I’ll be honest, i’ve always considered myself one of those mums that doesn’t enjoy breastfeeding. I’ve been fairly outspoken in the past about how exhausting I find both the physical and emotional demands, however I recently went through a week where my milk supply reduced considerably and at only 7 weeks postpartum with my second child, I realised how much I would miss it if I wasn't able to continue. Have I been taking it all for granted? Or is breastfeeding really just outdated and over-rated?
This prompted me to write this blog post, covering everything! The Bad, The Beautiful and how to find the right balance.
Let’s start with the positives. Aside from the numerous nutritional benefits of breastfeeding ( of which there are soooooo many) studies have shown that breastfeeding has many more positive OUTCOMES too.
Did you know that as a breastfeeding mother you are actually able to pass on anti-bodies from yourself to your newborn baby, helping them stay protected from any viruses they may encounter before their first set of immunisations. All babies received some coverage during pregnancy, however breastmilk assists in passing more antibodies, enzymes and white blood cells to further protect your little ones. This comes in particularly handy if you’re living in a household with other small children, who are notorious for bringing home the latest germs from nursery and pre-school!
Although there aren’t any studies to prove that breastfeeding helps to boost the mothers immunity, in an interview with Romper, Danielle Downs Spradlin, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and founder of Oasis Lactation Services, is quoted as saying that it would make evolutionary sense.
Downs says that breastfeeding does contribute to a mother’s health, as it can help to protect mums against developing metabolic syndrome, a bundle of conditions, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. In addition, studies have suggested that as breastfeeding produces oxytocin, it can help to reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression, decrease your stress levels, and make you feel happier.
As high levels of stress or depression can lower your immune response, it can be suggested that breastfeeding can in fact help to boost a mothers immunity to a certain degree.
Mum & Baby Bond
This is an age old debate that continues to go round in circles. With some studies suggesting that breastfeeding creates a strong bond between mum and baby, however others showcasing that bottle feeding families are equally as bonded. Whether there is a ‘stronger’ bond is difficult to assess, however what is certain, is that breastfeeding is a great way for a mum and baby to bond, although undoubtable it's not the ONLY way.
My personal experience is that although breastfeeding has it challenges, it is also a time when I get to know my baby on a much deeper level. I learn his ‘habits’ and his noises in a time reserved just for the two of us. Alongside this, skin-to-skin contact is known to release oxytocin. This creates a level of closeness that has a soothing effect on both mum and baby, helping to promote a positive and happy parenting process.
Ok, so ‘Bad’ might be a bit extreme. That’s just me trying to stick with a catchy title, but breastfeeding certaily has it’s challenges and I’ve experienced quite a few.
This goes for the physical and emotional demands. After breatfeeding my first son exclusively for 6 months and combination for a further 4, I wrote my first article on this topic called, ‘Bullied into Breastfeeding’. I felt so much pressure to breastfeed from not only medical professionals but also family and friends and was overwhelmed with the demanding nature of the ‘task’. I won’t lie, it sent me into a really negative spiral and I found it so hard to see the positives of what I was doing.
This second time however I am more prepared and with all the below tips I have managed to have a much more positive experince. I think it’s important to realise that when it comes to those long demanding moments where your baby cluster feeds continuously, or you nipples feel sore because the latch was wrong on the last feed, it’s temporary! If your struggling with latch, seek help! It really can make all the difference!
Creating a positive mental relationship with breastfeeding has made all the difference to me. Understanding that there are challenges but that they can be over-come is so important. The first time I breastfed with my oldest son, I didn’t expect to struggle and physically I was producing more then enough milk. But mentally I was not prepared.
In all honesty I wasn’t able to really create a positive mental approach to breastfeeding until this second time round with my next son. Being prepared for how demanding it can be, enabled me to relax a bit more and actually, this time the ‘demand’ doesn’t seem so great. I know now that it will be temporary. PLUS, After switching to bottle feeding at 6 months the first time, I realised that the demand is no less great. Actually, the serialising and water boiling and cooling etc was much more time consuming and less convenient.
Sleep deprivation gets to everyone and as a new mum this is par for the course. As I’m currently nursing my second child, I don’t have time to catch up on sleep during the day, as I’m usually having to run around after a very energetic toddler! Never-the-less it’s so true what they say, REST WHEN YOU CAN! If you can get a few power naps during the day to help sustain you through the nights then do. Failing that you might need to resign yourself to a few early bed times to begin with. Fianlly, make sure you stay hydrated as this can help to improve alertness and lower feelings of exhaustion and anxiety.
So as a breastfeeding mother myself, and currently going through it for the second time. I’ve found a few tips and tricks that I really want to share. Ultimately if you chose to breastfeed is totally up to you and however you decide, we are all equally as maternal! I don’t believe breastfeeding makes you any better a mother, however, it’s a pretty incredible and rewarding experience all the same if you do decide it's for you. here's a few things that helped me stay on track! Hopefully it can help you too!
Milk Supply Support
A few of these might seem like simple solutions but seriously all of these aspects of natural health are great ways to improve your milk supply!
Diet: Calories in general are great for maintaining a healthy milk supply. Listen to your body and eat to appetite. Excessive dieting can affect milk supply so be sure to maintain healthy and well balanced diet.
Fenugreek: Fenugreek seeds have been suggested to increase a mothers milk supply and from my personal experience this is true. You can add a teaspoon of the seeds to hot water to make tea or buy the tablets which can be taken daily. This should help to boost mil supply within 24 - 72 hours.
Hydration: Breastmilk is made up of 90% water so it's important to consume plenty of fluids each day. Drinking enough will help to keep you hydrated and healthy and support a good balance of breastmilk.
Sleep & Stress: Physical and Emotional stress can reduce breastmilk supply so it's important to get enough rest to help maintain a good flow. Making sure you are well rested and getting enough sleep is imperative.
Expressing: This can take some commitment especially if you have a baby that likes to feed pretty much round the clock. It’s well known that the more you nurse, the more milk your body produces. The human body is super smart, and will adjust itself to produce exactly the amount of milk your baby is demanding. If you feel a little ‘empty’ it’s suggested that expressing during any ‘free’ moments can help to stimulate further ilk production, there by increasing your supply over-all!
Exercise and Breastfeeding
There has been no scientific evidence to suggest that moderate exercise negatively affects breastmilk supply. In fact, regular exercise has been proven to not only improve blood lipid profiles and insulin response (both vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle), but also reduce stress levels and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety for new mothers. Exercising to exhaustion may have a slight impact on the content of breast milk but this is purely short term, has no harmful effects to the baby and will be replenished within 90 minutes.
Make the night feeds fun
Yes, we all love that breastfeeding creates a warm snuggly bind with our baby. However, personally I’m less excited about that at 2am when it;s cold and dark… so I decided to give myself something else to look forward too. Try an audio book, podcast or even kindle to give you something else to focus on during those late night feeds. I found it helped to wake me up and stay more positive at those times.