Breastfeeding: the unique bonding experience
Breastfeeding is considered one of the most emotional and unique experiences a mother ever has.
Breastfeeding is the first experience that bonds the mother with her new born baby creating this incredible connection and vital nourishing support for a baby’s early months to a lifetime benefit into adulthood.
This year’s Breastfeeding awareness week follows one of the most uncertain times that pregnant women have faced in the last century. We have decided to create for our expectant mums this comprehensive guide penned by three hands -our Midwife and lactation specialist Georgia Kontosorou, and Doula Priscilla Ferreira in collaboration with Doula Ana Cardetas.
Breastfeeding can be magical for many women yet, unfortunately, challenging for others. We would like to explore together the benefits of breastfeeding, how you and your baby can both enjoy this and when and how to ask for support.
All way through this article you will find the #projetoamamentoamor ( #skintoskinproject ) carried out by the amazing photographer Aline Zanella. This project always showcased during the Breastfeeding awareness week, aims to empower women to breastfeed with freedom, sharing insecurities and to normalise breastfeeding in public.
Enjoying the reading and viewing!
Importance of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the safest way to provide nutrition for babies. It is a natural process and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (26 weeks) of baby’s life is highly recommended. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside solid foods for as long as you and your baby want will help them grow and develop healthily. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits. Some studies have also found that breastfeeding for at least 6 months may reduce your baby’s chance of getting childhood leukaemia.
It is very important that health professionals educate and support families to succeed and enjoy this period.
In the last few decades, breast milk has been proven to provide the required energy and nutrients for babies and has an extended list of benefits for both the mother and the baby.
Significant is the fact that breast milk contains antibodies to protect babies’ against infections and it is important to know that breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, lasting right into adulthood such as reduce your baby’s risk of:
infections, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
diarrhoea and vomiting, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
cardiovascular disease in adulthood
Also, breastfeeding lowers your risk of:
osteoporosis (weak bones)
Why is breastmilk so special?
We are aware that breast milk is unique and evolved to feed humans. But what makes human milk so special? There are loads of research studies that show that breast milk is a unique ensemble of components, specially made by each mother, for her baby at that specific time!
It’s a unique dance between mother and baby!
The components in breasts milk are not just proteins, fats and nutrients, it’s also rich in bioactive components that help the baby thrive and develop, fights bacteria, fights viral infections, helps neurodevelopment, development of the brain and cognitive system.
Breast milk is so much more than nutrition!
Breast milk is different in every woman or even in the same woman – from morning until night breast milk will be different, because the type of hormones present in the morning milk versus night milk are different. Milk also changes over the course of lactation, what a newborn needs are different from what a 1 or you need, so the components change.
Breastfeeding and Coronavirus
During the current pandemic times, WHO (World Health Organisation) suggested that breastfeeding is still the safest source of nutrition for infants whose mothers have confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection. Breast milk contains antibodies and other immunological benefits that can help protect against respiratory diseases.
However, for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 positive mothers it is highly recommended to take precautions such as wearing a mask, washing hands and routinely cleaning and disinfect surfaces they touched.
In COVID-19 times support can be online as well as face to face. All maternity units have changed their way to look after you but they are still here for you and your babies.
After discharge Midwives come to your home and you can ask them to check latch if your baby is awake.
You can also consult the national breastfeeding helpline: https://www.nationalbreastfeedinghelpline.org.uk/
Breastfeeding and the Golden Hour
Breastfeeding is also empowering of the bonding between mother and baby. UNICEF emphasises babies’ need to feel secure and calm the first weeks of life by being close to their parents. Skin to skin and breastfeeding will create this safe environment for them; they will feel the love and comfort and will support their brain development.
Today it is known that skin-to-skin contact right after delivery makes the newborn adapt more quickly to life outside the womb, promotes the mother-baby bond and is good for establishing breastfeeding.
Not every newborn is ready to suck immediately after delivery, but it should be placed in direct skin-to-skin contact on the mother’s abdomen/chest, if both are in good condition and if this is the woman’s desire.
This first hour after birth, when a mother has uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with her newborn is referred to as the “golden hour.” The RCPCH Royal College of Paediatrician and Child Health recommends that all mothers who want to breastfeed spend time skin-to-skin right after birth with their baby.
When you understand this process and also understand your baby needs you can automatically feel a bit more confident about breastfeeding your baby but do not forget to ask for support if you need.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, stated in 2019, that UK is still one of the countries with the lowest rates on the initiation of breastfeeding straight after birth and this decreases even more at 6 weeks and 6 months postnatally.
There are many contributing factors however is important to focus on the practical issues in establishing breastfeeding and the perspective of families not being sure how much milk their babies have taken. These two issues can be easily dealt with by providing guidance, education and support to the new families when most needed.
Some of the common practical problems are:
This could lead to many other issues such as nipple trauma, decreased milk supply, weight loss.
This can be easily diagnosed by midwives, lactation consultants and tongue tie practitioners. If necessary a frenulotomy (snip of the tie) should take place.
Breastfeeding can be challenging and discouraging but you can face any problems that may occur by asking for help.
Support is the key for all women who would like to (wish to) Breastfeeding
During pregnancy, due to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, both secreted by the placenta, the breasts become larger, more sensitive and have dilated blood vessels.
