The benefits of breastfeeding are somewhat debated in the sense that some studies have inflated the outcomes and make breastfeeding look more healthy for the baby than it really is. On the other hand, it is still common knowledge, without the inflated studies, that breastfeeding is better than formula feeding for both mother and baby. The benefits of breastfeeding really deserves its own post because of the current state of controversy surrounding the subject.
That being said, breastfeeding can be difficult when a mother is just beginning. Many people have never seen another mother breastfeed a baby, which means many first time mothers would not recognize the difference between a good or bad latch, optimal or poor positioning, or any of the basics of breastfeeding without first doing their own research. Some babies have tongue-tie, some babies have a lazy latch, some mothers have inverted nipples, and some mothers have too much milk, or not enough. Breastfeeding problems are common, but how to overcome the problems are not common knowledge. It is unfortunate, but infant formula is readily available and heavily advertised, making it a tempting alternative when problems arise. Because of this, it is important for mothers who want to breastfeed successfully to research as much as possible beforehand and line up breastfeeding resources in case there are any problems when breastfeeding begins.
Almost eighty two percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding in the beginning. But by three months postpartum, less than half that number are still exclusively breastfeeding. I feel compelled to share my story because some of the problems I experienced are common problems for first time breastfeeding mothers.
Who to listen to or take advice from is often a dilemma for mothers that are first starting breastfeeding. When I was in the hospital, just after giving birth to my son, I was told by the nurses to put him on a schedule of feeding him every three hours. I had previously read that it is best to feed on demand, but at the time, I was in a disoriented and confused state. The birth of my son was rather traumatic. Now, not every birth will be traumatic. In fact, most are not. On the other hand, giving birth to a baby can, at least temporarily, turn your world upside down. Because my baby wanted to feed more frequently, I thought there was something wrong with me. The second day my son was born, he had one half ounce of infant formula. He stopped crying and immediately fell asleep. When we returned home from the hospital, my sister-in-law purchased infant formula and bottles and brought them with her to visit us, even though she had no knowledge of the issues I was having. Simply having formula in the house makes it all the more easy to just fall back on when something comes up, rather than getting to the root of the problem and fixing it.
There is a “magic number” for every woman’s breastfeeding relationship with her baby. What I mean by that is there exists a certain number of times in a twenty four hour period that a mother’s baby needs to feed in order for her to make the right amount of milk. My number happens to be high – twenty four times for every twenty four hours. Most women’s “magic number” ranges from eight to twelve times in a twenty four hour period. If a woman plans to breastfeed successfully, it is imperative that she feeds on demand. If a schedule is implemented, a woman may produce too much or too little milk.
Also, some newborns prefer to be at the breast almost constantly. In the womb, they had a constant supply of nutrients, and some newborns prefer a constant supply of milk flowing to their tiny tummies. Suckling makes them feel satisfied and content, too.
Four days postpartum, I discovered I had an intrauterine infection, and needed to go to the hospital. I received IV antibiotics and was prescribed a two week course of oral antibiotics. My son’s pediatrician told me not to breastfeed while taking the antibiotics. I found out months later that it would have been okay to breastfeed him while taking the antibiotics I was prescribed. Because of the antibiotics, I decided to use a breast pump every two or three hours so my milk would not dry up. During that time, my son was getting used to a bottle, a pacifier, and was becoming unfamiliar with how breastfeeding works. For those of you who have never breastfed, it takes about two minutes for your body to get the signal that it is time to “let down” the milk, called the milk ejection reflex. My son became accustomed to the instant gratification of the bottle and would fuss and cry while waiting for my milk to let down. When, finally, at five and a half months postpartum, I stopped using a bottle to feed him and used a syringe instead, my son became happy with breastfeeding again. If for some reason formula needs to be fed to a baby, I recommend using a spoon or syringe, or better yet a supplemental nursing system (SNS). The SNS allows the baby to stimulate the mother’s nipples, which helps increase production of milk, while receiving infant formula, pumped breast milk, or donor breast milk from a tube leading to her nipple.
After only five days postpartum, two medical professionals gave me bad breastfeeding advice. Always double check information or advice given from medical professionals without formal breastfeeding knowledge. They may unknowingly give bad advice, as was the case for me.
I hope breastfeeding rates in the U.S. continue to rise. Even if there were no physiological benefits, breastfeeding provides more opportunities for extended skin-to-skin contact. Dr. Rixa Freeze, PhD, author of the blog Stand and Deliver, writes about a study conducted in Nova Scotia, Canada, which finds that extended skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for reducing the incidence of postpartum depression, increasing a baby’s responsiveness to its mother, enhancing a mother’s sensitivity to her baby, maintaining a mother’s choice to breastfeed, and increasing a baby’s alertness. You can read her blog post about the subject here.
http://www.kellymom.com is a great breastfeeding resource and provides reliable information about latch, positioning, mastitis – almost anything breastfeeding related. Information about what medications are safe or unsafe to use while breastfeeding can be found at http://www.kellymom.com also. I have outlined some other resources and bits of advice in this post, too.
I hope at least one mother can prevent for herself some of the problems I experienced when beginning to breastfeed. Feel free to share stories and more information in the comments.