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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

baby needs.

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

her mouth.

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


In Conclusion

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.

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