I want to preface this article by saying that it is not intended to guilt or make anyone feel badly about themselves. Some women cannot breastfeed due to medical conditions, medications they are taking or past surgeries they've had. This is not something to be ashamed of and not something we should be shaming other women for.
A fed baby is best.
"Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day. The reality is that almost all women can breastfeed, have enough milk for their babies and learn how to overcome problems both large and small. It is almost always simply a matter of practical knowledge and not a question of good luck."
- La Leche League
Human breast milk is the best food for babies. It is perfectly designed to nourish them with all of the nutrients they need to grow while also providing warmth, comfort, security and forming a beautiful bond between mother and child. Breastmilk is said to reduce ear infections, obesity, eczema, respiratory tract infections, digestive disorders and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome.) It's also suggested that it decreases the risk of diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women.
Moments after my darling Ivy was born, she ate from me for a solid forty-five minutes. We were blessed with the foundations of a great latch from the beginning and breastfeeding has been one of the most natural, euphoric, absolutely beautiful experiences of my life.
That doesn't mean we haven't had to work for it, though.
I am thankful that I've been able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, but I will be the first to admit that breastfeeding is so much harder than it looks.
Psychologically, it has been incredibly demanding for me at times. I've had anxiety over not being able to produce enough milk, my letdown being too fast or too slow, and about not feeding her enough. These thoughts are so common and most, if not all, new mothers face some kind of breastfeeding challenge at some point throughout their journey.
After learning from several midwives, nurses and doing plenty of my own research, this post is designed to inspire and guide new breastfeeding mothers.
HOW DOES BREASTFEEDING ACTUALLY WORK?
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, the body produces colostrum. This is the nutrient-dense, liquid gold that your baby will be receiving from suckling your breast for the first few days after birth.
Colostrum is rich in antibodies and helps protect your baby from diseases. It also acts as a laxative, which helps your baby remove the meconium from their body. This is a very good thing and often the cause for the baby to lose up to 7% (or sometimes more) of their birth weight within the first few days of life. This is completely normal and as long as you are healthy and your baby is healthy, your body will respond and produce enough colostrum and then milk for your baby to gain her weight back (and more.) Your body is designed to do this!
Immediately after the marathon of giving birth, feeding your newborn may feel demanding and taxing on your body. However, this is such an important time to breastfeed as much as possible.
Sometimes, nurses and doctors will encourage mothers to give their babies a little bit of formula instead of breastfeeding right after labour so that the mother gets to rest and to help the baby gain her weight back faster. If longterm breastfeeding is your goal though, this is not good advice to follow.
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand relationship.
When your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message that your baby is hungry and that it needs to produce colostrum and then after a few days, milk. Your baby's stomach is very tiny at the beginning. A healthy baby's intake of colostrum may increase 2-10 mL per feeding in the first twenty-four hours to 30-60 mL (1-2 oz) per meal by the end of day three. This is a lot of growing and A LOT of breastfeeding.
If your baby receives a bottle of expressed milk or formula, your body isn't being told to make colostrum or milk. In order to build up a sufficient supply of breastmilk to meet your baby's nutritional needs, it's important to put them on your breast every time they display signs of hunger.
ARE THEY REALLY STILL HUNGRY?!
Newborns are not machines. Many doctors, nurses and even midwives believe that babies have to eat every two hours and tell new mothers to feed them on this schedule all day and all night. There are even apps now that set alarms to remind mothers to feed their babies. To me (and to my midwife) this isn't at all necessary and adds an extra level of stress to the mother. Rather than focus on the time or your phone to know when to feed your baby, watch your baby, learn his/her cues and signs of hunger.
Your newborn baby is on survival mode and a healthy baby will not starve herself. By breastfeeding on demand, your body will learn (from your baby) when she's hungry and when to produce milk.
Your baby will tell you when she's hungry. He or she will display hunger cues by sticking his or her tongue out (rooting), opening his or her mouth widely (searching for a breast), putting their hands in his or her mouth, and if the baby is being held, he or she might start to bob their head around searching for your breast. A baby will cry after displaying one or more of these signs. Tune into your baby, pay close attention to them and put them on your breast before they cry. Crying is their last resort.
This may mean that you're sometimes breastfeeding every twenty minutes. You may ask yourself, "How can this baby STILL be hungry? I just breastfed for the past hour!" In the first few days, weeks, even months of breastfeeding, it's so important to follow your baby's lead and feed her when she asks for it.
Babies go through growth during the first few days after they're born, and then again around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months and 9 months (more or less). This is just an approximate timeline — when your baby is going through a growth spurt, you'll know! They can be quite exhausting for the mother as the baby is eating constantly, all day and all night. Growth spurts may last for a few days, up to one week. Do your best to continue breastfeeding during these times and not rely on a bottle. Your baby will be happier, your bond will grow closer and this is the healthiest and most natural way to build up your milk supply.
