Clare Boyle, a midwife and a breastfeeding consultant, discusses pressing issues surrounding breastfeeding and motherhood.
1. What are the advantages of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a pleasure and a joy to do. It is a wonderful way to connect and bond with your baby all the while providing the absolute best nutrition possible. Breastfeeding facilitates all the lovely nurturing mothering behaviours of holding, cuddling and caressing which promote bonding and help the mother feel empowered in her ability to care for and provide for her baby. When you breastfeed there is no cost, no shopping, no preparing, no worrying if it is healthy enough, no worry if the amount is enough or the temperature is right or if the baby will like it and there no washing up afterwards!
Breastfeeding provides numerous scientifically proven health advantages over formula feeding for baby and mum. Research has shown that when a baby is not breastfed for the first three months of life they are five times more likely to be admitted to hospital with diarrhoea, two times more likely to be admitted to hospital for breathing problems (asthma, chest infections) and or ear infections and twice as likely to develop eczema and five times more likely to develop a urinary tract infection.
2. What are the disadvantages of breastfeeding?
To be honest I think there are very few disadvantages to breastfeeding but it is only fair to point out that breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learned and mastered and it can be a bit overwhelming in the first few weeks if you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.
3. How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?
Keep an eye on the weight gain. Monitoring how much weight the baby is gaining is a good indicator of how the breastfeeding is going. Monitoring your baby’s bowel movements is a convenient way to ensure that baby is getting enough breast milk. Because we can’t measure how much a baby is drinking with breastfeeding it is necessary to have an easy guide to reassure us that baby is getting enough, one way of doing this is to monitor the output – the poos and pees!
Your baby should be feeding at least 8 times in a 24 hours period with each feed being at least ten minutes of active sucking. Your baby should be active and alert, and he/she should be filling out and growing.
4. How do I know when my breasts are empty?
The breasts never run out of milk, the body is continually making milk while the baby is feeding so although they may not be as full as they are the beginning of a feed they are actually never completely empty. Initially there will be a lot of milk at the beginning of the feed and there is quite a fast flow of milk and then as the feed continues the milk flow slows down and there is less milk. The amazing thing though is that the body compensates for the slower flow by making this milk higher in fat content, so although the baby may be getting less milk it is quite high in fat content.
5. I want my baby to have breast milk but am anxious about breastfeeding so I might just express and feed my baby by bottle – is this a good idea?
Expressing is not intended to replace breastfeeding entirely. It is meant for situations where the mother can’t feed her baby such as when the baby is in the special care baby unit, in this situation it is necessary to establish the milk supply and to provide breast milk to the baby until such a time that the baby can breastfeed. The other use of expressing is for periodic use to enable the mother to leave the baby for short periods of time.
Expressing milk is a LOT of work and not much fun. Although this method of feeding may seem to alleviate the issues with breastfeeding it is in fact about double (or triple) the amount of work. The process of expressing your breast milk takes up a lot of time, then the baby needs to be fed and then the equipment needs to be cleaned, then it often time to start all over again.
Your body will most likely not produce enough milk with expressing only. The first three days after the birth are crucial for establishing your milk supply, the skin to skin with baby and the frequent breastfeeding are all important elements to get the milk supply up and running. To mimic this with a pump is very difficult and therefore it is unlikely that you will be able to establish a robust milk supply.
It is much easier and more enjoyable to breastfeed. Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding before the baby arrives. It is ok that you may be a bit anxious about breastfeeding, a lot of women feel this way but take the time during pregnancy to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding , take a class, talk to friends, read books and find where your local breastfeeding support groups are. By taking these steps you will become much more confident about breastfeeding and greatly improve your chances of success when the baby arrives.