Breastfeeding evolves throughout the journey, as our newborn babies turn to toddlerhood, the different breastfeeding challenges, emotions and rewards unfold too. The newborn breastfeeding journey can sometimes start rocky and longterm breastfeeding can also turn taxing. Some mothers choose to have their babies close together in age and have the option of tandem or triandem feeding, which is also discussed in a future post. The health benefits and your child’s comfort from breastfeeding can motivate you to continue trying. This blog post offers useful advice to help you find ways to enjoy the breastfeeding journey too. The societal pressures around breastfeeding are huge as a result of mass marketing from the formula companies, and this post also helps to put others’ comments into perspective and suggests ways to help educate our society.
Breastfeeding is strongly linked with attachment parenting, and is recommended by most attachment experts. Whilst it is not essential to do if you’re choosing a gentle parenting path, it’s a huge help in growing you into a gentle parent if you follow the lessons breastfeeding teaches you.
Why is this topic even necessary for gentle parents attempting to breastfeed? Our society, with me posting from the UK, are predominantly formula fed now. The UK’s World ranking of lowest breastfeeding success at 1 year could be drastically improved with a few small changes in perspective of what breastfeeding involves and what it means to our babies. The UK has only 0.5% breastfed at 1 year, compared to USA 27% (still viewed as very low), compared with many countries with amazing rates such as Senegal 99.4%. More statistics indicate that new UK mother’s intend to breastfeed (81% do try breastfeeding) but find it too challenging to achieve the World Health Organisation’s recommendation to exclusively breastfeed to 6 months. Only 1% of UK mother’s achieve this particular recommendation, according to the UNICEF’s most recent survey.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding to 2 years and beyond, along with other solids from 6 months. In some other cultures, the women are so used to breastfeeding that they just sit topless – no shame / judgment / sexualisation. Compare this breastfeeding style to our culture where the main site of breasts you see is on advertisements or late-night TV programmes. You start to understand why the success rate is so low here in the UK. Below is a graph from Nuffield Trust showing the percentage of breastfed babies between 0-5 months per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months.
In light of the low success rate of breastfeeding in the UK, I felt there is an urgent need for our UK’s new mothers to be educated and read about the reality of breastfeeding. It is not only important to be aware of the huge health benefits breastmilk offers, as well as the emotional benefits breastfeeding itself offers. It is also essential to know ‘what not to do’ if you want to increase your chance of success, and the facts around common causes of quitting breastfeeding. This blog offers ideas on how to breastfeed discretely in public too. It also gives you a reasonable expectation if you want to breastfeed responsively / on-demand and exclusively anytime and every time from birth. If you are the husband or partner of the breastfeeding mother, there is also some tips to help you support your partner in achieving your family’s breastfeeding goals. Further along your journey, or occasionally fairly early on, you may feel judged and receive unhelpful comments from third parties – this post will help you to overcome such comments and realise that you are not alone on your journey.
Health Benefits of Breastmilk to Babies
You only have to search scholarly sites or read this book specifically about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to see the huge health benefits for a baby. There are simply too many benefits to choose from. The full list of benefits here would be overwhelming for you to read, and presumably you are reading this post as you are at breaking point with your newborn baby. So I will stick to keeping the list of benefits in summary form with optional further reading in the links. I feel these benefits will motivate you to stick with it.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by 36%.
- Protects against several infectious, allergy-related diseases (such as asthma, eczema), cardiovascular diseases, leukaemia, necrotising enterocolitis, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Enhances neurodevelopment (the brain’s development), improves IQ.
- Reduces the risk of ADHD (attention deficit disorder), and other developmental and behavioural disorders.
- Lower recorded acute illnesses and diarrhoea / constipation aged 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years; plus less risk of being overweight/obese at age 3 years.
- A recent study found that the nutrients in breast milk can significantly increase intelligence (i.e. they compared babies bottle fed with formula vs babies bottle fed with expressed breastmilk), whereas nursing infants directly at the breast showed improved memory too. Therefore, any breastmilk is worth offering, but feeding your baby straight at the breast offers even more benefits.
