Why Breast is Best - Deciding to Breastfeed Baby
Breastfeeding versus Bottle-Feeding
Breast is best. Or is it? Deciding to breastfeed baby is something every new mum is faced with. Making the decision on whether or not to breastfeed baby is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult.
I am going to look today at the two methods to help you make your mind up. You really need to decide which you are going to at least start with. If you choose to bottle feed, your milk will dry up in a few days and that is that.
However, if you choose to breast feed, you can later switch to bottle-feeding.
At birth, and indeed for a few weeks beforehand, a woman’s breasts secrete a yellowing thick substance called colostrum.
Colostrum is a thick vitamin-enriched form of milk that is full of antibodies. Perfect for your new baby to get some of that vital infection protection, and also nutritious enough to fill your baby’s tiny tummy up and keep him satisfied. It fulfils all his dietary needs in the first few days of life, and was in fact especially designed by Mother Nature just for him.
Bottled milk, on the other hand, is the scientists’ poor imitation of breast milk. While it contains all your baby’s dietary needs, it does not contain any antibodies to help protect his tiny body against infection in those vital first few days of life.
Arrival of the Breast Milk
When baby is about 2 -3 days old, your real milk comes in, this is much more watery and whitish in colour, not unlike the cow’s milk you buy in the shops.
Your already engorged breasts get even bigger. This will happen whether you choose to breastfeed or not. They get painful too. You wouldn’t want anyone to touch them.
If you are breastfeeding, you get instant relief from this pain simply by feeding the baby. If you are not breastfeeding, you simply have to bear it and within a few days it should go away as the milk disperses back into your body. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help your milk dry up quicker, and so bring you relief.
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Have I enough milk to breastfeed my baby?
This is a question that plagues every new breastfeeding mum, simply because unlike when bottle feeding, she can’t see how much milk baby is taking at each feed.
If you’ve ever tried expressing milk using a breast pump, especially in the early days of breastfeeding, you will not find that much milk there. Then again, the suction on a breast pump does not even begin to compete with the suction provided by a baby. It’s one of the few abilities they have at birth, and their sucking instinct is powerful!
If you are planning to breastfeed, its a good idea to invest in a breast pump so that you can express some milk for someone else to give baby, if you plan a night out or something.
Quantity of Breast Milk
You must remember that even though you don’t know the quantity of milk your baby gets, you must know that the quality is far superior to anything that ever came out of a laboratory. This is your baby’s natural food.
Obviously as baby grows, and they grow at an enormous rate in those first few weeks, their dietary requirements climb too – they need more milk than you are providing.
This is another time when mums think they are not providing enough milk, because their baby wants to be fed again only an hour or two after his last feed. But it is through the frequency of feeding that baby increases the milk supply to suit his needs.
Unfortunately this extra feeding frenzy may happen in the middle of the night, so mum gets very little sleep that night, and of course, because only she can breastfeed him, she has to feed him next day too, so sleeping in to catch up on lost sleep is impossible.
My advice is if you get really really tired, is to prepare a bottle of formula milk for your child and get some sleep while your partner feeds baby. Only do this if you are over-tired to the point where you cannot function. As an occasional one off, it won’t harm you and it won’t harm baby.
Another huge advantage of breastfeeding is weight loss. All the extra weight you gained through pregnancy comes off really quickly when you breastfeed. Mother Nature laid down extra fat so the baby would not suffer if there was a food shortage. Also, when you go for your six week postnatal check-up, you will be pleasantly surprised to find your womb has returned to its pre-pregnancy normal size, unlike bottle-feeding mothers who will be a few weeks behind you.
Can You Become Pregnant While Breastfeeding?
This rapid contraction comes at a price, however. You will actually feel your womb contracting as you feed baby and it is uncomfortable just like period pains. On the plus side, you are unlikely to become pregnant again while breastfeeding as breastfeeding acts as a natural contraceptive and prevents the release of eggs. Have to point out here that giving the occasional bottle is a bit like forgetting to take your contraceptive pill. You may become pregnant if you have unprotected sex when not feeding baby yourself fulltime.
Length of Time you Breastfeed For
You can breastfeed your baby for as long as you want. Some children are still breastfed up to the ages of 3 or so, but it’s not something I ever fancied doing – they is something a bit off-putting about a child that age asking to be breastfed – though I do believe it gives mother and child a special bond.
I chose six months or so as a maximum cut-off point for breastfeeding all six of my babies. By that time, they were eating solid foods and well on their way to learning to drink out of a plastic beaker, but even if you can only offer your baby six weeks of breast milk, you will be getting them off to a great start in life.
Perhaps you have to return to work and cannot continue. Don’t worry about it. You have done a great job already. At this point I may have to caution – after having my second child I was due to return to work at six weeks, but couldn’t because she would not take from the bottle! I was put on extended unpaid leave which was difficult for the family’s finances at the time.
I’d tried to do everything by the book and not offered her bottles at all before this, like they advise you, and the result was that the bottle teat was alien to her and she just clamped her mouth shut and refused to let it in. I was off work until she learned to drink from a cup!
Give your baby the very occasional bottle-feed right from birth if you are going to have to return to work while baby is still very young.
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Sore Nipples through Breastfeeding
Sore nipples occur if baby is incorrectly placed on your nipple. Unfortunately it is not only extremely painful if baby is not ‘latched on’ properly, but even if you immediately ease a finger into his mouth to release the suction and detach baby, the damage is done. Your nipple will be sore and red for days. It may even bleed.
This quite often happens when new mums breastfeed for the first time, although it can occasionally happen with a later child too. You have to continue feeding out of that breast – even though it is painful – though you can make a point of favouring the other breast for a time. Babies normally feed a little out of both breasts until feeding is established. Then they can take a whole feed from one breast, and the next time, take from the other.
Exposing your painful nipple to a sunlamp can help in the healing process. Creams are inadvisable because baby needs to suck off that nipple too, and it would get in his mouth.
However, if baby is always correctly ‘latched on’ when breastfeeding, there is no pain and all is well.
Advantages of Breastfeeding
- You can feed anytime and almost anywhere
- You don’t have to sterilise equipment and prepare formula feeds
- · At night time, you can sit up in bed with baby contentedly suckling away, while you doze
- · Rapid weight loss
- · Better for baby
- · You don’t need to worry about contraception (if you are breastfeeding ALL the time)
- · They don’t produce smelly stools while being breastfed
Actually I forgot to mention that above. Their nappies are OK to change – their stools might be a bit yellowy and loose, but they don’t smell! That only happens when you change to formula feed or when they start on solids.
Advantages of Bottle-feeding
- · Mum can get a rest while someone else takes over and feeds baby
- · You get to play at being a real mum with a kitchen full of sterilising equipment and bottles
- · You have the added expense of buying tins of formula feed
- · You get dirtier nappies
- · You never have problems with sore nipples
- · You get to go back on the Pill earlier
It’s your choice. I breastfed all six of mine, including the twins, but that’s another story!
Read: How to Breastfeed Twins
More by this Author
If you are pregnant for the first time, you may be interested to know what is considered to be a normal pregnancy, and see lots of photos of fetal development at the different stages right through to childbirth.
If you are expecting twins, this guide on how to breastfeed two babies or more may be of help to you. Breastfeeeding twins is a bit more complicated then simply feeding one baby, but it can be done sucessfully.
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