World Breastfeeding Week is in August. As a naturopath, I absolutely encourage and support women to breastfeed for as long as they can, whether that be 3 months or 3 years. However, I have also seen that breastfeeding does not always work out for mothers and babies for a variety of reasons, and that’s ok too. This blog is not designed to make those mothers feel guilty.
So if you’re pregnant and wondering what all the breastfeeding fuss is about, or in those first early weeks of breastfeeding and wondering if it’s worth continuing, then this blog is for you.
Why do I encourage and support breastfeeding?
Breastmilk is an amazing substance, its composition changes to suit the needs of your baby, and this is what makes it so difficult for infant formulas to replicate. The foremilk (start of your breastfeed) differs from your hindmilk (end of your breastfeed) and varies at different times of the day.
It of course provides a variety of nutrients to support your baby’s growth and development, but it also provides substances such as antibodies and probiotics that work against infections.
What are antibodies?
When you come into contact with germs your body makes antibodies to fight those germs. These antibodies then pass through your breastmilk to your baby. These antibodies (IgA) are not digested by the baby but rather protect the internal surfaces of the body such as the mouth, stomach and intestines. This means they provide a barrier to block infections that could cause illness. How cool is that?
What are the benefits of probiotics?
There is significant microbial diversity in your breastmilk which gets passed through to your baby. This microbial diversity is basically lots of different types of good bacteria. This helps your baby develop a more efficient immune system. It can help protect against infections and also create a healthy gut environment which supports your baby’s health into childhood and even adulthood. Some studies suggest not only do breastfed infants have less incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and ear infections, but they are also less likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes or obesity in adulthood.
Breastfeeding can provide comfort to your infant or toddler
I used to wonder why I was told not to breastfeed my baby if he was just wanting comfort. I expect it was to do with allowing me some rest or sleep. However; I think that providing comfort to your infant or toddler is one of the best things about breastfeeding. It provides a safe place for the newborn who is trying to adjust to life outside your womb. It feels secure for your infant or toddler to breastfeed when they are learning new skills or experiencing new things that may be daunting to them, and it can also instantly calm a toddler who has hurt themselves. Breastfeeding is not just about nutrition.
Breastfeeding has health benefits for the mother.
According to the World Health Organisation, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and post-partum depression. Those reasons alone are worth giving breastfeeding a go.
What can make breastfeeding go wrong?
Firstly, you have to learn to breastfeed
Yes, breastfeeding is the most natural way of feeding your newborn, we are mammals after all, but sometimes it doesn’t come naturally. Like all things in life, breastfeeding needs to be learned. For some it will come easy, for others it will take some time. I recall it taking me and my son about 8 weeks or so to find our breastfeeding fit.
Your baby has to learn to latch on to your nipple properly
This means lots of squeezing of your breasts into shapes you didn’t think possible, and positioning of your baby. All of this can lead to nipple pain or damage. In addition, if your baby is not latching properly, he may not be draining your breasts well. This can lead to block ducts and the risk of mastitis, an infection of the breast.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. The midwives supporting you at the hospital have great skills at helping your baby latch, and if that fails there are community lactation consultants that can help you. If you’re struggling with getting your baby to latch properly then make sure you contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association for guidance, or contact your local Maternal Child Health Nurse for a referral to a lactation consultant.
In the meantime, herbs such as calendula can be applied topically in a cream or gel base to support your nipple healing. There are plenty of nipple creams and gels available on the market so look for one that has calendula in it or ask your naturopath to make up a cream for you.
Your milk supply needs to be adequate to meet your baby’s needs
Some women may find their milk supply to be low. This can happen for a number of reasons and can be more common for women of preterm infants. Breastfeeding on demand will support a good milk supply as will expressing in between feeds. Expressing in between feeds can be extremely exhausting, however it does not usually need to be for more than a few weeks whilst your supply increases. Increasing your skin to skin contact time with your baby is also good to boost your supply.
There are herbs which promote lactation such as fennel, fenugreek, shatavari and goats rue. You can find tea blends available or recipes on line for ‘lactation cookies’. However, it is always important to speak to your naturopath when considering taking herbs to ensure they are safe whilst breastfeeding.
Your baby may go on a ‘breastfeeding strike’
Some babies will go on a breastfeeding strike and refuse your breast for a day or two or longer. It is difficult not to feel rejected particularly if you feel passionately about breastfeeding. The good news is, these strikes usually will only last a day or two. If your baby continues to refuse your breast or isn’t breastfeeding as well, it may warrant a trip to your health professional or a call to the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Your baby might have a stuffy nose, be easily distracted by sights and sounds, have an ear infection or some other reason for being “on strike”. In most cases breast feeding can be re-established so utilise your support networks to help you get back on track.
Breastfeeding can be difficult at first but it is such a rewarding experience for both you and your baby. This special phase in your relationship won’t last forever so enjoy it as much as you can.