The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2020 (August 1st-August 7th) is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”. In line with this theme, WHO and UNICEF are calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling, a critical component of breastfeeding support.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), skilled breastfeeding counselling can be provided by different actors including health care professionals, lactation counsellors and peer support providers, and in a variety of settings– in health facilities or clinics, through home visits or community programmes, in person or remotely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to find innovative solutions to ensure that access to these essential services is not disrupted and that families continue to receive the breastfeeding counseling they need.
Choosing to breastfeed or to use formula is a personal decision. It is beneficial to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages each option offers to make the best decision for you. In this article we will go over the benefits of breastfeeding, some disadvantages that come with it and discuss how women experience breastfeeding differently.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding comes with many benefits for your baby (and you as well) by promoting production of good hormones in your body and helping reduce risk of certain health conditions later on. Healthline explains the benefits as well as the downsides of breastfeeding:
Accessibility and availability
- Breastfeeding is free — barring the cost of any lactation consultants and accessories like nursing bras. Pumps, bottles, formula, and other bottle-feeding products can be costly. The average amount of money on formula per year that you save by breastfeeding is approximately $400.00
- Breast milk doesn’t require any prep work. It’s ready when your baby is ready and is naturally warm
Nutrient Boost for the Baby:
- Breast milk has all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and stay healthy, including in the first few days when nutrient-rich colostrum is produced.
- Promotes a healthy digestive system: Breastfed babies are less likely to have diarrhea and an upset stomach.
- Strengthens baby’s immune system: Breast milk helps protect against ear infections, pneumonia, bacterial, and viral infections.
- Prevents SIDS: Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), especially exclusive breastfeeding.
- Benefits preemie health: Feeding human milk to preterm infants or other medically fragile babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) lowers the rates of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which increases survival chances and decreases the length of NICU stays.
- Lowers risk for other conditions: Breastfeeding potentially protects against conditions like asthma and allergies, diabetes, and obesity
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother:
- Helps with recovery: It can help your uterus get back to prepregnancy size faster.
- May help with weight loss: Your body’s production of milk burns extra calories
- Can help you retain iron: Breastfeeding keeps your period from returning, which can prevent an iron deficiency after giving birth.
- Allows your body to release hormones (like oxytocin) that help you bond with your baby
- Lowers risk of postpartum depression: A 2012 study indicated that the benefits were even greater when you breastfeed for longer than 4 months
If you choose the path of breastfeeding, you will likely be recommended by your healthcare provider to do it for as long as you’re able and still feel comfortable.
The Disadvantages of Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding is different for every woman. Some women may be able to breastfeed without a pump, others may choose to use the pump, others may prefer to use formula if they find it easier, etc. Of course, there are challenges that some women face such as not being able to produce enough milk, experiencing pain while having the milk secreted etc. Many of these can be addressed with the help of a lactation consultant and with time and practice.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to get it right. Some of the most common challenges women experience include:
- Feeling discomfort, particularly during the first few days or weeks.
- Not having a way to measure how much your baby is eating.
- Medication use, caffeine, and alcohol affecting milk quantity and quality (some substances that go into your body are passed to the baby through your milk)
- Having frequent feedings for their baby. A demanding feeding schedule may be difficult if you need to return to work or run errands. (pumping can help in some cases).
It is important to remember that each woman experiences breastfeeding differently. Some mothers will be able to produce milk more easily than others, others may experience high pain with breastfeeding etc.; Dr.Nicole Avena from MindBodyGreen shares the difficulties of her experience with breastfeeding:
“Seven years ago when I had my first daughter, I was unable to breastfeed because of the medication I was taking after delivery complications. I felt really guilty and spent a lot of time beating myself up about it. I felt like I had “failed” her, and myself, in some way. Deep down I knew that wasn’t really true, but I still felt that way. I had always assumed I would breastfeed, and, like everyone else, had been well aware of the numerous studies reporting the health and bonding benefits of breastfeeding.”
Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mother; not every mother will lactate the same or have the same adjustment process to breastfeeding. It is best to consult a doctor if you have concerns of your milk production or secretion if you decide to breastfeed.
I Decided to Breastfeed My Baby. How Do I Know If My Baby Is Receiving Enough Milk?
It is not easy to measure how much milk you produce, especially if you are breastfeeding directly from the breast rather than a pump. According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are a few signs that your baby is sufficiently fed:
- Your baby’s cheeks are full while feeding rather than sucked in
- Your baby releases on his/her own from your breast or falls asleep & releases
- Your baby seems happy and content after feeding
- You may feel sleepy after feedings
- You can see/hear your baby swallowing during feeding
- Your breasts feel soft, not hard, after feeding
Remember that babies may want milk many times throughout the day – this may cause you to feel like you must not be producing enough each feeding. Babies tend to feed 8-12 times per day (24 hours)- it is completely normal to feel you are breastfeeding all the time while you first start.
These are some reasons the American Pregnancy Association says may seem like your milk supply might be decreasing but probably don’t actually have anything to do with the milk supply:
- Your baby wants to nurse often (every 1.5 to 2 hours is pretty common for breastfed babies)
- Your breasts don’t leak any milk or they suddenly stop leaking (doesn’t have to do with milk supply)
- Your breasts feel softer than they used to (this is pretty natural once full supply comes in)
- You get very little when pumping after a feeding (babies are more efficient at extracting milk than a pump, and your leftover milk amount isn’t a good indication of milk supply)
- Your baby suddenly increases his/her frequency of nursing (likely will line up with a growth spurt!)
What Can Cause a Low Milk Supply?
Some women may have more difficulty producing more milk than others. It is important to iterate that this does not make a woman less capable of nourishing their child and they should not feel any less capable of being a mother if this happens.
The American Pregnancy Association shares several factors that can lower your milk supply:
- Taking an oral contraceptive
- Having fewer than normal milk ducts (ex. from surgeries or cancer)
- Bad positioning during feeding
- Tongue or lip tie in baby
- Supplementation (giving formula or bottled breast milk after baby feeds at the breast)
- Using pacifiers or nipple shields
- Mom’s health issues (postpartum reproductive issues such as retained placenta; others such as anemia)
- Mom’s medications (antihistamines, etc.)
- Drinking alcohol
- Smoking tobacco
- Cutting feedings short (instead of letting the baby decide when he/she’s done)
- Scheduling feedings rather than feeding on demand
- Baby sleeps too much/through the night (lessens the frequency of feeding – wake baby up more often to feed)
How Can I Boost My Milk Supply?
Before you try to take supplements or try different methods to increase milk supply, it is best to consult with your doctor or breastfeeding professional before self-diagnosing yourself with a low supply. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the truth is that most women do not need to do anything extra to enjoy healthy breastfeeding and have a good supply. If you have been diagnosed with a low or declining supply, there are a few things you can try that may help increase your milk supply, such as eating certain foods/herbs and power pumping.
Increased frequency of pumping and milk draining will let your body know that more milk is needed on a regular basis. Doing this can help promote more production of breast milk. Some foods and herbs that are supposed to help increase milk supply include:
- Goat’s Rue
- Vegetables/Leafy greens
- Garlic (be cautious-too much can change the taste of your breast milk)
- Sesame seeds
As always, before trying any herbal supplements, talk to your doctor regarding safety and dosing.