous Lorelei
dress from
Available in any
colour you want and
great for
OK, so nursing bras are really useful, and I'm a big fan of nursing vests too, but you don't need a steriliser (I know people say you should get one in case you need one, but you don't.  If it is completely essential that your baby is given a bottle and you are not there, you can get ready-made milk at the supermarket).  You also don't need a breastpump, because expressing by hand is fine for the small amount of expressing you're likely to be doing.  It is very unlikely that you will need nipple shields, and you might not even need pads, although you might to start off with - they're better than leaking.  You will need a cushion/pillow to lie baby on, to ensure they're at the right height for your back, but this does not have to be a fancy breastfeeding cushion.  You will probably need lansinoh cream for sore nipples while you're getting the hang of it, but don't use any creams that you need to faff about washing off.  You do not need one of these weird apron/horse bag efforts that I keep seeing Mum's sporting.  Would you like to eat in one of these?  The best thing to wear is a vest you can pull down (unless you're happy to get your tummy out, which I'm not), and a T-shirt you can pull up (unless you're happy to get your baps out, which I'm not).  Job done.  If you want to wear something different I would recommend a voluminous scarf, so you can hide things if you want to, without then having to cart around a weird apron.  Dresses are a bit of a disaster when it comes to breastfeeding, although I did like going for an elasticated top maxi dress, with a top over the top.  Like the one on the right.

4  Breastfeeding in hospital is really hard

In the first couple of days you've really not got a lot of milk for the baby.  The baby themself has a tiny tummy, and will want to breastfeed all the time, to keep replenishing supplies, to help build up your supply (the more you feed the more milk you make!), and just to be close to you.  If you're in hospital you have probably had a birth with some sort of intervention, like forceps or a caesarian.  This can make your milk come in later (especially caesarians).  However, it will come.  In hospital you are also surrounded by people whose job is dealing with problems, so they go around looking for problems.  If baby is wanting to feed all the time they will think baby isn't getting enough milk, and you're just making colostrum, so they might suggest you top up with bottle milk.  Sometimes you do need to do this, but I never have.  Find a breastfeeding expert and get them on side to help you stick to your guns.  I had my first child in hospital and was supposed to write down every time I fed him.  If it was more than every four hours they said I was feeding him too much and mustn't have enough milk.  If it was less than every four hours they said he'd need a top up.  It was nonsense.  He was OK.  My third child was born by caesarian, and it did take a while for the milk to come in, but I nursed her all the time, and made sure she was doing fine, and the milk did come in.  I had my second child at home, and fed her when she wanted fed, which worked really well.  She didn't lose any of her birth weight.  At all.

5 Breastfeeding can be tricky at first

To start off with, breastfeeding is toe-curlingly uncomfortable.  Your nipple will be reshaped to go right to the back of baby's palate, and that is not a very pleasant sensation.  Take a deep breath and count to 10 and it will be done.  

When baby's are born their mouths are very little, and your boobs are very big.  It's important to get the whole nipple into baby's mouth, but difficult to do.  It is very likely you'll get sore, cracked nipples while you're both learning.  That hurts a lot, especially for feeding, but try to relax, because that will help the milk to flow.  A bit of practice of teasing your baby with the nipple to get them to open the mouth nice and wide and you'll be a dab hand in no time.  
Meanwhile, lansinoh is a fantastic cream which you don't have to wash off.  Think of it as grouting for cracked nipples.  Also, you're going to have a new fashion accesory - a savoy cabbage leaf stuffed into your bra.  I know!  Stylish huh?  The cabbage leaf does genuinely work (I know, I worked in the same office as the lass who did the Cochrane Review), but I recommend you keep the cabbage in the cupboard, and try to find one that's about your cup size.  I always felt silly with cabbage leaves in my bra, but not as silly as if I only had one - you need to be matching, right!  Cabbage leaves are perfectly accesorised with some sick down your cardi, which baby should take care of in no time.  Result!

6 Breastfeeding can be a messy business

Well, let's be fair, any way of feeding a baby can be a messy business, you've always got dribbling, puking babies to contend with, but breastfeeding also brings the special joys of leaking.  This doesn't happen much for a lot of people.  Maybe just the odd jet of milk when baby bobs off the breast for some reason, or when you get out of the shower, but it can mean a flow of milk when you hear a baby cry in the supermarket - whether it's your baby or not.  Or that both breasts flow when baby is feeding.  I must admit, I've not had this problem, but I've been advised that the disposable paper pads are better for soaking up spilled milk than the cotton ones.  As for flowing on both sides, I recall a friend who had this problem.  She got little plastic cup things, like these Milkies (you can get various different milk catchers).  If you want to use the milk you catch for baby, you'll need to sterilise the equipment.  My friend didn't bother.  She just tipped the milk into her coffee - and no need for added sugar.  

7 You might sometimes get a blocked duct

A blocked duct feels a bit like a pea.  It happens usually because the area has been compressed and the milk hasn't been able to flow through it (from wearing an ill fitting bra, or sleeping in a funny position etc) , but sometimes it seems to just happen.  You need to clear it, and the easiest way to do this is to rope baby in.  Breastfeed in a position so baby's chin is nearest to the blockage (this has meant previously that I breastfed my baby while I was lying down, with his feet pointing up like my head).  If this doesn't work then take a bath and express milk, focusing on that area of the breast.

If you don't notice a blocked duct, or don't manage to clear it, you might get an infection in that area.  This is called mastitis.  You might spot it as a sort of red lightning streak on the breast.  It makes you feel fluey and yuck and is best avoided.  To avoid it don't drop more than one feed at a time and try not to get blocked ducts.  I've had mastitis twice - both while camping.  It sucks.  Baby can still drink your milk, and you are best off feeding as much as you can and expressing too, to try to get the infection out.  Do go to see your doctor.  You might need antibiotics (although they'll probably avoid that if possible).  I have known a few women were were diagnosed with mastitis when the actual problem was thrush, but they hadn't been examined properly.  Do make sure you are examined, and take your baby too.  If you've got thrush in your nipples, your baby probably has it in their mouth too, and that will be sore for them too.

8 You should breastfeed for as long as you and baby want to

Breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and baby, and it is always beneficial.  To start off with it gives a brilliant boost to baby's gut and immune system, and helps mum get her womb back down to size, but after that, breastmilk is the absolute best food for your baby for the first six months.  At around six months, it's good to introduce baby to some food, but breastfeeding is still beneficial.  You don't need to worry about baby's teeth; they breastfeed with their lips and tongue, not their teeth.  

After baby is one they are probably eating and drinking with the rest of the family, but breastfeeding is still beneficial, both to their immune system, and to their happiness, and feelings of security.  I breastfed all three of my children to sleep until they were about two.  It worked really well for us.

I stopped feeding because, for my first, I was pregnant with my second, and my milk turned into colostrom for her, which he didn't like the taste of.  My second kept breastfeeding until she was over two, until one day she just forgot how to do it, which was really funny.  The third I stopped feeding when I had had enough.  I always read a book while feeding and she didn't like me to do that, so would knock it out of my hands.  When she was two I was happy to stop.

There's so much I haven't said, and so much that's likely to upset someone.  Breastfeeding is a really important topic to a lot of people.  It's hard to get the knack, it's really rewarding, and it's a brilliant thing to do for your children.  Breastfeeding was an important part of my life for a long time, and I don't want to do it a disservice.  

How did you get on with breastfeeding?  What have I neglected to mention?

This is one of a series of posts on all things bumps and babies.  Here are a number of things I now know about: