Breast Milk is all newborns need
Thank heavens we’re figuring this out again as liberated women. There is no substitute for what took millions of years to evolve as the perfect nutritive substance for baby humans. Breast milk nourishes us in every way. In fact, it’s all we need in the way of nutrition for the first six months of life.
We simply have to relearn how to do it. Most of our mothers can’t help us. In fact, my mom never learned how to breast feed properly and thought her milk really wasn’t good enough. She thought she “dried up” after four months with my sister. I’m really impressed that in the 1960’s she was even trying at all.
There are a few reasons why I know that my mom wasn’t breastfeeding properly. The most obvious is that breast milk doesn’t typically “dry up.” On the contrary, it gets more and more established until the day comes that you start to wean. Even then you can’t get it to stop producing. A month after my baby was entirely weaned, I could still squeeze milk out of my nipple. If I had needed to start breastfeeding again at that point, the faucets would have been happy to be turned on.
Breasts are meant to be suckled and to produce milk. There is even an article in Mothering Magazine (Jan/Feb 2001) written by an adoptive mother who managed to produce milk for her baby just by pumping and nursing until her breasts responded.[i] There’s also a book out there called Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby by Debra Stewart Peterson.
I’m pretty certain that what happened to my mom is what happens to most women when left to their own devices to figure out breastfeeding. They simply don’t shove enough nipple into the baby’s mouth and they don’t nurse often enough. We think our nipples are the little pencil eraser ends, but that’s not the part that produces milk. Have you ever really looked at a baby bottle? The nipple looks more like your little finger than your nipple. That’s because when you’re nursing properly, the entire areola is being sucked. It’s by pressing down and squeezing the milk ducts inches back from the nipple that the milk comes shooting out.
During the first 2-4 weeks, the first minute of nursing is indescribably painful for the mother, but do it as often as possible anyway. You’re establishing your milk supply. And if you nurse every 1-2 hours during the day, your baby will likely start sleeping through the night by 3-4 months old because they are getting enough calories during the day.
When your baby latches on, it hurts, but your nipples should never be raw or bloody. If they are, your baby is probably trying to nurse on the ends of your nipples.
How to breastfeed:
- Shove all of the areola into the little tiny newborn’s mouth. It will not gag.
- Bite a bullet every two hours for the next month. Seriously, the first thirty seconds of nursing after the baby latches on hurts like a mother, but in about a month, you will be entirely numb.
- For the first two weeks, use side-lying position (you need to be horizontal for your uterus to heal) and massage the entire breast toward the nipple occasionally to make sure that all of the ducts are emptied. After the first two weeks, change the baby’s position every time you breast feed. At night you’ll likely want to do side-lying position, so during the day try football hold, classic Madonna, and any other weird 12 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 9 o’clock position with pillows that you can figure out. This ensures that all of your milk ducts are getting emptied and you are less apt to end up with a clogged duct and potential infection. After a while you can just go back to massaging the breast now and then if you don’t want to do a bunch of holds.
- Put Lansinoh cream on your nipples in between nursings for the first couple of weeks.
Breastfeed every time your newborn cries no matter what anyone else says. The first few days, they’re only getting colostrum, and I shouldn’t say only, because this is one of the most important boosts your immune system ever gets, but what they want is milk. They are unimaginably hungry. And every time you feed them, the closer your milk is to coming in and relieving you both.
Wear a snug nursing bra for the first two weeks, 24 hours a day. It helps keep you from getting engorged, which is almost inevitable and very painful. Hot showers and cold cabbage leaves help with relief. Place the cold, preferably purple cabbage leaves directly inside your bra and replace as necessary. Wearing the nursing bra will also hopefully help keep your boobs from sagging too much later in life.
Pumping can relieve engorgement, but it also encourages more milk production, so it’s a double-edged sword. I do, however, highly recommend pumping after engorgement is over. Pump and freeze for when Daddy or Grandma want to give a bottle or for when you go out to dinner and leave it for the babysitter. Be warned: about half way through dinner, your boobs will ache to be nursed and you’ll wish you were home. Pump and freeze so you can donate milk to the local milk bank. Google milk banks. They take donations and then they pasteurize the milk to be prescribed to preemies in the hospital. Your breast milk is like gold. My fat little baby never once even tasted “formula.”
