There are so many rules about being a good mum – it's enough to do your head in.
If you're breastfeeding, there are even more 'rules'. And these rules are about feeding your baby and actually making him grow and stay alive – is it any wonder you get into freak-out territory?
Take heart: the first rule of mothering is "don't let anybody 'should' on you." This is your baby and your body, and just as you're figuring out this whole new motherhood business, you and your baby will work out breastfeeding together. You may need a little help, and please don't wait until you are really worried before you reach out. There is practical help and advice out there from lactation consultants and trained breastfeeding counsellors who will encourage and support you if the going gets tough.
Most importantly, you don't have to live like a nun to be able to happily nourish your baby, and you don't have to buy a heap of gear to make breastfeeding possible, either. You and your boobs are enough.
Here's what you don't need to worry about ...
You can time feeds for your own peace of mind, so you know how often your baby is feeding or how long his feeds seem to take. Or if you have other children and you need to do a school pickup, for instance, it's perfectly reasonable to gently offer your baby a feed before you head out the door, even if he isn't signalling that he is hungry just yet.
However, enforcing a strict feeding schedule isn't a good idea. Firstly, from your baby's perspective, how is it respectful to have someone wake you up from a lovely restful nap and whip a boob in your mouth because THEY decide you should eat? Or if your baby is thirsty and desperately needs a wee drink, but he has to wait until the clock says it's time – isn't that pretty mean? At risk of stating the bleeding obvious, your baby can't help himself, unless you give him access to your boobs.
From your perspective, how simple is it to offer a boob? By watching your baby's cues he will signal when needs to eat or drink. This could be more often than usual if he is having a growth spurt or if he needs a boost of immune factors because he's been exposed to a bug (the transfer of your baby's saliva to your breasts signals your body to make antibodies for germs your baby has been exposed to).
By offering the boob, you'll be stimulating your breasts to make more milk, because breast milk production works on a 'supply and demand' basis – the more milk you remove, the more your body is signaled to make.
It's helpful to understand that women have varying milk storage capacities: even though healthy women with no underlying medical issues generally make a similar amount of milk over a 24 hour period, some women will need to feed their babies more frequently due to a smaller storage capacity. You don't need to worry about this either. Think of it as drinking out of a shot glass or a beer glass; if you have a shot glass you'll need more 'refills' to drink the same amount when compared to drinking out of a beer glass.
So rather than worry about your supply, trust your baby and your body to work in sync. As long as your baby is having heavy wet nappies and doing poos (the number will vary with your baby's age) and gaining weight, it's all good.
Unless you're going to be separated from your baby because he's premature or sick, or you're going back to work and need to maintain your milk supply while away from your baby, you don't really need to worry about buying a pump. You also don't need to pump a stash of mama milk for your freezer.
If you do need to express some milk for comfort or for occasional separations, it's good to know how to hand express – this is really simple when you get the hang of it, and can even be more effective than using a pump.
If you're pumping and don't manage to get much milk, you don't need to be concerned that this reflects your milk supply. A healthy, well-latched baby who is sucking effectively will almost always get more milk than even the best breast pump. Some women don't respond well to a pump, while others may need to try a different technique: it can help to warm your breasts first, massage them, and hand express until the milk starts to flow before applying the pump. Then, as you are pumping, try using breast compressions as the flow slows – and watch the milk start spurting again!
There are lots of old wives' tales about what foods to avoid while you are breastfeeding, but you don't need to worry about restricting your own diet unless you have a baby who has allergies. Some babies are sensitive to certain foods passing through mother's milk, but your baby will never be allergic to your milk.
There is no single food that you need to avoid while breastfeeding – a food that seems to bother one baby may have no effect on another child. This means that unless your baby seems upset when you eat certain foods, you can enjoy whatever you fancy.
A few nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and some vitamins, will be boosted in your milk if these are plentiful in your diet. But overall your milk will still be good 'quality' and will be rich in antibodies to protect your baby, even if your diet isn't optimal.
Unless you feel uncomfortable feeding in public, you don't need to use a nursing cover. You certainly shouldn't have to worry about other people's hang-ups – you're doing a great job, mama, this is what boobs are for! By simply pulling up your top and feeding your baby (this is pretty discreet anyway – your baby is covering your nipple, which seems to be what upsets the grumpy bums), you're drawing less attention to yourself than if your baby has to wait and starts yelling while you fumble around, trying to attach a nursing cover or drape a blanket over his head.
So instead of hiding your baby under a blanket as he feeds, gaze into his eyes and let the endorphins (and mama milk) flow. If anyone gets rude, tell them to put a blanket over their head.
Letting your baby 'use you as a dummy'
You will hear all sorts of rules about this, from "he's only sucking for comfort" to "don't let him fall asleep on the boob." Please try not to worry about the naysayers if you find breastfeeding is a lovely way to help you and your baby feel calm whether he is hungry, thirsty, upset, tired or feeling overwhelmed.
Breastfeeding is not just about 'the milk' – it's also about comfort, connection and immunity. There are wonderful chemicals in breast milk that affect your baby's brain, gut health and development as they lull him to sleep. These include:
- oxytocin, the 'love hormone' released by you and your baby as you snuggle and breastfeed. Oxytocin encourages your milk flow and enhances bonding and attachment
- cholecystokinin, which helps tell your baby's brain when he has satisfied his hunger
- tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, which helps with development of serotonin receptors in your baby's gut (we now know that more than 80 per cent of our serotonin receptors are in the gut, and this affects brain chemistry)
- endocannabinoids, which have a calming effect on your baby's brain.
Night milk is also rich in tryptophan and melatonin, along with some other proteins that are exclusively present in night milk.
These magical chemicals help your baby relax, so it makes perfect sense to allow him to doze off as he feeds in the warmth of your arms, drinking your warm, sweet milk. You can relax and stop worrying about 'comfort feeding': instead, try to see breastfeeding as a simple mothering tool, and a beautiful way to calm and connect with your baby.
And please don't worry that your baby will become dependent (babies are dependent!) or that he'll need a breast to fall asleep when he is 18 – he may still like to snuggle up to a warm boob, but it won't be yours!
Pinky is offering a FREE teleseminar "Breastfeeding Made Easy", on Friday 5 August at 1pm AEST for World Breastfeeding Week. Learn more at pinkymckay.com.