New moms may be shocked to discover they don't feel like the serene Madonna sublimely nursing her newborn when they breast-feed for the first time. It's billed as natural, but experts consider it a learned skill. Still, it's a skill worth the frustration and freakouts. In fact, it's perhaps one of the wisest choices you can make for your child. Ditching formula in favour of feeding your baby good old-fashioned breast milk can help ensure a lifetime of good health.
Babies who suckle at the teat are at lower risk of infection, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and iron deficiency during infancy, and of allergies, asthma, eczema, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer throughout life. Plus studies show your babe will generally have a higher IQ, better vision and teeth and speak earlier than formula-fed kids!
Moms benefit, too, decreasing their risk of reproductive-system cancers and heart disease, thanks to the artery- and vein-widening effects of nursing.
To ease your way into nursing mode, get in touch with a trained pro before you give birth and make sure you've got supportive, experienced women around you in the critical days after your baby arrives, when you and child should not be separated , even for a few hours.
Avoid using a pacifier or bottle between feedings. They teach the wrong kind of sucking, and your baby's tugs are what signal your pituitary to gear up milk production to needed levels.
Your flow may lag if you've had breast reduction or augmentation surgery. Post-birth anemia, thyroid conditions and gastric bypass surgery can also affect your ability to produce. You need pro advice. Psychological conflicts can also dry up milk, so if you're pregnant and uncomfortable at the thought of breast feeding, consider counselling to ease your fears.
Once you've started nursing, possible challenges are infection and inflammation. Bacterial mastitis comes on suddenly, produces pus and blood at the nipple and may make your joints achy. Get antibiotics right away - taking them will protect your little angel, too. Inflammatory mastitis usually develops slowly in response to a blocked milk duct, and the pain is local. Keep nursing , wrap hot towels around your breasts between feedings and call your lactation support person.
Yeast infections can cause cracked, sore nipples and a white coating and soreness in your baby's mouth. You need nystatin and a dietary overhaul: take probiotic supplements and cut out sugars, alcohol, vinegar and yeasts. You can smear probiotics mixed with yogurt inside your child's mouth.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Fenugreek seeds promote breast milk production. Take a teaspoon of seeds, steep in a cup of boiled water 20 to 30 minutes, and drink two to three cups per day. Nettle and dandelion leaf tea promote milk production and make the milk more nutritious. Stay away from sage and parsley; they actually stop the flow. Fennel seed tea drunk by the mother can help calm a colicky baby's tummy. To prevent thrush, air out the nipples as much as possible. If there is thrush, yogurt or calendula tea on the nipples will treat the nipple and the baby's mouth. Expose sore nipples to fresh air and sunlight."
DANETTE STEELE, registered herbalist, Toronto and Halifax
"In pregnancy and during breast-feeding, get plenty of essential fatty acids , especially omega-3 oils. They're essential for the baby's brain, spine and eye development. Using molecularly distilled fish oils ensures there are no contaminants. In preparing to breast-feed, you have to maintain hydration , a minimum of eight glasses of water a day. The number-one reason for insufficient milk is dehydration. Stress can inhibit the letdown reflex; the hops in beer encourage it. I often tell mothers (who are having difficulty) to drink half a glass of beer mid-morning, half a glass mid-afternoon and plenty of water. Massage cracked nipples with cold buttermilk ."
JUDITH FIORE , naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"For her own health, the mother can build up the blood after the blood loss of birth. In traditional Chinese medicine, a new mother is nourished with food and herbs to get her red blood cell count back up, using meat and meat broths and digestive herbs. Barley is eaten to build blood indirectly through helping the digestive system. Grapes and apricots are good. And the new mom should eat lots of green, leafy vegetables (preferably cooked)."
KALEB MONTGOMERY , doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto
"Breast-feeding is natural but not instinctive. It's something taught by one woman to another. A new mother needs to know how to do a proper latch, how to position the baby correctly, how frequently to nurse and how to watch the diapers to make sure the baby is voiding the right amount. Crying is a late indicator (of hunger) - the baby gives little signals that the mother must learn to read. La Leche League has meetings where pregnant women can learn. If you don't learn while pregnant, call a La Leche League leader and ask for a crash course."
KATY LEBBING , manager, Center for Breastfeeding Information, La Leche League International, Schaumburg, IL
"There's a strong correlation between breast-feeding failure and (even brief) separation of the mother and infant any time during that first couple of days after the baby's birth. Breast-feeding is better (than formula) even if there are some pollutants in the milk. As a society we owe it to future generations to clean up our act. You're not safe with formulas because manufacturers started using genetically modified soil fungi to create fatty acids that are added to their product. There's no proof these are safe or that they promote the same brain growth that fatty acids in breast milk do."
MARY WESTRA , RN, certified lactation consultant, Fort Lauderdale, FL