Breastfeeding is a learned behavior. It isn’t instinctive as many women are led to believe. Do some women have zero problems with nursing? Sure. But most need some help. Even gorillas and chimpanzees, who have never seen other apes caring for their babies are unable to nurse successfully.
Women don’t need to be told TO breastfeed. Women need to be taught ABOUT breastfeeding, and so do their doctors and support staff. We need to be taught a new idea of what is “normal”, both in terms of infant behavior and in weight gain.
After all, if the average baby is still formula fed, is it any surprise that breastfed babies don’t measure up to “normal”?
Most women I speak to still believe common myths about breastfeeding, the most common of which is this one:
If my baby keeps crying and nursing constantly, I must not have enough milk.
This is the thing I hear most from mothers who are trying to breastfeed, or who have tried and were unsuccessful. It is probably the biggest misconception out there.
I feel that if doctors and nurses in Canada make one change to their pro-breastfeeding campaign, it should be to teach this word:
Even I, with all my obsessive pre-baby research, didn’t run into the term but my doctor explained it to me on day-three, when my baby-who-couldn’t-latch was screaming CONSTANTLY.
“Clusterfeeding” is an extremely common and normal newborn behavior. When the baby goes through a growth spurt (like, say, when he is trying to regain his birth weight or when he is 6 or 8 weeks old) he starts nursing constantly in order to increase his mother’s supply. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have enough – it just means the baby is anticipating an increase in his own future needs. The baby will cry whenever off the breast, and nurse frantically when placed to the breast.
This tends to be when a breastfeeding mother who doesn’t have the right support will think “maybe I’m not making enough milk” and give him formula. The formula, being made of more complicated proteins, takes longer to digest. The baby sleeps for several hours, and the mother thinks “I was right! I’m not making enough milk!” and continues to offer the formula on occasion. Meanwhile, the clusterfeeding/constantly-on-the-breast thing doesn’t happen and her supply decreases, and now she is dependent on the formula.
Apparently formula companies have relied on this phenomenon in order to hook new customers, and just having a sample of formula in the house decreases a breastfeeding mother’s chance of success.
I was lucky. My doctor said that this is totally normal, that it is good for my milk supply, and essentially to suck it up and just let him nurse as much as he wants. This was a hard order to follow because my baby’s latch was terrible and it hurt terribly but it sure gave me lots of opportunity to work on his latch, and within a week or two the pain was gone.
Basically, on many accounts, I was lucky.
I was lucky that my mother had breastfed before me and didn’t try to undermine my efforts with “maybe he needs a bottle”.
I was lucky that my husband was 100% behind breastfeeding, and probably would have taken my mother out of the room for a little talk if she HAD suggested a bottle.
I was lucky that my OB GYN knew the word “cluster feeding” and was able to explain it to me.
I was lucky that the nurses I worked with told me that a newborn could be fed from a small cup, rather than a bottle.
I was lucky that I knew the importance of avoiding a bottle until my baby had a good latch.
I was lucky that my public health nurse had faith in my milk production, and was able to give me reliable ways to judge whether my milk was, or was not, the problem.
I was lucky. That is my secret.
But these things shouldn’t be luck.
If Canada wants women to breastfeed, they need to start seriously educating people in more than just “breast is best”. We don’t need guilt. We need realistic expectations. We need education. We need practical solutions.
We need HELP.
What help did you receive or wish you had received when your baby was born?
This is the final post of an original 3-part series for World Moms Blog from our “breast is best” advocate and mother of one, Carol @IfByYes.
The image used in this post is credited to Guttorm Flatabo. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.