Successful breastfeeding: five traps to avoid!
In the first week of August, we celebrate breastfeeding all around the world, which is why I chose a breastfeeding-related topic for this week's blog post. Nowadays most women are prepared to nourish their baby from their breast with breast milk, but unfortunately, bad practices, old habits, lack of real information, and lack of support divert too many mothers from the path of breastfeeding. Many babies receive unnecessary formula supplementation, sometimes even during their hospital stay, and mothers face comments that not only fail to provide encouragement but can also undermine maternal confidence, which is a crucial ingredient for successful breastfeeding and emotional balance during the postpartum period. In this post, we will explore five activities or practices that are best avoided, as they can easily deviate you from the natural path of breastfeeding.
The first breastfeeding 'trap' is related to the golden hour. Most hospitals already respect the fact that the baby should be placed next to the mother, in her arms, during the first hour or two after birth. However, in some countries, in some hospitals the golden hour is carried out in a somewhat 'peculiar' way: after birth, the baby is indeed placed in direct skin-to-skin contact with the mother...but just for a few minutes! Then they are wiped and dressed before being returned, eliminating the most crucial element of the golden hour, which is the direct skin-to-skin contact. Why is this so important? During the pushing phase, the baby receives a cocktail of hormones that gave you strength for pushing and makes them alert and curious, prompting them to explore and find your breast. In this exploration, the touch of your skin, your scent, the sight of your dark nipple, and the strong sucking reflex after birth will guide them. However, a dressed baby has limited stimulation for this active exploration. So, if you want to breastfeed, stay in direct skin-to-skin contact with your baby during the first hours. This naked contact not only increases the chance of successful breastfeeding right in the delivery room, but it also effectively helps your baby's transition to life outside the womb: if you think about it, they received everything they needed from you in the womb, and now suddenly, in the cold and harsh world, they have to regulate their blood sugar and body temperature on their own! However, being in direct contact with your skin allows them to absorb your body warmth, and it makes them feel your closeness, making this abrupt transition much easier for them.
The second trap to avoid also applies to the hospital stay. If you want to breastfeed, keep your baby next to you - day and night! The saying 'practice makes perfect' also applies to breastfeeding! Both you and your baby need to practice. The more you practice, the smoother it will go. The primary task during your hospital stay is to learn to interpret your baby's cues, observe their behavior, and allow them to receive colostrum through frequent breastfeeding. Colostrum is the yellow liquid that your breasts produce right after birth and is appropriately referred to as 'liquid gold.' This tiny amount is crucial for providing your baby with essential immunoglobulins, helping stabilize their blood sugar with its high sugar content, and aiding in the elimination of meconium, which accumulates in their intestines during fetal life, thus reducing the risk of jaundice. Frequent breastfeeding and nursing are also beneficial for you: if you breastfeed frequently in the first days, your breasts will transition to milk-producing mode faster, and the switch to this mode - engorgement - will be less shocking. If, however, you breastfeed your baby every 3-4 hours or when the nursery staff suggests, you will likely experience the engorgement around the 3rd or 4th day after birth as if rocks have grown in your breasts. On the other hand, if you breastfeed more frequently, this transition will happen sooner and less dramatically, and the supply-demand balance will be established faster too.
The third thing I advise avoiding if you want to breastfeed is supplementary feeding: sugary water, plain water, and formula. If you replace your baby's feeding with anything else, it will lead to longer intervals between breastfeeding sessions, causing your breasts to become engorged and signaling to the regulatory system that less milk is needed, leading to a decrease in milk production. This can set you up for a vicious cycle of needing more and more supplementation, leading to even less milk production, and the cycle continues. Therefore, it's essential to thoroughly consider the first supplementary feeding and reserve formula as a last resort for genuine necessity! In the 21st century, clever marketers have made sure that multiple formula brands are available on the shelves of stores, making it seem 'normal' to have 'a little formula' at home. However a few decades ago, formula was only prescribed by pediatricians and available only in pharmacies - and for a good reason! If you feel that you have low milk supply, the best thing to do is to put your baby to the breast more frequently, as this will stimulate milk production.
Of the previously listed traps, the first two primarily apply to the time in the hospital, while supplementary feeding applies to both the hospital and home periods. However, the next trap is waiting for you right in your own home! Many mothers try to ease the sleepless nights of the first few weeks by passing on one night feeding to the baby's father. The idea might sound good at first, and I fully support fathers taking an active role in caring for their baby, but not like this! By handing over 'breastfeeding' to your partner, you are trying to violate biology - whether it's breast milk or formula in the bottle! Let's see why! If you skip a night feeding, it's quite likely that your breasts will become engorged, and no matter how much you want to sleep, you will wake up due to this uncomfortable feeling - so much for rest! Moreover, by lengthening the time between two breastfeeding sessions, you send the signal to the regulating system once again that less milk is needed, leading to a decrease in milk production, and you fall into the same vicious cycle that I mentioned earlier regarding supplementary feeding. If you choose to pump instead of breastfeeding during the night, you are just creating more trouble for yourself: you'll have to turn on the light, pump, store the milk and all that comes with pumping - you'll wake up completely (and your partner too)! You'll both be better off if your partner helps during the first few weeks by providing a calm environment, reinforcing your role as a mother, hugging you when you breastfeed and by accepting that your household will be a bit topsy-turvy for a while... So, don't replace nighttime breastfeeding with a bottle just to get some rest!
Now let's look at the fifth trap! This one is about pacifiers. Unfortunately, many hospitals recommend having a pacifier in your hospital bag, but if you want to breastfeed, don't fall for marketing, and simply don't buy or use pacifiers for your baby! So, what is a pacifier? It's an artificial imitation of your nipple made of plastic. When your baby wants to be on your breast, it's not just for feeding: they also need to feel your warmth, your closeness, hear your familiar heartbeat, to feel secure. When you give your baby a pacifier instead of holding them to your breast to breastfeed, you're replacing this essential human need with a fake nipple! (You don't ask your partner to take out an inflatable doll instead of cuddling when you want to cuddle, right...?) Furthermore, if your baby gets used to a pacifier - and they can get used to it quite easily - it partially satisfies their sucking needs, leading to shorter time at your breast and longer intervals between feedings, which can, in turn, lead to a decrease in milk supply. I know that it's very tempting to get a few hours of rest and peace with a pacifier, but think about how natural it is for your vulnerable baby to crave your closeness! When you decide against a pacifier, also consider that using a pacifier is only a temporary solution: you'll jump when it falls out of their mouth, and you'll wonder how you'll be able to wean them off it. And we have not yet mentioned the hygienic aspects! ... If you skip the pacifier, you'll save yourself from a lot of later problems!
Of course, I don't mean to say that if you do any of the above things, it's the end of breastfeeding... But the more complicating factors there are in your life, the harder it will be to stay on the path of breastfeeding, and the higher the chance that breastfeeding won't be as easy and joyous an experience as it could be for most mothers. So, if you want to breastfeed, if you want to breastfeed happily, I advise you to avoid these five things and not fall into these traps!
I wish you and your whole family a successful and very happy breastfeeding season!