Did you know that breast milk is a living substance that contains live cells, including stem cells, which go on to become other body cell types like brain, heart, kidney, or bone tissue? Sounds fascinating, right?
As a new mom you want the best for your child. You arrange him a cosy room, you wash and iron all of the clothing (a lot of them!), clean the whole apartment so that everything is set up when the baby comes. Waiting for THE day might be a little intimidating. Your hospital bag is looking at you every time you pass by. Million questions going through your mind: “Will I make it through the birth?”, “Will my baby be OK?”, Will, I be a good mother?”, ”Will I know how to breastfeed my baby?”…Are you prepared for a big step? Sounds a bit scary, right? :) Nothing to worry about, you will make it!
I know, going through the whole process, with tons of information “thrown at you”, you find yourself questioning: “How will I make it?” While there is a lot of useful information to prepare you for A BIG DAY, implementing this in practice might be a whole new story. Especially at breastfeeding. You know you want to breastfeed your baby. You know that is the best thing that you can do for your child. But nobody tells you how this looks in “real time”. It might be a scary thing going into motherhood and breastfeeding.
I remember thinking breastfeeding would happen naturally and would be so easy. Although I didn’t have a problem with latching my baby, I went through the “first weeks” like every breastfeeding mother. By the “first weeks” I mean discomfort and pain in the early days of breastfeeding (let’s put other things aside for now ;) ).
Many new mothers struggle with getting the baby to latch correctly. When baby latch to shallow or there is a huge engorgement of the breast tissue, the skin around the nipple becomes very sore . Thus, it might be a bit painful…and it feels like you’re running a marathon with high heels and then doing it all over again.
BREASTFEEDING NOT POSSIBLE
I have already talked about this (HERE), but let me do a quick summarise.
A mother’s breasts are designed to feed her baby. New mothers decide against exclusive breastfeeding because of various reasons, and almost all of these can be overcome. Nearly every woman is able to breastfeed, but unfortunately, there are some cases where a mother is unable to breastfeed because of severe health problems (breast surgery, a baby born with severe issues, mammary gland issues…).
I know quite a few moms who claimed that for them, breastfeeding didn’t work. Some of them didn’t care much about it, while the others already had tears in their eyes. I don’t blame either of them.
Because I know that every single one of them would give her all for the baby. There isn’t a lot of information mother is given about the benefits of breastfeeding, other that, this is “the best thing” for your child.
Keep in mind:
”A mother who's doing the best she can with the resources available to her is the best possible mother in the world for her child!”
HOW DO WE EVEN PRODUCE BREAST MILK?
So, here is the thing. Our body is a brilliant system. That said, when a baby is a feed at the breast, sensory information travels to the mother’s brain, causing the release of two hormones: prolactin and oxytocin.
On the one hand, prolactin stimulates milk production, and on the other hand, oxytocin stimulates the contraction of the lobules that hold milk inside the breast (this is called “let-down reflex).
Ok, so what happens right after birth?
Well, breast milk changes in composition over time. The earliest milk is called colostrum. It's thick, yellow or orange color. Colostrum is rich in protein and antibodies that provide passive immunity to the newborn protecting him/her from diseases. That is especially important after birth when the newborn moves from the sterile environment (womb) into one that contains many new microbes as the colostrum acts as a shield against infections.
Have you ever heard that: “A sound of baby crying stimulates the production of breast milk?” Yap, it’s a real thing!
It believed that the sound of a baby crying can initiate the “let-down” reflex. It serves as some communication between a mother and a baby. Breast milk is produced in response to the increasing demands of the baby’s growth. That is why it’s important to keep the baby close with frequent feeding. This is soo important. Many mothers give up too early because they fear the baby is hungry or not getting enough milk (HERE).
WHY DID WE START USING FORMULA?
Human beings, like all other mammals, have evolved to be able to breastfeed. Infants who didn’t have access to breast milk almost always died. To prevent this, milk substitutes were developed (in early 1900). Those were initially prescribed by the doctors for infants whose mothers had died in childbirth or were unable to feed their babies due to serious illness.
Breast milk substitutes did give a baby, who had lost access to his mother’s milk, a chance to survive into childhood, but it didn’t give him “passive immunity”.
It wasn’t long till it became clear this is a perfect business opportunity. “Infant feeding”. Through very smart marketing campaigns, formula manufacturers began suggesting to mothers and health care providers across Europe and North America that infant formula was scientifically formulated and thus healthier for babies than breastmilk. From this point forward, breastfeeding rates had started to decrease. While the World Health Organization did release some guidelines to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes, the damage has yet to be repaired.
HOW DOES BREASTFEEDING ACTUALLY WORK?
As you already know, the best thing that you can give to your baby is coming from your body ( if you haven’t read an article about “breastfeeding and immunity”, look HERE). The mammary glands in breast make and secrete milk. These glands drain into a collection of lactiferous ducts, which carry milk to the nipple, where each duct has its opening. Areola (the darker area of skin that surrounds the nipple) helps the newborn baby to see a nipple.
Baby is born with “rooting reflex”( It’s one of the many special talents baby is born with.)This means he will instinctively search for mother’s nipple. For the “first time moms” it’s sometimes hard to get their baby to latch properly or to take enough breast into the mouth. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to ask a nurse when you’re still in hospital, to help you with it. They know, it might be tough at first. And I KNOW, you want to know exactly how this looks like…so take a look at the pictures below.
Maya Adam (Lecturer at Stanford School of Medicine), has warned to be precautious when introducing other liquids or solids like water, sugar water or even traditional medicines before the beginning of breastfeeding (this introduction is called “prelacteal feeding”). Why is that? She claimed: " This approach can be very dangerous, as it can interfere with the initiation of breastfeeding and more to that, it can lead to gastrointestinal infections, diarrheal disease, dehydration and death." There is still mixed information regarding prelactyl feeding. Current research in the area of prelacteal feeding classifies prelacteals with long-term supplementation (formula, animal kinds of milk). Therefore, further research is needed to differentiate one group from another (one-time feeding vs supplementary feeding)
I know that as a new mom you are overwhelmed by the immense responsibility that carrying for a new life brings with it. Anxiety around suddenly having this new life in your hands, knowing that you’re their life source…it turns a whole new chapter in your life. I've tried to point out some necessary information, that would help you understand how breastfeeding works. So, you're all armed up now to begin the journey...and remember, be patient! Breastfeeding almost always becomes more comfortable with practice.
I am not a lactation consultant, nor do I try to shame mothers who decide not to breastfeed or are unable to breastfeed. What I want to give you in this post is my experience and some valuable, critical information before you step into "the zone of breastfeeding".
Partially summarized from: " Stanford's Short Course on Breastfeeding" by Maya Adam (Lecturer at Stanford School of Medicine)