- Immune system protection and optimal nutrition is found in breast milk. As newborns are born with immature immune systems, the bacteria content of breast milk is protective against infections. If the mother is exposed to a virus, antibodies pass through the breastmilk to the baby, offering instantaneous immunity.
- Human milk has been described as “alive” by scientists due to the cells, microbes and bioactive factors, and the two way interaction of human milk between the mother and baby. Human breast milk is incredibly complex and dynamic, and so is the development of your little baby.
- A relatively recent discovery is that human breast milk contains stem cells! They behave in the same way as neural stem cells so we may see a noninvasive form of these in the future for the treatment of certain diseases.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding to Mother
There is also a long list of health benefits to the Mum and I just focus on a few of the most inspiring below.
- As mentioned in the baby health benefits above, I personally am considering the endless possibilities because my breastmilk contains stem cells. If you personally have any diseases with stem cells research being undertaken, it may be worth considering keeping your milk supply going just to increase the odds that you may be able to provide a personalised supply of stem cells? I don’t know how possible this would be, as I am not a stem cell scientist, but I certainly plan to continue my milk supply in the hope my boobs offer a cure for me some day… I have type 1 diabetes, which has ongoing research around stem cells for a cure.
- The mother also has reduced risk of developing future diseases.
- The role breastfeeding plays in postpartum weight loss due to the energy used.
- Lowered cardiovascular risks in both mother and baby.
- This article may be the most important for you if you are aiming for gentle parenting. This study revealed that the longer the breastfeeding duration the significantly higher attachment security in the child. Only initiating breastfeeding did not give a stronger result for attachment in the child.
Emotional Benefits of Breastfeeding
As an experienced mother who continues to breastfeed all 3 of my children (3 years and 20 month old twins), I can testify that breastfeeding helps massively with babies who cry a lot. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t be bothered feeding again, it was the only way I could easily and quickly bring peace to my children when they were crying for an unknown reason. The prospect of quitting breastfeeding to instead spend hours rocking or bouncing or driving around the block, while looking at a huge pile of unwashed formula bottles, were not attractive options to me.
This calming effect of breastfeeding continues when the children reach the tantrum years, as nursing fixes most things. If you are considering having children close together in age, tandem feeding offers a special bonding experience for both siblings and the mother. It can help the toddler with the huge emotions coming with having another sibling in the family.
What Not To Do
The best advice I was given by a midwife or health visitor was don’t have all the formula and bottle making equipment bought as a backup just in case breastfeeding doesn’t work. The reason being you’ll likely use the milk and equipment through the harder breastfeeding times. This worked for me, as by the time I was in the thick of sleep deprivation and wished for formula feeding to become an option, I was too tired to research into the best formula and equipment on the market. I only wanted the best for my child, and the exhaustion I felt prevented me from having enough energy to go ahead and buy any formula feeding equipment. The sleep deprivation soon passed and I was grateful for being able to continue our breastfeeding journey.
During my parenting journey, I have learnt not to just trust anybody, no matter their experience or qualifications, but especially if they don’t have experience or qualifications. Whilst it is important to consider the recommendations your medical team are giving you, it is equally worthwhile asking for their evidence especially if you don’t feel their advice is correct. Medics still have life experience influencing their recommendations, for example maybe they did not succeed with breastfeeding at all and their advice stems from needing to justify their own guilt. Do your own research to support their comments, or ask them to provide you with research supporting theirs to give you confidence that the actions you are taking are in the best interests of your child.
Common Reasons Mothers Use to Quit Breastfeeding Prematurely – The Facts
There are common reasons mothers give for having quit breastfeeding, and often it causes them to feel some guilt or sadness. I therefore discuss these below in case you are currently considering stopping breastfeed with one of the below reasons.
