The Whole Truth About Breastfeeding

ImageYou probably won’t be able to find anywhere else what you are about to read. Well, at least, not in the way I am going to put it.

I probably will get myself into trouble with the breastfeeding advocates for sharing what I am going to share but I am going to do it anyway because the whole purpose of setting up this website is for me to share my experiences (especially my experiences in breastfeeding) so that people won’t make the same mistakes I made and I am still living with the consequences of some of my mistakes.

 Before I start, I would like to get some things straight (again!) :

  1. I am for breastfeeding.
  2. ‘Breastfeeding advocates’ (hereafter known as ‘BA‘) means all the professional people advocating breastfeeding, including doctors, lactation consultants, etc. The term excludes lay people who are for breastfeeding (which includes myself). Hmm…maybe instead of ‘breastfeeding advocates’ I should use ‘breastfeeding Authorities’ instead. Anyway, they share the same abbreviations, so never mind….

So here I go!

BA : You should demand feed your baby.

Me : Having some kind of schedule may help.

I must stress that there are babies that do well under demand feeding. But there is nothing wrong with having some kind of a schedule if you find that it helps you to continue with breastfeeding and keep you from becoming a emotional basket case (like I was).

But here are some ‘advantages’ :

  1. It is sometimes better for the mother who is having difficulties coping with a baby and on top of that coping with the ‘demands’ of demand feeding, to follow some kind of a schedule. Otherwise, you are going to get burned out very soon because you will find yourself feeding the baby every time he cries, which can be as often as every hour! I know of people who gave up breastfeeding after a few weeks because they simply cannot take the fatigue and frustration. I myself almost gave up after 2 weeks of following the lactation consultant’s (hereafter known as ‘LC’) instruction to feed my baby on demand. I could not rest and sleep when I kept expecting the baby to wake up or start crying any minute. I was like on code red standby every minute of the day and very soon, I was on the verge of a breakdown.
  2. It is less stressful for the new mother because firstly, you will not be constantly wondering when your baby is going to cry for food. After feeding your baby and putting him down to sleep, you know roughly how much time you have to take a nap, or do other things. Knowing this allows you to be able to relax. Secondly, You eliminate a lot of uncertainties with a schedule. Let’s say you feed the baby every 3 hours. You know that if your baby cry right after his feed, he is probably not crying because of hunger but for other reasons. You won’t be led to make the most common mistake new mothers who are trying to breastfeed often make – constantly wondering whether you have enough milk. A lot of mothers I know are stressed because they think they don’t have enough milk. The reason why they think so is because their babies kept crying and they were taught that when a baby cries, it means he is hungry. They have not learned that babies cry for a great variety of reasons. Once they are stressed, their milk supply gets affected. The whole thing is a vicious cycle.
  3. It establishes your confidence in breastfeeding when you know roughly when your baby gets hungry and you won’t constantly wonder if you are giving enough milk to your baby. After your schedule is more or less established, your let down actually comes faster because your body is already conditioned. Again, this will help your confidence.
  4. When your baby is a little older, with a schedule, you are better able to plan your time and therefore you are better able to perform your other roles (e.g. wife, daughter) and responsibilities. You will have time to do things for yourself, keep the house in order, etc. You will have time for the rest of your family. You will have a healthier and more balanced life. It is easier to make plans with a feeding schedule. If you are going out, you can do so between feeds, or plan to be at places where you can conveniently breastfeed during feeding times.

Important:

You might be aware of the ‘animosity’ between the demand feeding camp and the scheduled feeding camp. Actually, most people, myself included, sort of falls in between. Anything taken into the extreme is bad, and that goes for both demand and scheduled feeding. And if you do choose to somehow have a schedule, please do not let clock-watching supercedes tuning in to your maternal instincts and getting to know your baby. This may sound like an oxymoron, but I know that both can be achieved at the same time. Remember to check output to make sure that your baby is taking enough milk. You need to feed at least 8-10 times every 24 hours. You need to remember also that every baby is different and some may need more milk than others, some may need more feeding than others. Whatever schedule you may try to establish has to take this into account. Do not use formula-feeding schedule as a guide because formula-fed babies are fed at longer intervals, so a breastfed baby will not have enough feeds based on that schedule. Finally, if your baby has jaundice, you have to feed very frequently to get rid of the jaundice.

BA : You should not introduce the bottle to avoid nipple confusion.

Me : You should introduce the bottle early to get your baby used to it.

In fact, the reverse could be a bigger problem for you. I was so scared off by this whole ‘nipple confusion’, baby not wanting breasts issue that I avoided giving Dominic the bottle. By the time I wanted him to start using the bottle, which was when he was about 7-8 weeks old, he refused to take the bottle. Every time we try to give him the bottle, he will protest, wail, and scream his lungs out. He was not the only one being tormented. It wasn’t easy for us to put him through this trauma too. It is heart-breaking. We tried everything, different kinds of teats, different kinds of milk, different people feeding him, etc. Nothing works.

