10 tips to help you and your baby enjoy breastfeeding
Breastfeeding may be promoted everywhere as the healthiest choice for your baby – but you should both be able to enjoy it, too.
- In the early days, stay relaxed and patient, and keep your baby close to you, so you can respond to his feeding cues straight away. Skin to skin contact means you both get a chance to practise, without each feed becoming a big production number.
- Don’t watch the clock, watch your baby! Your baby is more likely to get an enjoyable, satisfying feed if he can stay on the breast as long as he wants….
- …and then, after he comes off the first side, or stops sucking and swallowing, offer him the second side after a little pause for winding or resting. He may or may not take it.
- Long, endless feeds with your baby never seeming satisfied are not normal – and they’re a sign you may need help getting his positioning and attachment right.
- Don’t grit your teeth with sore nipples. Tenderness at the beginning of feeding is very common, but if it continues to get worse after day 2 or 3, then get your positioning checked.
- If it’s not positioning, it could be thrush. This can strike after a period of happy feeding, and you need treatment from your doctor. Your baby needs treatment for thrush in his mouth whether or not he has symptoms.
- Feeding’s a lovely way to soothe and calm your baby, so don’t worry about ‘using’ it , even if you think your baby may not be very hungry.
- Feeding helps you, too. Endomorphins are hormones that are releases as your baby feeds, and they are designed to reduce stress and promote relaxation. So if you need calming, feed your baby!
- Enjoy night feeds more by snuggling down with your baby in bed. Your baby will be fine as long as he doesn’t get too hot.
- You’ll enjoy feeding more if you’re confident about feeding away from home and ‘in public’. So don’t hid yourself away – and if anyone asks you to feed in the toilet, ask ’em if they’d like to have their lunch in there!
How long to breast-feed for
The Breast-feeding debates here in the UKPL shows you there’s a wide range of experiences among mothers – and I can assure you that many women feed their babies long past the baby stage. Worldwide, this is, in fact what the majority of women do.
If this suits you and your baby, then carry on!
Breast milk is a healthy and nutritious drink no matter what, and for many older babies, toddlers and young children, breastfeeding is a source of comfort and security, too. It’s a nice way to ‘connect’ with your child after a day away at work, too.
Some women are happy to continue feeding as often as their child asks – and it’s true that older toddlers start to ask more often. If this doesn’t suit you, try a compromise
o set a precedent where you only feed at home
o keep it to certain times – say, once in the morning, and in the evening, and maybe if your child wakes
Don’t sometimes ‘give in’ after a fight and sometimes not. That’s just confusing. Older toddlers can learn worlds like ‘later’ and understand ‘not here’, and they can accept what you say as long as they don’t think they can whine their way to a changed mind.
There’s really no right age to stop – it’s such a cultural decision, dependent on your gut feelings rather than anything else. If people question you about it, say you’ll be ready to stop when your child seems ready…and you can then give them a fright if you remind them of the film The Last Emperor. The Chinese Emperor Pu Yi is shown in the film suckling at his wet nurse’s breast at age 12! This was, however, normal in that society at that time.
In developing countries, toddlers gradually stop breastfeeding over a period of a couple of years or so, and the ‘average’ age of total weaning is probably about four.
Breast-feeding beyond 12 months
No one knows how many mothers are still breastfeeding past the time of their baby’s first birthday – the UK statistics stop at nine months!
But there’s nothing wrong with continuing with breastfeeding as long as you and your baby want. All over the world, and throughout history, mothers have breastfed their babies into toddlerhood and childhood, and the idea that you ought to stop at some preordained time is quite a ‘modern’ one.
However, by the age of a year the majority of healthy breastfed babies are eating a range of other foods as well, and some may be adept at using a cup. So there’s no nutritional dependency on breastmilk, and as healthy toddlers’ immune systems have matured a lot since birth, the protective factors of breastmilk are not so vital (though they are still there).
But many mothers continue – why?
- the baby enjoys it
- the mother enjoys it
- it’s a good way of comforting and soothing
- it can help get the baby off to sleep
- it’s a nutritious food and drink
- when the baby is ill, it can be the only thing he can take
- it’s a way of staying close and ‘connected’ with your baby if you’ve been away at work
If you don’t want to stop breast-feeding, you may find other people express surprise you’re continuing, and even hostility.
Here’s what you can say:
- it’s natural for human beings to feed until the child decides to wean from the breast
- we enjoy it – so we’ll continue as it’s a nice part of life
- in other countries, you wouldn’t be surprised at all
- it guarantees us a more peaceful night
It can help to talk to other mothers who breastfeed longer than the average, for support and reassurance. You might find they can share good answers with you! In the end, of course, it’s no one else’s business, and if you feel confident and assured, people will stop challenging you.
Giving up breast-feeding
How do you feel if you stop breastfeeding, especially if you stop sooner than you’d planned to?
Relief? regret? disappointment? guilt? liberation? anger? grief?
If you’ve stopped breastfeeding, and then felt any or even all of those emotions, then you share them with many other mothers – as the UKparents Breasfeeding forum shows only too well.
Breastfeeding is more than just a way of getting milk into babies. It’s a relationship – with your baby, of course, but also with your own body. If breastfeeding hasn’t gone well, you can feel let down by your body – angry with it, frustrated by it, and puzzled and confused.
If you feel you haven’t had the right support and information about how to make breastfeeding suit you and your baby, or if you’ve been given conflicting advice that leaves you wondering which way to turn, you may feel angry with yourself, and those you relied on for the right sort of care.
Yet if things have gone badly, or painfully, or you have lost confidence in the whole thing for whatever reason, switching to the bottle may be a relief – at least that’s one thing you don’t have to struggle with anymore.
Then, to top it all, you might end up feeling guilty, and resent any mention of ‘breast is best’ . Women who do manage to breastfeed longer than you do seem smug and self-satisfied, and you might even think they’re being critical of you for not ‘sticking with it’.
Here’s how to feel more positive about the situation:
- Accept that there are many things we plan for our children that don’t work out…and that feeding intention is just one of them
- Look forward, not back, to a time when your biggest food-related worry will be how to get mashed potato and gravy stains out of your best blouse!
- Try to understand what went wrong – there’s almost always an explanation for breastfeeding problems
- Stop blaming yourself. You tried, it didn’t work, you didn’t get the right help…it wasn’t your fault feel good about the breastfeeding you did do
- Accept that while formula milk is not the same as breast milk, and breast milk is undoubtedly superior in many ways, formula has made several steps forward from the substitutes given to babies even 20 years ago, don’t apologise for bottle feeding. People are nothing like as critical as you imagine they are when your feelings are raw…and after all, it’s none of their business if you don’t want to tell them the details remind yourself that feeding is not the be-all and end-all of mothering, but only one part of it…and only you can judge when and if the negatives of breastfeeding outweigh the positives
- Allow yourself to grieve, if you feel sad about it all. People who say ‘it doesn’t matter’ can be forgiven – as they really don’t understand.
Breastfeeding counsellors from NCT and the other organisations are skilled in helping mothers talk through their feeding decisions, including ones which lead them to make a switch to the bottle. They won’t judge you, and they’ll give you support whatever you decide.