According the the American Academy of Pediatrics “breastfeeding should not be considered as a lifestyle choice but rather as a basic health issue.” Immunologically, a mother’s milk is not only food but also medicine. It contains living cells, antibodies and is custom made to suit each baby’s unique needs. In fact, breasts are so amazing and complex organs that breastmilk composition naturally varies according to the gestational age of your infant and the amount of heat and humidity in your environment!
Breastfeeding requires no fancy equipment, no sterilization or countless trips to the store. Furthermore. breastfeeding provides high quality love and attention through physical touch. Skin is our most sensitive organ, and touch is the first language we speak! When mom and baby are nursing oxytocin, the calming, loving, healing hormone is released creating calmer mammas and babies.
So despite all the known health benefits of breastfeeding why do women in north america struggle to continue breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond as recommended by the World health Organization?
The foundation and values of our lifestyle are not conducive to breastfeeding. We need to re-establish a culture of breastfeeding in our society where a culture no longer exists.
1st cultural myth: You just cannot produce enough milk
There is nothing wrong with natures design. When women feel they are supported breastfeeding works very well and women are able to reliably produce enough milk to fully nourish their babies. Research has shown that even malnourished women are able to produce sufficient quantities of quality milk for their babies. Mothers need to begin nursing without the fear of failure and problems need to be addressed promptly. Your body has the capacity to work right this issue is external factors that interfere with your innate ability to nurse your baby. The great news is your baby’s body has the same level of innate wisdom pre-programmed within his/her survival features.
2nd cultural Myth: Babies should sleep through the night.
Research has shown that prolactin levels are highest between 2AM and 6AM. Highest prolactin levels correlate with the times of highest milk production. Thus, in order to increase and sustain supply it is not unreasonable to expect babies to nurse around the clock, especially in the night. In the womb babies receive continual nourishment and are not accustomed to our sleeping routines. It seems like one of the first questions a new mom is asked is “does your baby sleep through the night yet?” This continual cultural pressure creates unrealistic expectations and leads parents to turn to extreme, potentially detrimental cry it out sleep training methods.
3rd cultural Myth: Birth Experience is Separate from Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the next physiological and psychological step after labour and birth. It is all a continuum! How a women gives birth directly impacts her breastfeeding experience in a variety of ways perhaps more than you think.
Breastfeeding supply both short and long term are impacted depending on the use of medications in birth. Narcotics go directly from mom to baby through the placenta creating a sleepy newborn. Routine epidurals also run the risk of breastfeeding sabatosh. When a women is completely numb to all sensations no natural endorphins are being released. This results in babies experiencing birth very differently. Without endorphins mom would naturally share throughout labour the baby being born tired, wiped out and disorganized. Antibiotic although seemingly benign during labour may result in painful thrush which is becoming more and more difficult to overcome. Inductions with Pitocin result in mom making much less oxytocin, therefore she doesn’t bond the same way with baby and also increases the baby’s risk of jaundice. Breastfeeding positioning can be affected by birth if there is physical trauma to the baby’s mouth or jaw through interventions such as forceps and vacuum. IV fluids intended to hydrate cause edema creating a difficult latching situation. Even if baby is able to latch, the excess fluid build up prevents milk from flowing forward. This results in mom becoming engorged, a lower milk supply and a longer transition from colostrum to mature milk. It is not physiology normal for transitional milk to come in on day 4,5,6 day! Prolonged transitional time creates fussy hungry babies and stressed out mammas.
4th Cultural Myth: Pumps, Pacifiers, Nurseries oh my!
Pumping is far inferior to the strong suckling muscles of your newborn and because of this the amount you express is not an accurate representation of how much milk you are capable of producing. Many moms are alarmed at how little milk they can express with a pump and become anxious they are not sustaining their supply. As stress builds the let down reflex is inhibited and the vicious cycle repeats. While breast pumps may provide many benefits in the first 6 weeks they should not be used to monitor supply.
Artificial nipples are typically not recommended until after a strong milk supply is established (beyond 6 weeks). Pacifiers can affect how and if breastfeeding is successful simply by creating periods of separation between mom and baby. When baby is sucking on artificial nipples mom is losing much needed breast stimulation to a pacifier and her supply suffers. Despite the heavy marketing campaign. vast variety of models, colors and materials pacifiers are not required.
There has been recent media reports trying to discourage co-sleeping deeming it unsafe. Co- sleeping itself is not inherently dangerous when precautionary measures are taken to ensure a safe sleeping environment. Once a safe sleep space is established, co-sleeping provides breastmilk enhancing skin-to-skin contact, ease of access to the breast and a more peaceful sleep for mom. Babies are born accustomed to 24hr a day contact with mom and will benefit greatly from this continual close proximity especially in the early weeks.
My Final Thoughts…
Everyone births differently and for a variety of reasons. I offer education, advocacy and support with no judgments. I want you to prepare you realistically for your breastfeeding experience. Interventions are just tools, they are needed sometimes, and at times critical. My focus is to equip parents to navigate their realities. To ask better questions, make better choices, and to ask for help when facing troubles. I talk about strategies, choices, and how you are going to cope if faced with a longer breastfeeding learning curve.
Breastfeeding is a new skill that requires practice and patience. However, it should not be painfully hard, you should not be intimidated, struggling or overwhelmed. I hope to provide you with realistic practical accurate information about how breastfeeding works, and make it easier and more enjoyable for you and your baby.
Simple Steps Breastfeeding Success
- Give birth naturally in an environment that supports breastfeeding
- Hire a Doula!
- Know who to contact if you run into trouble
- Build connections with breastfeeding support groups
- Relax, reduce stress, and go with the flow.