What I would recommend is that you avoid giving the bottle for the first 4 weeks. As soon as breastfeeding is established, get your little one used to the bottle, but only once a day and not more. The baby may start rejecting the bottle as early as 6 weeks old. Do note that even though your baby may take the bottle now, if you do not continue to expose him to it, he may forget and still reject the bottle later on. So you have to regular give him the bottle. Another thing to note is that though you may introduce the bottle early, sometimes, your baby just won’t take it. We can’t explain nature. Some babies are more easy going, some are more fussy. We can do everything we can, but in the end, things still may not turn out as expected.

BA : Feed your baby whenever he cries

Me : Babies cry for various reasons, not just hunger.

He could be colicky. He could be tired. He could be bored. He could be sick. He could be in pain. He could be in discomfort due to wet diaper…… the list goes on.

Be wise. As the locals say, “Use your blain (brain)! Use your blain!” Think first before you act. Learn to listen to your baby’s cry. After a while, you should be able to judge roughly, based on the circumstances and the sound of the cry, the reasons for the cry.

BA : Don’t even wait for your baby to cry. Feed when he shows sign of hunger, e.g. looking for your breasts, licking his lips, etc

Me : These signs may not be signs of hunger.

When you carry your baby, your baby will recognise you by your smell and will automatically look for your breasts, whether he is hungry or not. It’s like an instinct or reflex. One way I test to see if Dominic was really hungry was to have someone else carry him when he fussed, to see whether he still looked for the breasts or would gradually calmed down. If he was really hungry, he would look for the breasts even if it was someone else carrying him.

When you put your baby to your breasts and he sucks on it, it does not mean that he is hungry also. Sucking is a reflex action. If you put your finger into your baby’s mouth, he will also suck on it.

Some babies need to suck on something all the time for comfort. Kind of like having a security blanket. That’s why you see babies sucking their fingers, their thumbs, even their toes. Even a foetus will suck its fingers in the womb. So it does not mean that if your baby wants to suck, it means he is hungry.

BA : Breastfed babies need not be burped as they take in less wind.

Me : Generally yes, but there are exceptions

When Dominic was less than a month old, he was extremely fussy and tend to spit up a lot. My husband and I did wonder if he was windy but the lactation consultant earlier told us that breastfed babies need not be burped as they take in less wind. So we didn’t burp Dominic. Ok! Ok! We were kind of stupid. But for the benefits of new parents who might be just as naive as we were, breastfed babies can get pretty windy too, so please burp your babies. In the end, when we brought Dominic to the paediatrician because of his spit up problem, we were told that Dominic was very windy. Yes, even up until 3 months, he could still get very windy if we didn’t give him wind drops before his feed. Now we religiously burp him after every feed and my! he does give very big and loud burps!

BA : Breastfeeding helps you save some money

Me : Not really

Breastfeeding is not cheap. You have to invest in a breast pump, some nursing blouses, nursing bra, breast pads, breast cream, etc. If you invest in all these things and breastfeed for only a couple of weeks or a month, then breastfeeding does not save you any money at all. But if you are in it for the long haul, then yes, breastfeeding may help you save some money.

 To give you a picture of how much money breastfeeding may save you :

 A 1kg can of S26 costs about $21 (2001). According to the recommendation on the can, a newborn up to 3 months old takes about 4oz/2 level scoops of formula per feed, 6 feeds a day. That works out to be 16 scoops a day. The weight per scoop is 8.4 grammes, which means each can of S26 contains 119 scoops, which will last you for 7.4 days. Let’s assume that to be 1 week. This means that you will spend about $84 a month on formula for the first three months. Not as much as you think, huh? Especially if you consider what you already spent on breastfeeding accessories.

In case you are wondering, from 3-6 months, your baby will take about 15 scoops per day. That will still work out to be about 1 can of formula a week.

Suppose you spent $300 on a good breast pump (some pumps costs nearly $1K!), $300 on nursing wear, and $50 on other knick knacks. You will need to breastfeed for at least 7 months to recoup your investment.

By the way, nursing wear is not cheap. And it’s not worth saving on breast pumps because really cheap ones like manual pumps are generally not useful at all.

Now having done all the calculations, do note that I am only comparing basic, visible costs, assuming that everything else remains the same (e.g. health of the child). Based on the fact that breastfed babies tend to fall sick less and are healthier, which in turn translates into lower medical costs, the cost of breastfeeding will then be lower than formula feeding.

If you are able to make do with less, e.g. learn to express milk by hand, sew your own nursing wear and breastpads, etc, you may be able to save more.

BA : Breastfeeding is convenient.

Me : Depends.

BAs tell you that breastfeeding is convenient because you don’t have to keep washing and sterilising bottles and you don’t have to bring do many things out when you go out. The reality is that you may still do a fair bit of washing up and sterilising if you express a lot. When you are out, you may have to look for nursing room to breastfeed. OK, there are some gung-ho type who have no qualms about breastfeeding in public. But if you are a new mother, or naturally shy, you don’t want to breastfeed in a place where there are a lot of people around you who will stare at you. You probably prefer to find a quiet corner in a cafe (not a crowded food court), or shopping mall. Not all shopping malls have sitting area in quiet corners. What I am trying to say is that it can be difficult finding a suitable place to breastfeed.