Comments I’ve heard from other parents include getting new teeth and biting as a reason for stopping. I found when my eldest started cutting teeth, her latch needed to change as she was not used to the teeth being there. It did hurt my nipple quite a lot. Fortunately her bite changed and the pain of the teeth catching on my boob only lasted a few days. At this stage I decided to only continue breastfeeding one day at a time and luckily the issue was very short lived. Every baby is different though as I didn’t get any accidental biting with either of the twins. One of them started biting when coming to an end of a feed as she found my squeal funny when it first happened. I stopped giving her that response and she also soon stopped.
Not Producing Enough Milk
I had numerous friends tell me their heartfelt stories that they don’t product enough breast milk so had to stop. They didn’t want to starve their baby. They wished they could have breastfed but their baby was just never satisfied. I heard so many sad stories from these mothers that I just assumed I would not be able to produce enough milk when my baby came. I didn’t do any research into how to breastfeed my baby as I didn’t want to feel as guilty as they did when I couldn’t breastfeed. In fact, studies have found perceived too little milk supply is the biggest cause of breastfeeding cessation. How I wish I could have had my experience now to help these Mums see that their baby’s behaviour was completely normal for a newborn baby growing, not a sign of lack of milk supply.
Remember that newborn babies grow so quickly that today’s milk supply will not be enough for tomorrow’s bigger sized baby. The only way they can stimulate more milk is to feed more. I recall feeding my baby several times an hour at times in the breastfeeding journey. I did learn that those phases (growth spurts) do not last long and usually follow with an easier period of rest. Babies need more sleep than adults, so they will be tired too by constantly waking and feeding, so it will not last long until rest will come.
I remember wanting to quit several times and then by the 3 month mark I started seeing the pattern of intense times followed by easier times, and to make the most of the easier times. If you had a natural labour, you could see that as a mock rehearsal for the early breastfeeding journey, with the time interval between contractions being used as recovery from the contractions themselves. I always believed that if I could get through childbirth like mine was, I could continue breastfeeding. I had faith that nature would help me to succeed. I’m glad I didn’t quit breastfeeding on a bad day as usually the day after the thought of stopping was a relatively easy day.
There may be exceptional cases where you indeed cannot produce enough milk, but actually this statistic is very low. Here in the UK the midwives visit enough times that it would be highlighted early if your baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. Unless they tell you otherwise, assume that your body and baby are doing what they need to grow healthily.
Research actually shows that there was no significant relationship found between the mother’s perceived milk supply and their actual milk supply. The article linked here does also show a strong link between confidence that your body will produce enough and the perceived milk supply. So trust your body and your baby, they know what they are doing best. The perceived milk supply was often viewed as lower when the number of feeds were high (like in my case with my first born). It is simply not true that babies feed every 4 hours and gradually the spacing increases as they get older, like many health experts and websites brainwash you to believe. All 3 of my children at one stage or other have fed several times per hour if needed. I have never had an issue with supply, with all of my children following their growth curves perfectly. I did have strong feelings with my firstborn though that I was not producing enough milk as it felt like a constant rotation of feeding and a lot of crying.
Can’t Stand the Leaking Boobs!
The full and leaking breasts situation does not last very long. Once your milk supply has established your breasts only produce the right amount of milk for your baby. They stop leaking and don’t feel full. In fact, at this stage you may wonder if you’ve stopped producing enough (see section above), but you are, your body is just saving you the embarrassment and hassle of oversupply of milk.
Having Older Children to Care For
Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed and that having an older child, or more, to care for makes it impossible to breastfeed your child on demand. Every family is different and only you can decide what works best for you and your partner (if applicable), your family and your children. However my personal experience of breastfeeding 3 babies (a 20 month old and newborn twins) at the same time I felt was significantly easier than if I hadn’t been.
