Sunday, 2 October 2011

Breastfeeding 101 - an overview

In honour of World Breastfeeding Week, I'm doing a series of posts about breastfeeding, for beginners. Be reminded that these are opinion based on my experience, not to be taken for medical advice.

Who? Your biological children, obviously! But you can physically breastfeed another woman's child in need, a la Salma Hayek in Sierre Leone. You can express milk and donate it to a milk bank for babies in hospital. You can also, with the proper preparation, begin lactating to feed an adopted or foster child, even without going through pregnancy and birth.You can also re-lactate, which is bringing back your milk after a period of not breastfeeding. Please see la leche league or similar sites for more information.

What? Breasfeeding is feeding a baby human milk from the female breast. It is also possible to express or pump breastmilk to feed through a bottle when direct breastfeeding is not possible, i.e. when you are in work. Breastmilk can be frozen and refrigerated to keep it fresh. Breastmilk is anti-bacterial, heals cuts and spots, clears baby acne, cleans a baby's gummy eye, flushes out a congested baby nostril, and is used in some cases to aid healing in adults with cancer.

Where? Anywhere. The law states that wherever a mother has a right to be, she has a right to feed her child. No one has the right to ask you to breastfeed in private. Some mothers prefer to breastfeed in private, as unfortunately our society still sees breasts as sexual organs. The more mothers breastfeeding in public, the better, to educate people that this is a normal, natural thing to do. You can breastfeed lying down, sitting, standing, walking, on bus, train, in a pub, school, mall, beach, anywhere.

When? Breastfeeding happens whenever the baby is hungry. Breastmilk is lighter on the stomach and easier digested than artificial millk, so the baby feeds less volume and more often. Newborns breastfeed roughly every 30-90 mins, the gaps increase as they get older. It depends on the weather, the baby's health, the mother's activity, the baby's growth stage, and many other factors. Breastfeeding on demand (or "on request") means breastfeeding when your baby needs it. An alternative is to breastfeed when you want to, or to a timed routine, but neither of these methods teach your baby you are there to satisfy its hunger, and may have an affect on your breastfeeding relationship. Nature intends the baby to be held close to the mother for most of infancy, feeding when it needs to, sucking for comfort when it needs to, and sleeping safe and sound in her arms.

How? You open your top, take the breast out, hold the baby close so it can latch onto the nipple. The baby's sucking encourages the breast to produce milk, the "let-down reflex". The first milk that emerges is watery and clear, and functions to quench the baby's thirst. This becomes more opaque and creamy, with a higher fat content. This creamier "hindmilk" contains sleep-inducing properties, which is why a baby will doze off during or after a feed. The breast never empties completely, it will continue to "let-down" milk at intervals until the baby is satisfied. The "supply and demand" breastfeeding relationship is fantastic- your baby's sucking encourages the breast to produce more milk. It takes roughly 24 hours for this extra volume of milk to be produced. As long as you allow the baby to suck at and stimulate the breast in this way, your milk supply will increase with the baby's growth spurts. The common misconception that a mother cannot supply enough milk to feed her baby is due to a lack of information. The breasts are designed to nourish multiple babies, and babies of varying ages, there is no limit to the milk they can produce, if let do so.

Why? Why not? You will regain your figure faster, your abdominal muscles will tighten, your baby will avoid common childhood illnesses, you will bond with your baby, you and your baby will sleep well, you never have to worry about their nutritional needs, you save money on formula, sterilisers, bottles etc, you can travel light, your baby will glow with health and happiness. There is no reason not to breastfeed. Formula companies do a great job of insinuating that formula is as close to breastmilk as possible, but it is not breastmilk and never will be. It's like comparing grape juice to champagne!!

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