If you are thinking of bringing expressed breast milk (EBM) out, remember that EBM does not last for more than a couple of hours if not refrigerated. This means that either you have to bring your EBM out in ice packs – same inconvenience as bringing formula out – or you have to feed your baby real soon, which means you cannot be out for long. So isn’t bring formula more convenient compared to this?

You can forget about people helping you to take care of your baby during your confinement because you are the only who can feed your baby and feeding is the bulk of the work. Even expressing is a work to be done by you. Clearly this is not as convenient as if you were to feed your baby formula. And if you are stuck in a situation like mine, where you baby refuses the bottle, then wherever you go, your baby has to go as well, and vice versa. You become like a marsupial.

Having said all that, breastfeeding is convenient if you have the right gear (sarong sling, nursing wear, etc) and if you are brave enough to not look for a lot of privacy to breastfeed in public. It is convenient in a lot of circumstance. E.g. when Dominic was hospitalised, I was so thankful that I was breastfeeding him and didn’t have worry about the bottles and formula. When I brought him to the US, I didn’t have to lug milk powder along. In fact, I didn’t have to lug bottles and powder and hot water anywhere!

Conclusion : More convenience vs inconvenience. But that does not mean absolutely no inconvenience.

BA : Breastfeeding helps you create a bonding between you and your baby.

Me : This is not exclusive to breastfeeding.

BAs make it sound as if the special bonding between mother and child can only be built through breastfeeding. Mothers who do not breastfeed their babies end up wondering if they miss out something because of their decision not to breastfeed their babies. Well, the bonding issue is not entirely true. Whether you feed your baby formula or breast milk, you will bond with your baby if you spend time with your baby, take care of your baby, pay attention to your baby, etc. It does not mean that mothers who feed their babies formula love their babies less.

Many factors affect bonding – whether the child is the firstborn or not, the sex of the child, the temperament of the child, the frame of mind of the mother at that point in time, the mother’s other commitments (e.g. work) at that point in time, etc. Anyway, how do you measure bonding?

Breastfeeding is certainly one good way to bond with your baby but it is not the ONLY way. I find that it is more important that you spend time with your baby.

BA : If your baby is breastfed, you don’t have to feed your baby water.

Me : True, but then…

It is true that your breast milk has high content of water so you don’t have to supplement with water. However, personally, I still want to supplement with water for the following reasons :

  1. Our tropical weather can get very hot at times and Dominic loses water through perspiration. I feel better if I feed him some water to replenish the loss. Just a little, and it’s more for my peace of mind than anything. It is really not necessary.
  2. When solids are introduced, you have to supplement with water to aid digestion so as to avoid constipation.

The bottom line is that it is not necessary to give breastfed babies water. On the other hand, there is no harm giving a little water, as long as it is not too much. My point is that you need not sweat over the ‘should’ and ‘should not’.

BA : Feeding your baby water ‘spoils’ his appetite and will in turn affect your milk supply.

Me : Not true.

Water has no nutritional value and need not be digested. So it goes through the baby’s system much faster than milk. Unless you feed your baby 3 or 4 oz of water in one go right before his proper feed, feeding your baby water should not affect breastfeeding at all. If you are really concerned about this, feed your baby water (not too much!) some time before his actual feed or some time after. It should be ‘safe’ enough. And again, breastfed babies do not need so many oz of water. Please do not use the same standard as you would for formula fed babies.

BA : If you breastfeed, you should avoid certain food, like spices, coffee or diary products.

Me : Again, it depends.

Dominic does not seem to be the least bit affected by my diet. If you suspect something you eat could be giving some you some problem, try to identify the culprit by eliminating one type of food at a time and monitor the situation. If you are happy, your baby is happy, there is no need for you to avoid anything other than the really harmful or dangerous stuff like drugs. Of course, the sensible thing to do is to eat everything in moderation.

BA : ………

Me : Breastfeeding can be painful and difficult to begin.

This is something that BAs will not tell you or at most, will just make light the situation. The truth is this : breastfeeding can be painful and difficult to begin. For me, it took me almost a whole month before things start getting better. Sore nipples can be very painful and uncomfortable. After all, you baby sucks on your nipples at least 8 times a day, at least 30 minutes each time. Initially, when the both of you are still getting use to each other and the baby is learning how to suck on your breasts, you may suffer from pain due to improper latching, biting, etc. There is almost no opportunity for your sore nipples to heal and you simple got to ‘rough it out’ until your nipples are toughen by the ‘ill-treatment’. Cracked nipples are worse. Engorgement can range from mild discomfort to really painful. Plugged ducts which are very painful can take a few days to clear and if not cleared, can lead to infection.

I am not trying to scare you off breastfeeding. But I wish I knew what I was getting myself into so that I could be mentally prepared. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to get breastfeeding going.

Make sure you baby is latched on properly. This will help avoid sore nipples. And please do not leave sore nipples or plugged ducts untreated. This will just lead to more painful conditions like cracked nipples and mastitis. If you want to find out how to treat sore nipples and plugged ducts, just go to some of the breastfeeding websites and you should be able to find answers.