Breastfeeding is an incredible and extraordinary experience. When you actually think about it, it is quite unbelievable that a woman’s body produces food for her baby naturally. August 1 st to August 7th is breastfeeding week and the theme for 2021 is “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.” At the New Feminist Magazine, we are sharing responsibility and taking action to not only protect and promote breastfeeding but also acknowledge how troublesome and exhausting the process can be. Breastfeeding is amazing but the experience isn’t always an amazing one.
The New Feminist spoke to Dr. Reunisa Singh, a medical doctor attached to her local Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, UNICEF/WHO certified in Breastfeeding Promotion and Support in a Baby Friendly Hospital. Dr. Singh has helped many new mums prepare to take their babies home in her country and is now a new mum herself and she quickly realized that even with all the expertise she has, the process of breastfeeding is still taxing and exhausting. New mums with no guidance or prior knowledge may face difficulties that make the experience more stressful than beautiful.
An article by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund explained that while 81% of mothers in the UK start out breastfeeding, 90% stop before they want to because of challenges they face. 60% of that 90% stopped due to the lack of support.
Breastfeeding is a journey of highs and lows, and it is quite different for every mum and infant. There are many misconceptions that new mums accept, making the experience a laborious one. During the interview, Dr. Singh answered some questions to help us clear up these misunderstandings and offer tips to guide our new mums through this developing stage in their motherhood.
1. Breastfeeding is completely natural
A common misconception is that it is an all-natural process and it will come easily. Yes, it is natural but the truth is, breastfeeding is also a learned process. As much as your baby has instincts, they also have to learn to find the breast to latch on to. It takes time so don’t rush the process thinking it’s supposed to happen easily.
2. It’s Easy
Latching seems simple but in reality, a lot of new moms face challenges with proper latching. Dr. Singh advises that the baby latches to the areola of your breast and not just the nipple. If the baby is latching to the nipple alone, this can cause the nipples to crack, bleed and become extremely sore. Nipple creams can be used to soothe cracked, dry or irritable nipples.
3. Breastfeeding is painful
Many mums believe the misconception that breastfeeding is a painful process and it is just a manner of bearing the pain to feed their baby. Pain most often comes improper latching which can lead to clogged milk ducts or mastitis. Dr. Singh advises using warm washcloths to massage the breasts to relieve the clogged ducts and stimulate milk let down. Do not be afraid or feel ashamed to contact a lactation consultant if the pain is ongoing and the challenges are frustrating. You are not alone as many new mums face these breastfeeding obstacles.
4. Breast milk comes one hour after birth
It is advisable to breastfeed right after birth, especially for the benefits of skin to skin, however mature milk does not flow immediately. This is a common misconception that moms believe. They are often disappointed and discouraged when they are not seeing an outflow of milk. The first few days your breasts will produce colostrum, which is more nutritious for your baby. Your newborn’s stomach is about the size of a marble; your body naturally produces what your baby needs so no need to feel defeated when you see a little flow of colostrum. Your mature milk will come in 4-7 days post-birth. It is important to note as well, once you and your baby have found what works for you both, the more you feed the more you produce.
5. There is a risk of overfeeding
Overfeeding on breast milk is a very common misconception. Feed your baby on demand; a fed baby is a happy baby. There is no clock or routine to follow. If your baby is showing signs of hunger (fussing, chewing on their hands, opening and closing mouth) feed them. We know some mums use a mix of breast milk and formula. If your baby is being supplement fed with formula, it is important to pump every 3 to 4 hours to avoid breast engorgement as this can be extremely painful. Use warm compresses and massage breasts if this should happen.
Mums, you are not alone. We know you are exhausted, we know you are struggling and we are here to say it is ok to feel this way. It is a full-time job and you have to take care of yourself to take care of your baby. Good physical and mental health is critical during this period. Always have your snacks prepared, drink a lot of water and be mindful of your stress levels. Dr. Shivani Patel wrote an article discussing the fact that stress is the number one killer for breastmilk supply and that mental health is key to properly caring for a baby.
You are not failing your baby because you feel tired, you are not failing your baby because you feel overwhelmed and you are definitely not failing your baby if your milk supply is low. Low supply is real, it happens to many, supplementing with formula is acceptable and a great source of nutrition. We are proud of Meghan Trainor for being unapologetically open about giving up breastfeeding. We urge new mums to be like Meghan, do not succumb to guilt or shame.
The New Feminist, with effort to protect breastfeeding, stands with mums who face the stigma of public breastfeeding. It’s unjust that it is socially acceptable for women to walk around with a low-neck tops, displaying their cleavages but deplorable for mums to feed their babies. We continue to allow this patriarchal society to make the rules for us to follow and sexualize everything we do, even nourishing our infants. No mum should be subject to glares and sneer simply because her baby is hungry. Normalise public breastfeeding!
For those mums who are less comfortable with public breastfeeding, albeit having several types of nursing covers available for purchase, we can support them by encouraging our governing bodies to have nursing stations, apart from restrooms, set up in public spaces such as airports, public parks and government offices, to name a few. We can request that our local shopping centre’s and private parks to do the same.
A fed baby is a healthy baby. The process of breastfeeding is superhuman. Mums deserve more credit than they are given. It is physically, mentally and emotionally draining but with the right guidance, tips and tricks, it is an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. Happy Breastfeeding Week to all our superhero Mummas out there!