In my situation, my husband was working 6 long days per week, so breastfeeding all 3 at once saved on washing up bottles, cost of formula, the ability to meet my kids’ emotional needs, and to know that if an illness struck our family our kids would recover from that illness quickly. I did not fancy tending to 3 sick kids at once. If you have older children that are no longer breastfed, your breastfeeding their younger sibling offers first hand training on how to support a mother and witness her responding to a baby’s needs. Older children, especially if they’re used to being raised gently, do well with responsibilities and it’s a good opportunity for allowing them to gently learn how to deal with big emotions.
The Baby Will Sleep Better
The biggest injustice done to breastfeeding mothers is to be told that by switching to formula the baby will sleep better. This is just not a solution for those of us who want to increase our child’s health outcomes.
As mentioned just above, some days I seriously considered quitting, and then the following day was comparably blissful anyway. My body had adjusted, the baby needed to rest, and things calmed down until the next growth spurt. My gut feel tells me that those mothers who convince you that the baby slept better by going onto formula were just experiencing the recovery phase in their baby after a growth spurt. That growth spurt was probably what pushed them onto formula milk.
Some research does suggest that there may be a difference in babies sleep when comparing formula fed babies, partly bottle fed babies and breastfed babies. However you have to consider the effort involved in getting up to prepare a bottle vs rolling over to feed. Any research of SIDS also shows a strong link between breastfeeding reducing the chance of SIDS. You may want to read my post about sleeping arrangements to help you improve your baby’s sleep.
Breast Feed in Public Discretely
With my first baby, I got very anxious about breastfeeding in public. My own Mum had made me feel like people would judge me, as she would tell me stories about how disgusting other women were when breastfeeding a baby – that they would openly be showing their nipple, for example. It made me very self conscious about publicly feeding, or even to breastfeed in front of family and friends.
As time went on, and having newborn twins on the scene, I soon dropped my guard in this sense. I had a hospital appointment when the twins were only 2 weeks old. My husband was still working 6 days a week, and I didn’t have a valid driving licence, so I had to go in with my husband and spend the whole day (10 hours) in town. Obviously I had no choice but to attempt a tandem feed in a local cafe. At home I had got expert on tandem feeding, and thought I’d be able to do the same but just put a couple of blankets over us. Well… one pulled off screaming, with my boob exposed and the blanket dropped down. When trying to reach that blanket, the other fell off. I was mortified. I also had my 20 month old who started deciding to pull stones out of a display. It all went from bad to worse. After that scenario, I became much more confident at public breastfeeding. Nothing could be worse than that day, and I came up with strategies to discretely feeding in public.
Things I found helped me stay relatively away from others’ view were to choose a corner table, face towards the corner with a bag and coats on the table so pretty much all angles are blocked. I didn’t find blankets or covers worked as my babies just wanted to pull them off and would likely expose more of me in the process. I instead wore baggy jumpers and allowed them to cover any part of the breast not hidden by their head. I found if you looked at somebody, such as a waiter with a smile and as if you weren’t doing anything, as long as you had a jumper covering your chest area, they actually didn’t tend to notice you were breastfeeding at all.
The Reality of Exclusive On-Demand Breastfeeding
Firstly, what is exclusive breastfeeding, also referred to as EBF sometimes? There are common misunderstandings about what EBF actually entails, but it is defined by the World Health Orgnisation (WHO) as “no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including milk expressed or from a wet nurse) for 6 months of life, but allows the infant to receive ORS, drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines).” This is an important point to make as some of our older generations believe that even breastfed babies need water. The WHO recommends that they do not for their best health.
From multiple times per hour to once every few hours, everything on the exclusive breastfeeding journey is normal. Responding to your baby is helping you refine your gentle parenting, even if only subconsciously at the moment. If you worry that you are feeding your baby too much – don’t – there is no such thing. The baby knows best and cannot overfeed from breastmilk given directly from the breast. Have faith that responsive breastfeeding will help assist you become a gentle parent. For example, this study found that breastfeeding mothers were more sensitive to infant cues.
