Friday, April 06, 2007

Breastfeeding Misconceptions

This post is just for me to get this out of my system.

I belong to a mommy message board. The number of women I see give up on breastfeeding from misconceptions appalls me. Breastmilk is the best nutrition for an infant, excluding a very few special cases. If you can, I believe you should breastfeed. At the same time, breastfeeding isn't for everyone and there are lots of things that go into being a good mommy- how you feed your baby is far from the sole, determining factor. There are lots of reasons not to breastfeed. You may have had breast surgery that makes it impossible, you may need to take medications that allow you to be a great mommy but not a great food source, you may need a little more "me time" than breastfeeding allows for to be a great mommy, you may be uber-fertile and desperately need to start birthcontrol pills that can decimate your supply. In short, breastfeeding is good but a happy, healthy mommy is great.

It seems like the main thing I see cited as the reason women quit breast feeding in the first couple of weeks is that they don't make enough milk. It is incredibly rare that that is actually the case, and if it is there are lots of things you can do allow you to continue breastfeeding. First, your breasts work on a supply and demand basis. In order to make make more milk your breasts have to be emptied lots and lots of times in the beginning. This often leads new mothers to think that they aren't making enough milk since their baby is "always" hungry. Newborns will want to nurse every 60-90 minutes- you may get a 3 hour stretch with some babies but you need them to nurse lots and lots in the beginning to help your body establish your milk supply. When the baby nurses you release hormones that tell your body to make more milk. In addition, newborns don't have very big mouths or tummies and neither of you is very efficient at this point so, it takes them a long while to eat a meal. It's not unusual for them to nurse for 45 minutes at a time. It takes about 90 minutes for the baby to finish digesting the breastmilk so, if they are awake, they'll probably notice and be hungry again. You will feel like you have a baby living on your boob for the first few weeks. Even if you don't, there are growth spurts at the 7-10 day mark, 3 weeks and 6 weeks so, at those times the baby will want to nurse even more. Nursing in bed in a sidelying position will help you get sleep. The important thing is that all this nursing in no way indicates that you aren't making enough milk.

Formula fed babies will go longer between feedings. This is because it's harder for babies to digest formula so it takes longer for their tummy to empty out. Formula fed babies may also sleep longer at a stretch because of this. My husband and I refer to this as "better sleep through constipation." However, the benefits of longer sleep need to be weighed against the many benefits of breastfeeding. In addition, you may have to deal with a constipated baby.

Many babies will take an ounce or so of formula or water after a nursing session on the sheer basis of it being offered- not because they are hungry. It's easier to get out of a bottle than the breast. Don't use this as a basis to assume you aren't making enough. If you are worried, keep track of how many wet and poopy diapers the baby is making. You can also go to the pediatrician or lactation consultant's office and weigh the baby before and after a feeding to see where you stand. If there are plenty of wet and poopy diapers and reasonable weight gain (breastfed babies sometimes take 2 weeks to regain their birthweight and that's ok) you are making enough milk. If you aren't making enough milk by these standards and need to supplement then do so with a supplemental nursing system rather than a bottle. They are a pain in the ass to use but allow the baby to get more to eat while still stimulating your breasts to make more milk. Bottle supplementation is often the fastest way to get breastfeeding to totally not work out in the early weeks. Once your supply is established, then monkey with bottles and such. Give it 4-6 weeks and be sure that you are still nursing at least 7-8 times a day. There are also all manner of supplements and herbs you can try.

The first week or so is really hard. Breastfeeding is a grind. You will feel like you will never have a life, eat with both hands, or sleep again. But, it does get better. If you want to quit, do so but please don't say "He was nursing every 2 hours so I just wasn't making enough" because that's actually the way it's supposed to be. Although, I have also entertained the notion that the actual issue is that it's much more socially acceptable to say that you had supply problems than that you just couldn't take having a baby stuck to your chest for another 18 of the next 24 hours which is awful- new mommies have it hard enough without having to make up lies to keep society happy.

1 comment:

Skyzi said...

Smart lady! That's why people need to take the breast feeding classes offered by the hospital/ doctor.