I've been working on updating my prenatal manual for the past month, and it has been so good. It has caused me to question why I teach each thing that I teach, and ask if it is still as relevant as 5 years ago when I first designed it. For the most part, not much has changed in birth in the last 5 years. There are subtleties; more willingness to do delayed cord clamping and skin to skin, midwives are valuing the work doulas do and even recommending them, cesareans and inductions are still way too high, and epidural use is still in the 90%. The biggest change though, is the way we talk about breastfeeding.
There have been many breastfeeding campaigns in the past that have been in poor taste. Likely because it is difficult to put a substantial and helpful message on a billboard, so things like 'breastfeeding is cheaper' and 'breast is best' came about. But there has been a shift lately into the realm of "fed is best" and "infant feeding". And this is good and inclusive, but also gives me pause about whether we are moving away from our instincts and our biology. I am happy to see a shift towards anything that makes women not feel shame, because we know shame drives us deeper into disconnect, and deeper into negative behaviours. However, as my mentor Carol Peat has told me time and time again, "Breastfeeding is the biological norm for infant feeding." And that's true too.
Let's review a few amazing things about breastmilk. Breastmilk is the perfect composition of water, protein, carbohydrates and fats, perfectly made through communication between baby and mother through the nipple and skin for every stage of life the baby is at. This communication through saliva is what means that the mother can create antibodies in her milk to perfectly fight what the baby needs. Breastmilk actually has a higher water content on a hot day compared to a cold day!
Breastfeeding promotes a healthy gastrointestinal tract by lining the belly with good bacteria - this is essential for feeding the central nervous system, because we now know that everything that goes to our gut, goes to our brains. This is turn protects babies against asthma, allergies, S.I.D and obesity. Whew crazy right? I'm not done.
There is increased bonding between mother and baby because of increased levels of oxytocin and prolactin when feeding. Melatonin is released in the milk as well as cholecystokinin to help relaxation - this is why women feel sleepy when they breastfeed. And breastfeeding helps both mom and baby to sleep.
For the mother there is a decrease in the chance of hemorrhaging post birth if baby is placed to breast. And as she continues breastfeeding, the oxytocin that is stimulated from nipple stimulation also helps to shrink her uterus. There's a reduction in postpartum depression because of higher levels of prolactin and oxytocin, but also possibly because the mother feels more capable of being the person who can meet her baby's needs (that was my experience anyway). Down the road, there's a reduction in osteoporosis and breast cancer in women who breastfeed.
Now unfortunately, stress seems to be the constant state that we live in, and as many as 28% of women do not produce enough milk. The most common reason reported that women stop breastfeeding before their baby is 6 months is 'not enough breastmilk'. There are things you can do. Find/ask for help, hire support. Eat a minimum of 2500 calories daily. Manage your stress as best you can. I remember when my friend was trying to get pregnant, her mantra from her practitioner was 'carbs and naps'! It was quite literally the opposite of 'diet and drive' that so many of us are accustomed to, and I am sure it took some adjusting to. Reduce your expectations, obligations and commitments. Schedule an extra weight check if you are concerned, most clinics you can weigh your baby before and after a feed. I want women to succeed with breastfeeding, I really do. I do everything I can to help my clients succeed with breastfeeding, including referring out to people who have even more experience than I do. This usually includes Carol Peat and Dr. Jack Newman. Breastfeeding takes a lot of patience, love and support from others, and endurance. Breastfeeding is our physiological makeup. Taking a prenatal class that includes breastfeeding if a good place to start before you have a baby.