Unfair Judgments From Public People or Family and Friends
I could reel off hundreds of comments or nasty reactions I’ve received as a result of my choice to breastfeed. They can drag you down, and make you question whether you are doing it right or doing the right thing. Research important aspects of life to you or your blood family which have been a burden and you may well find there is a link between breastfeeding and reducing the risk of your children going through that. For me it was the reduced risk of type 1 diabetes which I had battled with since I was 2 years old. Numerous research found reductions in the risk of the baby developing type 1 diabetes in the future, with significant protection from longer exclusive and total breastfeeding duration.
Once you have your reasons for continuing breastfeeding, any comments such as “your baby shouldn’t be feeding that much, give them some formula as it’s not fair on them, they’re clearly starving” become much easier to respond to quickly. “Thank you but I’ve discovered that breastfeeding exclusively actually reduces their risk of type 1 diabetes significantly, and if I can help prevent them getting what I’ve had to endure then I will feel I tried my best.”
How Can the Dad Help the Mum Succeed in their Breastfeeding Goals?
The most amusing comment I overhead from a new father was in a local cafe. He was talking to his friend about becoming a dad for the first time. He exclaimed “It’s got to stop, my baby’s 3 months old and is already wrapping her around his little finger. She needs to stop breastfeeding him”.
I found this statement amusing because, more likely than not, the reason he was sat in a cafe gossiping with his friend is because she was at home responding to her baby’s needs. There is no such things as being under the thumb at such a young age. A baby of only a few weeks old has an incredible amount of life changes to deal with – new sounds, smells, sites, and many more. They need breastfeeding for hunger, for comfort and for connection.
As I educated myself more about the men’s feelings towards breastfeeding, I discovered that many fathers can feel the same as that man in the cafe. The breastfeeding bond and the attachment that forms as a result between the baby and Mum can make it difficult for the Dad to make connections. My husband seemed to find making connections in the early days difficult too. Anytime he picked the baby up, she seemed to cry and search for me. Now we have hindsight to see what the future holds, his bond with my eldest is loving and strong. She is only 3 years old but when she was only 20 months and I went into hospital to give birth to the twins, he was her life for 10 days while Mummy had ‘vanished’. When the baby realises that the Dad is also there to comfort and support them gently, the bond will flourish too. It may just be a matter of time, so during that time just focus on the moments you can enjoy with your baby or your partner and this short newborn phase will soon have passed.
The best thing the father can do to help their breastfeeding wife / girlfriend is support them. If you need incentive to do this, just think of how much less you will have to listen to crying or do night shifts, or rock a distressed baby if the Mum can simply step in and breastfeed. If your baby’s needs are responded to now, regardless of whether it is you responding or your other half, they will find attaching to you easier in the future too, when they are ready. If you want the option for sleep, occasionally at least, then this is surely selfish enough reason for you to do research regarding benefits of exclusive and on-demand breastfeeding and encourage and empathise with your partner’s challenges.
How Is Breastfeeding Linked to Gentle Parenting?
If you notice the lessons that breastfeeding your newborn teaches you, and carry them across your future parenting journey, you will be sent on a gentle parenting path naturally. Responding to their cries for milk, regardless of whether you understand the reason for those cries, will translate to responding to your toddler’s cries following a fall or being distressed emotionally. You may be interested in my post which includes a section about helping your baby deal with emotions.
Once your baby is a bit older, you may learn redirection from breastfeeding which is a common gentle parenting technique. “Ohh look yum yum a banana” as you assess that they must be hungry and you would rather not breastfeed them for the hundredth time that day. This is similar to working out what your child needs and redirecting it to something more suitable for you, e.g. they need to scream so you take them outside to the park rather than let them continue screaming inside.
You learn that your baby has needs but so do you, and it’s important for you to take time to love yourself too. You work out who your support networks are to rely on for this help, which creates the village of support which can be helpful for the rest of your baby’s childhood. You also, most importantly, realise how important you personally are to your children. They depend on you for comfort, support, optimal growth and to do what’s best for them, even if the society around you do not fully support the parenting techniques you are doing.