During National Breastfeeding Awareness Month I am always reminded of my mother. She was a huge advocate for breastfeeding and worked as a La Leche League Leader and Coordinator in the 1970s. She fought for breastfeeding at a time when it wasn’t the norm and definitely wasn’t accepted by most, even her own parents. My mom nursed five babies and helped countless women attain their breastfeeding goals. I feel so honored to continue on the work that she began so many years ago, supporting women to do what they feel is right for their babies.
Today in honour of her and of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I want to share five things that everyone should know about breastfeeding:
1. It May Be Natural, But It’s Not Always Easy
Some babies are born, latch on immediately, guzzle milk, and thrive with no assistance needed. For others, breastfeeding isn’t as straight forward. It’s easy to feel like a failure when breastfeeding doesn’t go as expected. I know I did. Trying to care for a little person, for whom you are solely responsible, can be exhausting and overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with special circumstances like a lip or tongue-tie, low milk supply, or a premature baby who won’t latch.
You need support in these moments. Surround yourself with loving people who support your breastfeeding goals, and accept their help so you can give yourself and your baby time to establish your breastfeeding relationship.
Be kind to yourself, take it one day at a time, and remember you’re not alone. There are tons of amazing resources in this city and I am always happy to help families find the support they need.
2. Breast Milk Is All Baby Needs
All too often I hear people undermining this message. Just this week a mother told me that her family was insisting that she begin giving her seven week old bottles of breast milk mixed with infant cereal to get her stomach ready for solids. This advice often comes from loved ones who are well meaning, but it is outdated and doesn’t reflect the World Health Organization or Health Canada’s current recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding until six months.
In some circumstances a baby may require supplementation, or a parent may choose to supplement for personal reasons, but the notion that breast milk is somehow inferior and that a healthy baby needs something else is untrue. Breast milk is full of amazing antibodies, fats, minerals, vitamins, proteins and enzymes and changes composition according to the age of your baby and the time of year. Pretty amazing!
3. Weight Loss Is Normal
It is normal for a newborn to lose up to 10% of their birth weight (and sometimes more) in the first few days after birth. They will then usually begin to gain weight as Mom’s milk fully transitions from colostrum to milk around day 3-5. Your Midwife, Physician or Lactation Consultant will look at the whole clinical picture to determine if your baby requires any supplementation. Amongst other things, they will assess baby’s weight loss, behaviour, urine output, vital signs, appearance and latch, in addition to what is happening with Mom’s milk supply.
If all is well, it’s best not to intervene with any forms of supplementation. If there is a concern, supplementation can happen via cup or tube in order to try to minimize the impact to baby’s latch. We always want to encourage the baby to be at the breast. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.
4. Skin-to-Skin Contact Has Amazing Benefits
Immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth has been shown to help babies initiate breastfeeding and increases their duration of breastfeeding. Continued skin-to-skin contact for the first few months is physically, mentally and emotionally beneficial to baby and parent. It reduces stress hormone production, which in turn helps regulate baby’s blood sugar levels, body temperature and breathing rate, and also aids in healthy brain development and bonding.
Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to boost a low milk supply and to get Mom and baby in sync. So get in bed with your baby and enjoy those first few weeks. It can be hard to give in to it, but try to accept help from others so that you can fully focus on nourishing yourself and your baby. Recovering at home with your newborn cuddled in a Sleepbelt is a great way to get some extra skin-to-skin time while allowing baby access to breastfeed on demand.
5. Night Nursing Is Normal
Far too often I hear people asking new parents, “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” Although some babies will sleep in longer stretches, this is a completely unrealistic expectation and leaves parents feeling terrible. It is normal for babies to wake to eat around the clock. Their little bellies take in as much as they can fit and then digest breast milk quickly and ask for more.
Their brains and bodies are developing at a rapid pace, and having their needs met in a loving way is essential to optimize this development. Not only are night feedings normal and necessary for baby, they also boost Mom’s hormone production to enable her to continue to make enough milk for her baby and naturally suppress her fertility. Instead of focusing on getting babies to sleep through the night, we need to change the expectations we are setting with parents. So please know that if you’re up nursing in the middle of the night, you’re not alone.
As a Midwife and a mother, I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding, but I am also an advocate of mental health and informed choice. I know that breastfeeding is not for everyone and I always strive to support families to do what is right for them. Please know that there is no one thing that makes you a good parent. Surround your children with love and be the best person you can be, so they strive to be the same.
Carolyn Sinclair is a Registered Midwife and owner of Fifty-Seven Family Learning and Wellness: A centre in Toronto’s Bloor West Village that offers private consultation and workshops for families, including everything from prenatal courses to busy toddler groups. She is also the owner of Toronto’s chapter of Movies for Mommies, the organizer of the Bloor West Moms Group and hosts Evymama’s Breastfeeding Cafe on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Follow her on Twitter @57tweets or Instagram @with_care.