The idea of breastfeeding can be quite strange and sometimes scary for a lot of new mums, which is funny when you realise it would have been your only option, if you’d given birth any time during the millions of years before bottle feeding and formula came along. There is admittedly a lot of pressure from health services and midwives to breastfeed, which can seem overbearing and even annoying if your baby is having trouble getting the hang of it, or if you need to get back to work.
But we’ve always had midwives and experienced women showing us the ropes when we have children of our own, and breast milk does have a huge number of health benefits for both your baby and you. It’s also free – something well worth considering in the current economic climate. You needn’t feel ashamed if you do end up bottle-feeding, but it is worth giving the breast a try, unless you have very specific medical grounds to avoid it.
And although some women do encounter problems when breastfeeding, there’s certainly no reason to panic and abandon the idea before you even start – it’s hardly an exact science, and you wouldn’t be the first woman to find it tough. Just get familiar with the pros and cons, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision for yourself.
Breastfeeding is good because…
Your baby doesn’t have its own immune system straight away. Breastfeeding passes your own immunity onto your baby – for example, if you’ve had chicken pox, your baby will be immunized against chicken pox if s/he drinks your milk.
Usually, your breast milk is ready whenever your baby needs a feed – you don’t have to prepare anything.
It creates a lovely bond between you and your baby – unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced – and also gives you a sense of achievement.
It’s free – you don’t have to buy bottles, sterilizing equipment, or formula.
Your baby’s stomach can tolerate breast milk better than formula – which means less vomiting, less diarrhoea or constipation, and fewer infections. If you feel ill after eating particular foods – wheat or dairy, for example – you’ll know how miserable this can make you feel. So a breast-fed baby is often a more cheerful baby, simply because its stomach is not hurting the way it might do with formula. And you’ll have less baby-sick to clean up! Breastfeeding also makes your baby less likely to get obese or diabetic in later life.
Breastfeeding can cause problems when…
You breasts become engorged with milk, and start to feel hot, tight and painful. This can lead to mastitis – sore red patches on your skin. If this happens, try feeding your baby more often and expressing a little milk by hand before and after feeds.
Your baby gets teeth, and starts biting. Normally this will make you shout and naturally remove your nipple from the baby’s mouth, which is usually enough to teach it that biting means “no dinner”.
You get sore nipples. Your midwife should show you the best way to hold your baby to help avoid soreness from him sucking too hard, or in the wrong direction. If your nipples get dry and cracked, try rubbing a few drops of your own milk into them and letting it dry. Always wear a cotton bra and avoid tight-fitting clothing. Don’t use soap, which dries out your skin, and ask your pharmacist for some lanolin ointment.
You have to go back to work. Leaky nipples can make you feel self-conscious, and breasts can become very uncomfortable if you’ve gone several hours without expressing milk.