In my idyllic world women give birth without fear and go on to have pleasant nursing relationships with their young well past the typically recommended six month mark and practice positive parenting philosophies while living healthy, fruitful lives and eventually dying happily of old age. In my idyllic world stretch marks don’t exist and pregnancy doesn’t cause boob sagging but I suppose that would be asking for too much really. What isn’t asking for too much is having the proper supports in place for new moms to be educated about the nature of breastfeeding and being guided through the challenges. This would inevitably lead them to doing what their bodies were designed to do: lactate beautifully.
Most breastfeeding issues can be prevented with adequate knowledge about the mechanics of the process. However, what really angers me is how guilty moms feel for having to supplement when the failure is really that of our culture lacking adequate support systems, rather than their bodies failing them. I feel sad for those moms and those babies who are then required to use a sub-standard supplement because nursing just didn’t work out.
There simply isn't enough support for establishing healthy breastfeeding in our culture. From pressure from the formula-making industries that market their products aggressively to the lack of lactation consultants and un-educated medical professionals, we have created an environment where nursing one’s babies is abnormal. I can almost guarantee that 90% of women who ‘couldn’t’ breastfeed their young is a result of poor advice that sabotaged the nursing relationship early on when it is the most vulnerable.
And so I would like to share what worked for me:
Feed on Demand; as in follow your infant’s hunger cues and not an arbitrary schedule. This usually means feed often, even throughout the night (yikes! soon you will forget what being rested even means anyways and then one day you’ll sleep for 8 hours and be pleasantly surprised, usually about when they hit college). If your child is getting dehydrated, losing weight and having trouble settling down, chances are they are hungry and need to nurse MORE. They do not need formula supplemented as many doctors and even paediatricians will suggest (more on THEIR lot later), but just need to be fed more often. Breastmilk digests quickly because it was designed to do so, and so your infant needs to feed often. It works on the concept of supply and demand: the more that is used, the more your body produces. Start supplementing, especially at night and you risk drying up what you got. You are essentially telling your body that you don’t need so much so it complies and stops producing.
Avoid Dummies; as in soothers and bottles. I know you might be all ‘touched-out’ from being latched onto almost constantly but be patient! Hold off on pumping even, until your nursing relationship is established at about 5 weeks or so. Using them before then can cause nipple-confusion because infants work different jaw muscles to nurse on the breast than when sucking on a dummy. They are learning just as you are and alternating between breast/bottle before they master nursing will confuse and frustrate them and they may have a nursing strike (refusing the boob in all its glory). Yes it sucks sometimes essentially being a living pacifier but there is a reason why infants need to comfort nurse: when they do it signals for your body to produce more milk. Replace it with a piece of plastic and your body doesn’t receive the signal and so your milk supply doesn’t increase with their needs.
ASK FOR HELP; but from credible sources. In my opinion the only ones who are worth their salt are other nursing mothers with experience and certified lactation consultants who are educated directly in the mechanics of breastfeeding and can help you find healthy solutions to your issues. Check out your local La Leche League for some great resources!
Naturally there is more to it but those are the essentials. Things that have worked for me are: co-sleeping: because getting out of bed every hour to nurse my son just wasn’t going to happen, rolling over makes more sense to me; babywearing: the skin-to-skin contact helps bonding and observing baby’s cues continuously to figure out when they’re hungry helps loads; and having a babymoon: staying home for the first few weeks to figure this motherhood shit out before venturing out where random people give you horrible parenting advice in a well-meaning kind of way while you’re still vulnerable. This includes ‘experts’ such as family doctors and even paediatricians who, baffling enough, have little training in breastfeeding mechanics. That’s right. They are not required to have extensive education in the most essential bodily function a mother has for her child (well apart from her womb that is). Hire a lactation consultant! DO IT! It’s worth it. Don’t make breastfeed an option, make it a requirement.
If adequately supported for at least the first month of their infant’s lives, chances are women would get the hang of it and be able to breastfeed their young till they self-wean. Sadly, our culture is letting women and their babies down and the result is women feeling guilty about themselves because of it while corporations make a profit off of it. Nestle doesn’t want you to succeed at breastfeeding, they want to convince you that formula is ok too and that you don’t need to persevere with your nursing relationship. Their income counts on that failure. Any research into formula marketing strategies will convince you that they have no moral compass and half the crap they spew about how awesome powdered milk is in fact, an outrageous lie. It isn’t comparable to breastmilk, it is a last resort. Even receiving donations of breastmilk from other moms is far superior than adding water to some chemicals. Even if they are working mothers, they can breastfeed exclusively; rather bottlefeed breastmilk exclusively their babies. I have seen it done, it is possible. WE CAN ALL BREASTFEED! Hell, even adoptive mothers are able to breastfeed with the right tools and determination. Google it, it does exist! If they can do it, so can you. Essentially mothers need to support themselves, and each other and arm themselves with the right info and resources until our ‘experts’ get themselves organized.
Some of my personal favorite resources: