Learning To Breastfeed Can Be Such a Vulnerable Time
By Dr. Melanie Beingessner
Learning to Breastfeed Can Be Such A Vulnerable Time
Learning to breastfeed can be a difficult and frustrating time
for first-time mothers and their babies. Under the best
circumstances, most of us have patience and determination to
learn a new skill. However, after the physically draining
effects of labour and birth, breastfeeding can easily become
frustrating if the baby is slower to learn to latch at the
During this period just after birth, your internal resources are
fragile and you can be vulnerable to outside criticism or
disapproval. With respect to breastfeeding, "well intentioned
help can easily sabotage the breastfeeding process. Many new
mothers are offered suggestions from people who truly believe
that they are providing great advice, when the advice is dated
and can actually interfere with the breastfeeding process. Here
are a few situations that can arise, the problems that they can
create, and suggestions on how to handle them.
The Postpartum Period
"You are so very tired. Why don't you sleep and let us take care
of your baby?"
Yes, it is true that you are tired after giving birth. However,
if you let your nurse or someone else watch your baby while you
sleep, you won't know if they decide to feed your baby formula.
The colostrum that your breasts produce just after birth is
extremely concentrated with nutrients, immune factors and energy-
rich natural sugars, and a newborn baby drinks colostrum
approximately a teaspoon at a time. Because her stomach is
extremely small, this amount of colostrum is a normal and healthy
amount for her to ingest per feeding in the first few days of her
life. If your baby is fed an ounce or more of formula, her
stomach will become used to a larger volume and suddenly the
colostrum that your breasts produce is not enough.
To counter this approach, keep your baby in your room with you,
sleep when she sleeps and feed her on demand. If you can sleep
while a family member or a friend is visiting, ask him or her to
wake you as soon as the baby starts to stir so that you have time
to latch her to your breast before she becomes wide awake and
The baby is losing body weight and we are going to have to
supplement her with formula.
Actually, it is normal for a baby to lose weight after birth.
When a baby is growing inside her mother's uterus, she is
constantly fed nutrients and liquids through her umbilical cord.
After birth, the constant stream of food and drink ends and
breastfeeding begins. However, a baby can be really tired after
birth, and it can be difficult for her to stay awake long enough
to have a good feed. You might want to wake her every two hours
to feed to ensure that she's getting a good supply of breast
milk. Keep offering the breast and encourage her to suckle even
if it is a gulp at a time. Once your milk comes in, it will be
easier for her to get more fluids and nutrients in each
breastfeeding session. It can take up to three weeks for a
newborn to regain her birth weight.
There is a point, however, when a baby can become dehydrated and
that is cause for concern. At 7% loss of body weight, your
health care practitioner will want to monitor the baby's
breastfeeding times and whether or not she pees and poops
regularly. Supplementation may become necessary, but offer the
breast first and then supplement afterwards. This allows your
baby to continue to practice learning a proper latch and helps to
establish a good supply of breast milk. It can take time for the
baby to learn the physical act of breastfeeding, and once she
does, supplementation will no longer be required.
Once You Are Home
"You should feed your baby on a schedule."
Our mothers and grandmothers were advised since 1946 by Dr.
Spock's Baby and Child Care book to bottle-feed their babies and
put them on rigid schedules because it was "more sanitary and
more scientific." At that time in history, scientists and
pediatricians did not realize how much more breast milk offered
besides nourishment. Breast milk includes immune factors coat
the lining of the baby's intestines to provide better immunity
from bacteria, viruses and parasites; natural fats that promote
brain and nerve development; and the exactly perfect proportion
of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that the
Breastfed babies are supposed to eat often---the baby leads the
"breastfeed on demand process because her sole purpose at this
beginning stage of her life is to ensure her survival by
establishing a good and abundant milk supply. While ill-advised,
it is possible to achieve a schedule for a bottle-fed baby
because the cow's milk proteins found in formula take more time
to digest than the proteins found in human breast milk.
You always get to feed the baby and I can't. Couldn't you let me
give her one bottle at night?
The problems with introducing bottles into a baby's schedule when
she is busy establishing her milk supply are twofold:
First: a newer baby can become confused with the two different
types of feeding. Breastfeeding is a very active process. A
baby draws a good amount of breast tissue into her mouth (more
than you realize) to form a teat. She has to suck for quite a
few seconds before the letdown reflex begins and the milk begins
to flow. When a baby is feeding well, the rhythm that develops
is to suck a few times and then to gulp the milk that pools in
Bottle-feeding is a totally different process. A bottle-fed baby
doesn't have to work at all to get milk. The milk dribbles from
the nipple of the bottle and the baby gulps away to her heart's
content. If a breastfeeding baby encounters two types of
feeding, one that she has to work at and one that is incredibly
simple, she might just opt for the easier one, especially if she
is having difficulties learning how to latch.
Second: it is the physical act of sucking at the breast that
stimulates the brain to increase milk production. If a baby is
using one of her feeds to drink formula, the mother does not get
the stimulus to produce more milk. This results in less milk
available for the baby, which causes her to be hungry and fussy.
The same problem arises when soothers are introduced into a
newborn's life before the breast milk supply is firmly
established. A soother can provide comfort, but it interferes
with the baby sucking at her mother's breast. Soothers and
bottles should only be introduced after the breastfeeding process
is comfortable for both mother and baby, not before.
One way to satisfy the needs of your partner, your parents, your
in-laws and other family members who want to feed your baby is to
give them an activity to do that is special just for them.
Partners can take over bath time and actually climb into the bath
with the babies to enjoy skin-on-skin closeness. Other family
members can be shown infant massage techniques, or suggest that
they hold the baby on their chests and drape a warm blanket
around the two to provide the satisfaction of a good cuddle. Be
creative, there are lots of ways to show love that don't involve
It is important to remember that learning the skills of parenting
a newborn take time and quite a lot of energy. Breastfeeding is
one of these skills and if you can remain as calm as possible,
you have a much better chance of success.
Breastfeeding can be frustrating to learn for some women and if
you find that you and your baby are struggling, get help
immediately! The help of a positive, knowledgeable person could
make the difference for a new mother to be able to successfully
breastfeed her baby.
About The Author
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a chiropractor, a breastfeeding
counsellor, an infant massage instructor and the mother of three.
She is the author of The Calm Baby Cookbook.