Side note: I went against my mother intuition and gave Ivy a pacifier for the first few weeks of her life. My midwife strongly discouraged this as it could cause me to miss her hunger cues and therefore have her go hungry. I listened to others in my life instead who told me that babies need pacifiers. In the end, my midwife was right. I confused her hunger cues for fussiness, gave her the pacifier and in turn, she missed some of her meals. She was NOT a happy baby. As soon as I realized what was going on, I took the pacifier away and she's been without one ever since. For this reason, I don't believe in them. I know that they work for some babies, but for us, whenever Ivy was starting to display signs of fussiness, I put her on my breast. After all, the pacifier was invented to replicate the comfort the breast provides.
ESTABLISHING A STRONG BREASTFEEDING FOUNDATION
As I've mentioned, breastfeeding on demand helps establish a healthy milk supply for your baby because every time your baby suckles on your breast, your body receives a message to make milk. There are many other factors that play into developing and growing a successful breastfeeding relationship between you and your baby.
+ Have a support team in place
Becoming a mother is beautiful, exhilarating and total roller coaster of hormones, emotions and exhaustion. Having a group of people or even just one person that you know you can trust to support you, encourage you and take care of you during the beginning is extremely helpful. My husband was and still is my rock. After Ivy was first born, he brought breakfast to me in bed (a smoothie and oatmeal) so I could focus on nursing her. He was also there to support me and encourage me when I felt like giving up, which happened more than once.
+ Empty Your Breasts
Before putting your baby on your other breast, make sure she has fully emptied the breast she began nursing on. This helps your body know how much milk to make for each one of your baby's meals. Also, the first milk that your baby will drink is the foremilk, a light, thinner milk. Then, she'll get the 'hindmilk', which is the fatty, good stuff. Try not to get too hung up this though. I know I stressed about it far too much, worrying if Ivy was getting enough hindmilk or not. If your baby is happy and gaining weight, she's well fed.
+ Eat an ABUNDANCE of plant-based food
Your body is working SO hard to produce milk for your baby so make sure to eat until you're 100% satisfied. This may mean having a meal at 3:00 am. Listen to your body and feed yourself when you're hungry.
Check out my article on nutrition tips for breastfeeding mothers for more information on what to eat.
+ Drink LOTS of water!
In the beginning days of breastfeeding, you'll notice that as you're feeding your baby you'll feel SO thirsty. Make sure you're staying hydrated during this time and throughout your entire breastfeeding journey. I still drink at least 2-3 litres of water every day.
+ Take herbs
Fennel and fenugreek are galactagogues herbs, which mean they help promote breastmilk production. My midwife shared this simple recipe with me that dramatically increased my supply overnight.
½ cup water
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
Soak the seeds in the water overnight in the fridge. In the morning, drink the water and eat the seeds. Repeat daily until milk supply has increased.
Earth Mama's Milkmaid Tea is also helpful!
“Contrary to popular belief, attaching the baby on the breast is not an ability with which a mother is [born…]; rather it is a learned skill which she must acquire by observation and experience.” – Woolridge M.
+ Perfect the latch
Ivy and I were blessed with the foundations of a perfect latch from the beginning, but we still had to work to perfect it. Just hours after having Ivy, my midwife told me that teaching her how to latch was going to be my first job as a mother. She instructed me to not allow Ivy to eat unless she was latched on my breast correctly. If the latch was not correct, I would be in pain, breastfeeding would be difficult and my nipples could have become very sore.
I took her advice and every time I went to feed Ivy, I expressed a small amount of colostrum/milk with my hand so my nipple was dripping. This gave her a little reward to latch properly. Then, I smashed my breast into her mouth. I could feel it right away if her mouth wasn't open wide enough and wouldn't let her continue. I'd put my finger in her mouth and carefully take her off of my breast. At times it took over five minutes to begin feeding her and she did get frustrated, but after two days of dedicated 'latch training', we perfected it and to this day, I haven't had sore nipples.
If you do suffer from sore nipples, try a nipple shield. I also love Earth Mama's Nipple Butter and used it every day as self-care (and still, but as a facial moisturizer).
This can be the hardest part. When you sit down to nurse your baby, before beginning, take DEEP breaths. Imagine yourself as a breastfeeding goddess with milk flowing from your breasts. Imagine your baby chugging your healthy milk that's flowing freely and quickly from your breasts. Then, begin to breastfeed. Continue to inhale and exhale slowly with these thoughts in your mind. Look down at your baby, feel the love and pride you have for him or her and allow your milk to flow out of your body. If it helps, close your eyes and do your best to relax and truly enjoy the experience.
