Josephine Karoki : Myths versus Breastfeeding Truths
Here are breastfeeding truths to a few common questions breastfeeding mothers ask:
Q: I’m currently pregnant, are there any breastfeeding truths that can prepare me for breastfeeding?
A: Your body begins to prepare itself for breastfeeding early in pregnancy, and by the beginning of the second trimester, your breasts are already producing colostrum, the special milk your baby will get for the first 3-4 days of life.
As a mum-to-be, you can also prepare yourself for the breastfeeding experience by taking a prenatal breastfeeding class offered by a qualified lactation educator. Taking a specialised class would help you to address concerns you may have such as how to breastfeed with inverted or flat nipples, and most importantly it would also empower you with the information and confidence you need to identify and effectively overcome any of the common obstacles of breastfeeding such as nipple pain and low milk supply.
Q: I have delivered my baby but it looks like I don’t have milk. Is there something wrong with me?
A: For the first few days after delivery it is important to understand the type of milk your body produces as well as the size of your newborn’s stomach. During pregnancy and for the first 3-4 days after delivery, your body produces colostrum, which is special milk packed with antibodies and nutrients designed to increase your baby’s immunity and protect his/her digestive tract. Colostrum is highly digestible, hence the reason it is the perfect first “food” for your newborn but this also means that it quickly passes through his/her system, and this is one of the reasons your newborn will need to feed often, every 1-2 hours.
One of the breastfeeding truths is that your newborn will need to feed often is because his/her stomach is incredibly small. And, for the first few days, it can only hold approximate 5ml per feed. It does not mean that there are breastfeeding problems.
Incidentally, 5ml is also normally the amount of colostrum your body is able to produce for each feed so both your body and your newborn’s stomach are already in sync with each other from the beginning. This is also the reason why it is not necessary to substitute or supplement the feeds of a full-term, healthy newborn.
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Supplementing with liquids such as glucose, infant formula or cow’s milk can make it more difficult for a newborn’s digestive system to start working effectively, can lead to overfeeding of the newborn as well as a milk production gap for the mother. These alternatives are also incapable of providing the necessary antibodies and nutrients a newborn requires.
After 3-4 days, your body begins to produce mature milk, which is the milk most mothers are familiar with because it is whiter, lighter in texture and flows more easily than colostrum. Breastfeeding your baby frequently during the first few days not only allows your newborn to get the full benefits of colostrum but it also stimulates optimal production of mature milk.
Q: Is it normal for breastfeeding to be painful and for my nipples to crack?
A: No, breastfeeding is not a painful experience, although you may experience some discomfort, to begin with, pain is an indication that you need to review the way in which you’re holding your baby or the way the baby is taking the breast into the mouth (latching on). See the “BREASTFEEDING 101” page for more information on positioning and latch.
Q: Do I need to clean my nipples before I breastfeed my baby?
A: No. There are small bumps around your nipple that look like pimples, these are known as Montgomery’s glands and they secrete a special oil that keeps the nipples soft and the oil also acts as a natural antibacterial barrier. The oil has a unique smell that helps your newborn to identify you and the breast. Therefore, by unnecessarily wiping your nipples, even with just water, they are more likely to become dry over time and more susceptible to bacteria.
Also, if you’re using any cream on your nipple, here are some breastfeeding truths, to ensure that:
- it is specially made for nipples. It should be 100% hospital grade lanolin and the tube should clearly indicate that it is safe for use during breastfeeding
- You should only use a small amount, just enough to thinly coat the nipple, and in such an instance it would not be necessary to wipe it off before feeding the baby.
- If you’re using any other cream or medication NOT designed for use on nipples, then you will need to wipe it off before a feed. However, such creams/medications should only be used under the direction of lactation or medical professional.
Q: Are there any special foods or drink I should take in order to maintain or increase my breast milk supply?
A: There are no particular foods that directly affect breast milk production, and the most effective way of maintaining or increasing supply is to breastfeed/express as often as possible. See the “HOW BREASTFEEDING WORKS” page for a better understanding of why demand is the secret to a plentiful supply of breast milk.
The more important reason for healthy living and staying well hydrated is in order to maintain high energy levels as well as your physical well-being because breastfeeding and newborn care can be very demanding on your body. A balanced post-baby diet for a breastfeeding mother consists of proteins, vegetables and slow-release energy foods such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta, sweet potatoes, and similar complex carbohydrates as well as fresh fruits.
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Snacks should also be kept healthy and can include a small tub of yoghurt with fresh fruit, a cup of herbal tea with a biscuit (it is possible to find both teas and biscuits specifically made for breastfeeding mothers), a mug of porridge or bone soup, amongst others.
Drinking excessive amounts of porridge, bone soup or certain herbal teas, as is commonly advised by well-meaning friends and relatives, may actually be detrimental because it can lead to a mother being too full to frequently eat balanced meals, and this can, in turn, have a negative effect on her well being in the long term.
Q: How long should I breastfeed my baby?
A: Common advice is that a typical feed should last approximately 20-30 minutes. However, if a baby is latched onto the breast correctly then a feed can even be as short as 10 minutes. Because the baby is able to fill his/her stomach quickly. However, if the latch is incorrect or a baby is simply nibbling rather than drinking. Then it is not uncommon for a baby to be on the breast for even up to an hour. Because it takes longer for him/her to become full.
Below is a video of a baby drinking well from a breast. When the baby opens his mouth to draw in milk the chin moves downward and then pauses in order to fill his mouth with milk. As the baby swallows, the chin moves back up. The longer the pause between the up and down movements, the more the amount of milk that is filling his mouth.
(Video courtesy: International Breastfeeding Centre)
Therefore, the key is not to watch the clock as your baby is feeding but to watch how effectively your baby is feeding.
Q: Where can I find breastfeeding support?
A: There is a growing number of breastfeeding counsellors and lactation educators in Kenya. They are all qualified to offer objective and fact-based information and support. And for more breastfeeding truths, Mums Village can connect you to specialists and other mums who are at the same stage on their motherhood journey. All you have to do is click HERE.
For more information about Infant care and breastfeeding truths, visit Josephine’s Blog.