Struggling to breastfeed your baby? You are NOT ALONE
No one writes a blog about having a newborn when they’ve got a newborn! But my baby is not yet nine weeks old, so I’m just about in the newborn phase and its all fresh in my memory.
The reason no one writes newborn blogs in the first four weeks is — it’s a proper crazy chaotic time. If you’re fully breastfeeding your baby and its your first – RESPECT. Man, breastfeeding is hard! Keeping a newborn alive requires you to make decisions constantly, and you get mentally knackered. Plus you’re picking your baby up many times a day so you’re physically very tired. If you had an episiotomy, you are also likely to find it painful just to sit down and go to the toilet, never mind find positions to feed your baby in that work for you both! So your undercarriage feels knackered. And then your newborn baby needs feeding 8-12 times per day. So that’s up to 12 times per day in a 24-hour day. Go figure how many hours of sleep you got. So that’s you, also sleep deprived. I’m sure its not an urban myth that military personnel are trained to undergo sleep deprivation to limit their susceptibility to torture, but are they also hardened off to the sound of infants screaming? Oh yeah.
Breastfeeding – its natural and innate, right??
Wrong. If you haven’t watched other babies breastfeed, you have completely missed out on step 1 of breastfeeding and you’ll need to watch some videos (see the link here) on how to get your baby to latch well so that its comfortable, not completely intolerable (comfortable breastfeeding – easy read). Yes, completely intolerable is the latching other option.
Assuming you and your baby managed to get a good latch, you’re up for the colostrum bit. This ‘liquid gold’ has all the hallmarks of the Emperor’s New Clothes insofar as its basically invisible. My baby dutifully latched on and went through all the motions of feeding for 3.5 days, which occurred during one of the hottest weeks in London. I watched as she began to turn yellowish and her skin began to look drier.
As an older mother I began to wonder whether my breasts were up to the task. I had to tell myself extremely firmly that historically, wet nurses were often older women able to express milk years after their own children were grown up. Also I would recognise signs of dehydration before I let my baby dehydrate. She was producing wet nappies – but from where? How? Basically I had to hold my nerve very, very firmly indeed not to nip over to Tesco to buy a bottle and some formula for my yellowing, shrivelling infant.
Right on schedule my milk ‘came in’ and the fun and games started. Only my big clinical ego kept me sane during the early weeks of learning to get down with breastfeeding – which is another term for baby-led parenting.
This basically means you let the baby show you how to do it, because you’re clueless (even when, in theory, you’re not, as I’m not having been a paediatric osteopath for over 10 years!)
Your baby gets on with the job, regardless of your plans to Gina Ford her, your strafed nipples (Lansinoh does the trick), your beliefs about your own competence and inner motherly instincts. Your baby screams and you offer up your breasts, your time and basically, all semblance of your former life.
I can only begin to imagine the difficulties and stress of managing a baby with latching problems or reflux or colic. I knew the difficulties in theory (as an experienced paediatric osteopath) and I now have firsthand experience of just how upsetting these problems might be. By the way, all of the above mentioned issues can benefit from paediatric osteopathy and although much of it is anecdotal and scarcely backed up by the scientific literature, there seem to be many benefits reported by mums after only a few sessions. If you have bought in a supply of various medicines (Infacol, Gaviscon or Colief) I can seriously sympathise. If you have decided that breastfeeding isn’t for you, I totally get it.
Feeding 8-12 times per day
Let’s imagine your baby is able to latch, your milk came in, and your baby doesn’t have reflux or tongue tie (and wasn’t premature or ill). They will want to feed ‘8-12 times per day’. Fellow newborn mums – this can mean (depending on how long a feed takes), er, constantly feeding, for days on end. When are the beginnings and ends of these neatly circumscribed 12 feeds? Let me tell you. There is no beginning and no end. Initially there is only a series of potential naps punctuated by attaching your baby to your breast. It is absolutely no wonder that a lot of newborn mums come across as slightly mad. They are. At least if I was bottle feeding, there would be a beginning (start feeding with the bottle) and an end (bottle empty). It sounds like heaven compared with the on-off, wind, regurge, worry baby hungry, start again rigmarole. Ok I know I’ve just described every baby, bottle or breastfed, but at least someone other than the bearer of the breasts can do the rigmarole.
Benefits of breastfeeding
So, of great interest to me, the wonderful feet-firmly-on-the-ground, data-driven economist and author Emily Oster, in her book Cribsheet discusses the merits of breastfeeding…
Beyond 8 weeks of age, the health benefits for your baby simply aren’t well evidenced in global medical research to date. The benefits up until 8 weeks are predominantly baby-immune system related – less infections for your baby; and maternal breast cancer related – less incidences of breast cancer for breastfeeding mums. This is a complete win-win over formula feeding, no question.
BUT THE BENEFITS STOP THERE. Breastfed babies aren’t smarter, happier or in any other way better off than formula fed babies according to the published data scrutinised by Oster. As far as the scientific evidence shows, all our beliefs about breastfeeding beyond 8 weeks, are simply that – beliefs. Not scientific truths. So, why bother breastfeeding when handing baby and bottle over to her dad, grandparents or your mates is so deliciously tempting???
Switching to formula
First – oh my goodness the convenience. I have fed my baby on a hillside above Durdle Door, in a restaurant at Shell Bay (sorry not sorry, fellow diners), on the pier in Swanage, on the 63 bus in Peckham (where I felt truly welcome to do it) and in the car park of a biker’s pub outside Bournemouth. I could no doubt have bottle fed her in all these places but then I’d have been lugging that stuff around, instead of just my vest top and denim jacket (which is not just cool again, but also obscures the view from my baby’s fellow diners, ha).
Second – actually to be completely honest, there is no second. I’d switch to formula in a heartbeat if I didn’t hold my beliefs about, well frankly I’m not sure what. I suspect its only my future self’s regrets about not breastfeeding/pending further evidence in support of breastfeeding longer than 8 weeks.
But then, she’s 9 weeks in a matter of days, and honestly, if the only place I can actually do something for me (like write this blog) is still to sit on a train for 3 hours with my baby in a carrier and work at my laptop; I may well switch to a bottle. Oh yeah.
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