As a mother I’ve got lots of advice from others, and breastfeeding is no exception. From the practical (wait and see what you need otherwise you will buy things you won’t need), to the profound (read your baby, not a book) to the downright painful (if you want to breastfeed use a nail-brush to toughen up your nipples). Yes, you read that right, and I ignored that nugget because I thought if I did it would most likely put me off breastfeeding altogether. A quick poll of the Can I Breastfeed in It UK members found plenty of gems that were actually land-mines on the breastfeeding journey.
1) Formula is the safe and healthy option, the benefits of breastfeeding in the developed world are far less.
It is true that formula is much better than it used to be, but lets face the bar was so low it would not take much to improve on it. Even today the manufacturers are struggling to put the same nutrients in the formula as there are in breast milk and in the way the baby needs them. Research has shown that even in affluent countries with progressive healthcare systems the use of formula is linked to a higher infant mortality than breastfed babies. I’ve regularly heard the comment ‘I bottle-fed mine and it didn’t cause any harm’. But then you probe a little further and they agree that little one had lots of little bouts of sickness which might have been prevented with the immunity provided by antibodies in breast milk. Also breastfeeding is now believed to help with allergies – a curiously western disease.
2) Babies go longer between feeds when on formula so not only do you get sleep they get more nutrition.
Formula fed babies don’t appear to get hungry quite so quickly, but this isn’t really a good thing. Current theoriess on the cause of cot death are linked to babies’ breathing patterns being interrupted during sleep. There is evidence that the artificially deep sleep caused by the hard to digest formula is a risk factor. Human milk changes all the time and has sleep
inducing ingredients to help baby sleep while mum gets a rush of oxytocin to calm and relax her. I can honestly say I get woken regularly, but I am back to sleep in a matter of minutes. I don’t have to make a bottle, fuss with colic relief or soothe either of us back to sleep. And my experience isn’t unique. Plus there are no arguments with hubby over whose turn it is while baby screams louder and louder. In fact sometimes I reckon I have boob in his mouth before he’s awake (my baby’s mouth, not my husband’s).
3) I’ve spent nine months tee total, watching what I eat and unable to take my usual medicines. I want my life back, and there is no way I am not wearing deodorant.
I for one am delighted to have my life changed forever, but you’d be surprised how much you can keep doing. Firstly, alcohol leaves your milk as quickly as it leaves your bloodstream. I’m not advocating heavy drinking or regular binges but if you’re safe to drive you are safe to nurse, and let’s face it, how often do you have the money or energy to go on an all-nighter in the early months. A recent advertising campaign about eating healthily while breastfeeding which seemed to suggest a burger goes straight from your lips to baby’s turns out to be indirectly sponsored by a leading formula manufacturer and is misleading. While you need to eat an overall healthy diet, you can eat far greater variety than when pregnant, and for me at least baby quite literally sucked the fat out of me. I was eating guilt free desserts instead of calorie counting to lose the baby weight. As for medication, while many healthcare professionals are unsure and say no, most medical conditions are compatible with breastfeeding, you just need to get the right information and possibly be a bit flexible. Oh and deodorant is fine, if you can remember to put it on. You might struggle enough time to launder your clothes, shower or shave when you are a mother so let’s face it you need all the help you can get. That is nothing to do with breastfeeding, all mothers feel that way and I am told things get back to normal when the youngest leaves for university.
4) I want my partner to get the chance to bond with my baby.
Sometime this means exactly that, sometimes it means I want to share the chores. Firstly, you should see how my son interacts with his Uncle. No food has been passed between them (except for a little vomit but uncle was very apologetic) but they adore each other. Here are 50 different ways Dad can bond with baby. Now because I feed my baby to sleep (including daytime naps) rather than risk waking him, hubby cooks, cleans and leaves us to snuggle. Plus there’s always ‘Oh honey, you need to spend time looking after your son so you can bond properly, so why don’t you change his nappy’. Yes, it does works.