Whenever my anxiety is troubling me, Ivy and I have a bath together. I turn out all the lights, light some candles and lay in the warm water with her. Skin to skin, she suckles from my breast. It always helps me relax and she loves it, too!
+ Believe in yourself
Just as your body conceived, grew and birthed your baby, your body is DESIGNED to provide food for your baby. You were meant to do this!
Pumping can also help bring up your milk supply. When Ivy was a few days old, I started pumping every night to build up a stash to keep in the freezer just in case anything ever were to happen to me that would prevent me from breastfeeding her when she needed it, which came in handy down the road.
If you have to go back to work, it's a good idea to establish a pumping routine from the start to build up that supply. Do your best to pump at the same time every single day so your body gets used to producing extra milk at that time. Take a deep breath before beginning to pump and drink a BIG glass of water. While you're pumping, envision your baby if you're not with her. Look at photos of her, day dream about her suckling your breast and feel proud about the milk you're saving to feed her. If you are with your baby, gaze into her eyes and enjoy the bonding moment.
AVOIDING POTENTIAL (PAINFUL) PROBLEMS
There are a few painful problems that can happen along the way — from engorgement to clogged milk ducts, infections, mastitis and more.
The two best ways to avoid these problems is to nurse OFTEN (empty those breasts!) and to massage your breasts, preferably under hot water in the shower. If you feel any lumps or warm spots in your breasts, jump in the shower and massage down, towards the nipple, to encourage the milk to flow. Then, put your baby on your boob and encourage her to suckle, suckle, suckle. The more she nurses, the less FULL you'll feel.
You may also want to hire a lactation consultant or join a breastfeeding support group. La Leche League is a great resource for this.
Please visit www.kellymom.com for more information on troubleshooting breastfeeding problems. She's a genius and my most trusted resource.
MILK FROM COWS IS NOT OURS TO TAKE
I'm very passionate about breastfeeding because human milk is the healthiest food for human babies. It's designed with them in mind, no one else. Human milk is for human babies. Likewise, cow's milk is for calves.
We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk from another species. Cow's milk is designed to make a baby cow grow from a small calf to a 500-pound animal in a short amount of time; it's not designed for human consumption. The way humans obtain milk from cows isn't natural either.
"Here's what happens: cows don't produce any milk until they've been impregnated and give birth. And the farmer's not going wait for nature for take it's course - 'hi, have some chocolate and roses and maybe make love and maybe somewhere out in the field you'll get pregnant' - no, the farmer's impregnate the cows every single year. And this is not done with grace. What they do is they take a glove that's really long, it goes all the way up from their fingers to their shoulders, and they stick their left hand right up the cow's rectum so they can feel the uterus through the rectal wall. They grab ahold of the uterus and they stabilize it and then with their right hand, they take what looks like a knitting needle and they push it through the cow's cervix and they inject semen into it. And the cow is not going to object because she is chained by the neck. And then they write on her flank, the date. And then nine months later, she gives birth. The gestation is about the same in a cow as it is in a human. And when she gives birth, she looks down at her baby who is in the hay and the baby looks up at her and is blinking his eyes and this mother and infant bond is extremely strong. And the farmer thinks "isn't that beautiful." Except the farmer knows that 'wait wait wait, if this calf stays with the mother and takes the milk, then what am I going to have?" So the farmer has an implement that solves this problem - it's called a wheelbarrow. And the farmer picks up the calf, puts the calf in the wheelbarrow and takes the calf away from the mother. And this bond is the strongest bond we have in nature and so the mother fights back. "Excuse me, that is my baby!" And she will fight how she can, she will push and she will follow and the farmer slams the gate in her face. This is every day, in every dairy and the calf goes away. And she will stand there and she will cry out all night long. If you live near a dairy farm, you will hear this. And the baby will cry for her mother and she will be impregnated again three months later. And every year she will be impregnated and this is where the hormones then get into the milk but from her standpoint, it's not pleasant to get artificially inseminated and then have your baby taken away. And this goes on about four times. When she's about four years of age the farmer does the math and says "I'm not getting enough milk out of you for the amount of feed that I'm feeding you so how about I hang you up by the leg and I slit your throat and we then sell your meat for low-grade hamburger and I'm going to replace you with your daughter who I've been keeping here in a hutch" and the offspring go in and they are artificially inseminated and separated from their offspring and then their offspring and that's what the whole dairy industry is. It's a meat industry that just forces the animals to get impregnated and separated and impregnated and separated before they're finally killed at about four years of age."
- Dr. Neal Barnard M.D., F.A.C.C., is an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and founder of Barnard Medical Centre.