As national breastfeeding week comes to an end I thought it would be nice to pull together some truly amazing facts about breastfeeding. It’s not for everyone, but breastfeeding can be the most awesome and liberating experience of a women’s life. So for all our new and repeat moms out there, here are some facts about how amazing your body is.
The magic of Colostrum
Our bodies produce colostrum in the first day or two after our babies are born. It is amazingly beneficial for our babies as it gives them antibodies and nutrients that they simply cannot get anywhere else. What some of us might not know is that in order to produce colostrum our body’s has to break down gluteal and femoral fat.
That’s right ladies, our body takes fat directly from our bums and thighs to make this all important milk!
When your baby latches on you may experience a cramping sensation in your lower abdomen. The physical action is similar to the contractions you feel during the early stages of labour as the abdominal wall contracts to help the uterus shrink in size. It will take weeks, if not months for it to reduce completely back to normal but this clever trick the body plays is certainly helpful in getting you back into shape!
Reading your Babies Signals
Recent research has shown that as a baby feeds their mouth creates a vacuum around the areola, small amounts of your babies saliva is transferred into the mother’s bloodstream through the nipple during the feed. Your body will then “read” the saliva for signs of possible infections your baby may have been exposed to and adjust the antibodies in the breastmilk to fight off the infection. Your body will tailor make its own unique bespoke breastmilk for your baby’s changing needs.
Our bodies produce breastmilk on a supply/demand basis. So as your baby feeds your body is already producing the next milk feed. This milk is then stored in the breast until baby is ready for the next one. Each and every mother has a different storage capacity in her breasts and it is definitely NOT dependant on the size of the breast. This is the reason that some babies may want to be fed more often than others. For example, if the mom stores less milk in the breast they may only go two hours between feeds while others may go three or even four hours where the mother stores more and therefore delivers more at each feed.
This is why it’s so important to feed based on baby’s cues and not go by the clock.
Milk & Cream
A common misconception is our bodies produce two different types of milk: foremilk and hindmilk. While there is an obvious physical difference between the two, they both have similar properties and provide our babies with the nourishment they need. The foremilk is a more watery substance to quench babies thirst and comes out at the start of the feed. The hindmilk then follows and is thicker to satisfy their hunger needs. It is important to try to let baby “finish” or empty one breast before starting the other so that they get the important hindmilk. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing exactly when the foremilk has finished and the hindmilk has started but once your baby is gaining weight and having plenty of wet nappies and a couple of dirty nappies a day, rest assured they are getting all they need thanks to your hard work and effort!
If there is one thing that I have learned it’s that everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different and no two babies are the same. Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re doing it right. There are a few general things you can do to make it a little easier and hopefully enjoyable.
These are my breastfeeding tips:
- Pillows, cushions, throws and blankets everywhere: The more the merrier!! It’s really important when you’re feeding to make yourself as comfortable as possible and bring your baby to the breast. So get as many cushions, pillows, whatever you need and then grab another one just in case! This will help to avoid hunching over the baby to feed which will lead to bad posture, neck, shoulder and back pain and possibly cracked nipples!!!!!
- Hydration: Breastfeeding is thirsty work so grab a few 1 litre bottles of water with the sports lids that are easy to open. I found these so handy in the first few weeks and kept them all around the house so wherever I was feeding there was one close by. Just refill them each night and strategically place around the house the next morning.
- Clothes: If, like me, you’re not sure how long your breastfeeding journey will last and don’t want to invest in breastfeeding specific tops, there are definitely good alternatives. The four key elements for breastfeeding clothes are: easy access, covers the belly and back, doesn’t expose too much of the breast, and comfort. The answer for me was layers- a light loose outer top that can be pulled up easily and long tight under top that can be pulled down underneath the breast. This solution helped me to feel comfortable while out and about without having to hide under a hot clammy scarf or blanket
- Mind games: For me, one of the hardest parts of breastfeeding was the psychological struggle. Especially as first time moms, we can go from working full time (and possibly even overtime) one week to literally spending the day on the couch feeding the baby (because clustering feeding does not only happen in the evenings, especially during a growth spurt!!!), having done little if nothing else. This feeling of not having “achieved” or completed a tangible task took me a long time to come to terms with. Then one day, I realised that if I treat this as I would my “normal” job it could be totally doable, so my motto is “this is my job, this is why I am on maternity leave and have taken time off work”. The housework can wait.
- Happy Mommy = happy baby: My last and final tip is that looking after your health and mental wellbeing is almost as important as looking after your baby. If you aren’t functioning properly, you can’t possibly look after your baby to the best of your ability. So if you’re exhausted, have cracked nipples, want to kill your snoring partner, the house is a mess and so forth, please just give your baby a bottle, whether it be expressed breastmilk or formula. Better yet, let someone else give your baby a bottle and have a nap or take a walk but do something for you! Yes it might be sad the first time and you will feel guilt no matter what you do but the world will not end because of a bottle!
We can drive ourselves crazy trying to get our babies to feed every four hours and sleep through the night from eight weeks onwards and before we know it this gorgeous amazing new baby stage has passed us by while we were busy, trying to “get it right”. So why don’t we give ourselves a break and enjoy this wonderful time with our little ones because one thing is definite, we only get one shot at what is the beginning of their lives!