Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Overcoming the Challenges of Breastfeeding

With all the talk of "breast is best," it's easy for women to feel overwhelmed and inadequate if breastfeeding hasn't come as naturally or easily as they expected.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) latest recommendations on breastfeeding are:
  • Exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life
  • At six months, other foods should complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more
  • Breastfeeding should begin within an hour of birth
  • Breastfeeding should be "on demand," as often as the child wants day and night
  • Bottles or pacifiers should be avoided

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With recommendations like these and growing pro-breastfeeding initiatives, it would be easy to feel bad if breastfeeding didn't work. But these recommendations and initiatives are not to condemn those who can not (or even those who choose not to) breastfeed. They're meant to provide more support and education so women can make the best decision for their family (whatever it is), and if it is breastfeeding to make that decision as easy as formula-feeding.

No mom should feel guilty for choosing formula. But for moms who do want to breastfeed and have found it difficult, this post aims to to provide some tips and resources for overcoming some of these challenges.

Many women who decide to breastfeed find themselves surprised by challenges such as pain during nursing, sore nipples, back aches, not being able to tell if baby is getting enough, being overwhelmed at the responsibility of being the sole food-provider, fear of nipple confusion, leaking between feedings, being shy about nursing in public, any others. Here is a great list of great products (most of which I didn't even know existed!) that address these issues and more to help make breastfeeding easier.

Stress and sleep deprivation can cause milk supply to decrease, which only adds to the pressure of a breastfeeding mom. Parenting.com offers these tips to increase milk supply (found here):
  • Drink lots of water!
  • Ensure that baby latches well and that both breasts are emptied at each feeding
  • Use a breast pump between feedings to help stimulate production
  • Nurse at night when levels of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production, are the highest
  • Ask your lactation consultant about certain foods, such as oatmeal in specific quantities, that may improve milk production
In his book Touchpoints Dr. Brazelton sums up breastfeeding very eloquently when he says:
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"When I ask about feeding the baby, I listen for the reasons behind whichever choice the parents will make... However, I also make clear that I am prejudiced about the value of breast milk and the important of breast-feeding in strengthening the parent-infant relationship...Breast-feeding can be a close, warm, intimate experience for mother and baby. Since breast milk is also adapted to the human infant--nutritionally, digestively, allergenically, and as a natural protection against infections--every mother should consider it as the first choice. However, if, for whatever reasons, breast-feeding does not feel right to the mother, or if it becomes an unpleasant experience for her or the baby, this should be taken seriously... A baby held closely and lovingly while bottle-fed (never with the bottle propped) will do very well indeed...
For the mother who wants to breast-feed, I can offer other practical suggestion, such as being prepared to wait for the milk for several days after delivery and feeding for short periods at first until her nipples toughen up."

Other helpful resources:

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