5) I’m worried out feeding outside of the house.
I get this, it was really scary the first time, plus the actual mechanics of getting a tit out in public. All the media stories had me thinking that every trip would involve people making a scene and just a load of unpleasantness. But we live in a generation of smart phones, tablets and a fear of making eye contact with strangers. People don’t notice or care.
But what about the practicalities of feeding a baby away from home? A boob doesn’t need to be sterilised, heated to the right temperature, cooled to the right temperature and thrown away after 2 hours if it isn’t completely drained. I don’t have to pre-measure the right amount of fluid or powder, or spend money on a pre-paid carton. No need to ask a surly waitress for a jug of water and hope she returns before the baby version of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. These points go double or triple for overnight trips.
6) It is so painful to breastfeed, it just seems so difficult you won’t last more than a week.
Yes, there were points when it was more painful than labour. I don’t care what those 50 shades books say I get no satisfaction from nipple pain, but there are ways around this. Breastfeeding is a learnt skill, for both you and baby and just as learning to ride a bike there are bumps and scrapes along the way. Sometimes the pain is more than just getting started and this is where breastfeeding support groups come in. A peer supporter or lactation consultant can check your latch, rule out tongue or lip tie, or suggest the right sized nipple shield. If you don’t have a La Leche League in your area there will be plenty of breastfeeding support groups. Most NHS trusts do at home support, but make sure you get specialist support as not all midwives and health visitors are equal.
7) You’ll get saggy boobs, in fact you need to get into an exercise regime as soon as you can or you’ll stay fat forever.
You can breastfeed and exercise, you may find your regime changes, not least of which because you need to be more careful of your joints, but I would power walk around the park and stop to cuddle and feed baby when we needed it. Susan O’Brien hit the news for drinking her own milk after getting lost in the wilderness but behind the headlines she is a personal trainer and was competing on a trailrun.
As for saggy boobs – Miranda Kerr’s continue to defy gravity so maybe breastfeeding isn’t as much of an influence as general lifestyle and good genes.
8) You can’t breastfeed with big boobs, small boobs, flat nipples, pale nipples.
What? Your nipple colour defines your ability to breastfeed? People of every ethnicity and in every country on the planet breastfeed. Your cupsize has very little to do with your ability to nurse as this is based on the amount of fatty tissue between the milk glands. These glands barely change size from woman to woman. You may use different hold positions to help your baby latch depending on whether yours are more Gala or watermelon but this really is about finding what works for you.
9) When I expressed I produced a small amount of watery milk, no wonder baby was always hungry.
Yes, formula looks so creamy and nice, and your milk will look thin next to it. But that doesn’t mean formula is better, in fact all that fat is pretty difficult to digest. Even the best breast pump is no match for your baby’s suction power which changes depending on whether the light foremilk or richer hindmilk is needed. There will be days when you have a bowling ball sized leech attached to your chest, but this won’t necessarily mean baby is unsatisfied. They could be building your supply for a growth spurt, or in need of some love.
10) Breastfeeding made my hair fall out and my skin became spot prone – I must have been deficient in some sort of nutrient and this would have affected my milk. You may not have noticed but when you were pregnant your everyday hair loss was reduced and your skin had a healthy glow – it wasn’t just all that sweat from an internal hot water bottle. Someone told me once this was evolution making you that little more attractive so your partner stayed invested during the relationship. The crazy mood swings, noxious gases being emitted from both ends of the digestive system, the inability to groom certain areas (if I could reach it I couldn’t see it, if I could see it I couldn’t reach it) are all outweighed by your thick and shiny hair. When your baby comes your hormones means your hair and skin goes back to their usual states, but of course human nature means you think it is worse than before. In fact, even during times of famine a mother’s milk has everything a baby needs. Far better to get a new cut and facial, you deserve it, plus you want to look your best for all those mother and baby photos.