Breastfeeding is so easy, so cheap and so natural. There are no bottles to wash or heat. Mom’s milk is warm and ready whenever your baby needs it. It’s a natural sleeping aid, and I always called it the “magic elixir,” which came in quite handy when my baby was learning to crawl and walk. Every time he crashed and cried, there was the boob to make it all better. We nursed taking off and landing in airplanes to relieve the pressure on his ears. God knows I wish every mother on an airplane could figure this one out.
Formula Doesn’t Make Sense
It’s unbelievable to me that so many women either think they can’t nurse or simply opt to pay oodles of money for a “formula” created in a laboratory somewhere. After they buy the stuff, they then have to get up 3 or 4 times a night and heat it while their baby is crying and waiting. While Kai was still feeding at night, he’d wake up and let me know it was time. I’d lie down beside him and usually sleep while he nursed. When a woman nurses her baby, a wonderful relaxing hormone called prolactin is released into her system. It’s like a chill pill every time you nurse.
When we deprive our children of our milk, we just can’t be certain of all we’re depriving them. The immunity of the mother is certain, as we know that this gets passed on through breast milk. My child had three minor colds during the first 2 years of his life. I’ve heard averages between 8 and 12 illnesses a year are the norm for babies in America. Breast milk passes along hormones, antibodies, omega fatty acids, and intestinal flora; these are things that might deter illness for a lifetime.
Breast Feeding’s Health Benefits are Cumulative
As far as how long you should nurse goes, only you will know the answer to that. All I know for sure is the longer the better. The health benefits of nursing are cumulative for the child, from colostrum the first few days that set up flora in the intestines, to after six weeks, lowering rates of many diseases. Long-term nursing (more than a year) protects against diabetes, asthma, childhood cancers, and obesity, just to name a few. It also enhances neurological development that may result in higher IQ’s and better eyesight.[ii] I originally planned to nurse Kai for 6 months, but when 6 months rolled around, there was no need to stop. I eventually weaned when Kai was 2, but some moms keep it up until their children are 3 and 4, which is par for the course in many developing countries. In other words, long-term nursing is normal for the human species.
Also, the benefits to the mother are enormous. During the first few days after birth, nursing releases hormones that contract the uterus and reduce postpartum bleeding. Long-term nursing lowers a woman’s risk of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers, and reduces her risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture as well.[iii] Nursing babies also help their mothers to lose the “baby weight” by requiring lots of fat in the milk. They literally suck the fat right off of you, assuming you’re not consuming loads of fat in your diet. If you continue eating a healthy diet, you’ll love the way nursing helps you to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.
There is something worth mentioning called “nipple confusion.” It sounds like a band name, but it’s an actual phenomenon that occurs when a baby who is given a pacifier or a bottle forgets how to nurse on the breast. The sucking method is different. My son never took to a pacifier, although we did offer it, and we waited to give him some breast milk from a bottle until he was several months old. Nipple confusion was never an issue for us, but I’m glad it was on my radar.
Women need support and help to get started breastfeeding
My experience leads me to say that chances are you’re going to need someone knowledgeable to help you get your baby to latch on the first few times. If you’re delivering at home with a midwife, you’re covered. If you’re delivering in the hospital, make sure they know that you’ll burn the place down if anyone gives your baby formula without your consent, and then see if they have a lactation consultant available. Otherwise, have a doula at your birth or get books on the subject from your local library and find your local chapter of La Leche League. They will help you with every aspect of one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have as a mom, breastfeeding.
I’d like to reiterate that if at first you don’t succeed, you try, try again, and you still don’t succeed, don’t sweat it. It’s not the end of the world. You’re not a failure. You’re the formula goddess. Love it.
[i] Julie Bouchet Horowitz, “A Special Gift: Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby,” Mothering Magazine, January-February 2001, 62.
[ii] Oregon.gov Health and Human Services, “The Benefits of Breastfeeding,” Oregon.gov, http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/bf/benefits.shtml#long-baby (accessed Sept. 23, 2008).