Milk production itself begins after delivery when hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin stimulate cells to make milk. The first form of milk produced immediately after birth is called colostrum. Colostrum can be produced in late pregnancy and in the first few days after birth and is essential for establishing breastfeeding. Sometimes referred to as liquid gold, colostrum is produced in smaller amounts but packed full of nutrients and antibodies to nourish and protect the newly born baby
The more the baby sucks on ( the breast) the colostrum, the more it will start to prepare and adjust to support the next stage of breastfeeding the descent of breast milk.
Each body will produce colostrum as the baby needs it as long as that baby sucks on the breast. Mother, and baby are adjusting and are learning what breastfeeding is.
Milk production happens between three and five days postpartum, on average (don’t be worried if it takes longer).
Breastfeeding and Calories burned
Milk production can burn anywhere from 300 to 500 calories a day and most women need about 300 to 400 extra calories per day while breastfeeding.
That’s mean you need to make sure your diet is supporting this special moment and that you get enough rest as you are going to burn more energy than usual!
You may need ask for some help to your partner or family members to prepare nutritious meal or take friends/family up on their offer of what they can do to help.
Amongst the recommended nutrition remember you need to get at least 65g of protein per day so you may want to prefer food such as:
fish ( but be cautious of mercury intake!)
Yogurt, especially Greek, which is high in protein. Avoid yogurt with added sugar.
Nut and nut products.
Legumes, beans and whole grains.
You also will need Omega-3 fatty acid, important to support infant vision and brain development. You can find this in low-mercury fish, like salmon and sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds. Equally important are Vitamin D, Iron ( your first line of defense against fatigue while breastfeeding. You need 9 mg of iron per day) and Calcium.
Breastfeeding moms require the same amount of calcium as non-lactating women, which is about 1,000 mg per day. You should try to get this from dietary sources if possible. While breastfeeding can temporarily lead to bone density loss, this has been shown to be fully reversible after weaning.
Despite it appearing to be an instinctive behaviour, not all babies are born knowing how to latch on and breastfeed correctly. The proper latch can sometimes take time, trial and error, this is absolutely fine.
When your baby’s chin and the tip of baby’s nose are both touching your breast, you will know you’ve got a proper latch! You will notice your baby fall right into the rhythmic suck-swallow-breath pattern.
Breastfeeding and Tongue-tie
Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is where the strip of skin connecting the baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth is shorter than usual.
Some babies who have tongue-tie do not seem to be bothered by it. In others, it can restrict the tongue’s movement, making it harder to breastfeed.
To breastfeed successfully, a baby needs to latch on to both the breast tissue and nipple, and their tongue needs to cover the lower gum so the nipple is protected from damage.
Some babies with tongue-tie are not able to open their mouths wide enough to latch on to the breast properly.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby and they have tongue-tie they may:
have difficulty attaching to the breast or staying attached for a full feed
feed for a long time, have a short break, then feed again
be unsettled and seem to be hungry all the time
not gain weight as quickly as they should
make a “clicking” sound as they feed – this can also be a sign you need support with the positioning and attachment of your baby at the breast
Tongue-tie can also sometimes cause problems for a breastfeeding mother. Problems can include:
sore or cracked nipples
low milk supply
mastitis (inflammation of the breast), which may keep coming back
Most breastfeeding problems, however, are not caused by tongue-tie and can be overcome with the right support by your Midwife or doula. You can also find more on NHS website.
Breastfeeding and thrush
Thrush infections sometimes happen when your nipples become cracked or damaged. When this happens means the candida fungus that causes thrush can get into your nipple or breast.
If this happens you may start to feel pain in both nipples or breasts after feeds, having previously had no pain after feeding or you can experience quite severe pain and lasts for up to an hour after every feed.
Breastfed babies can also develop thrush in their mouths. You may notice:
creamy white spots or patches on the tongue, gums, roof of the mouth or insides of the cheeks – if you gently wipe these patches with a clean cloth, they won’t come off
your baby being unsettled when feeding
a white film on the lips
in some babies, nappy rash that won’t clear up
If you suspect you or your baby has a thrush infection, see your GP or Midwife. They can arrange for swabs to be taken from your nipples and your baby’s mouth to see if thrush is present. It’s important other causes of breast pain are ruled out before you start treatment for thrush.
As we are seeing there are many challenges you may occur in during breastfeeding and again, the key is asking for support (physical or emotional) when you need. There are solutions available to help sort your problems.
How to stop breastfeeding
You can stop breastfeeding over a period of weeks or months. Milk is removed less often and this allows your milk supply to gradually decrease.
Depending on the age of your child, this is the moment to introduce other solids and liquids besides breastmilk and giving yourself time to slowly wean off breastfeeding.
Sometimes it may happen you need to stop breastfeeding less gradually and are unable to slowly wean. Ideally, you may want to maintain the early morning and bedtime breastfeeding session for last before to stop completely.
It is always recommended to follow your midwife or doula advice and find the best way to stop breastfeeding without stress.
Lastly, remember that when you stop breastfeeding and your body stops producing milk, as the same for when your milk supply increased, you may experience physical changes and some emotional ups and downs. Engorged breasts, mastitis and feeling sad or anxious are all symptoms you may find yourself experience transiently.
Here is some science, now is breastfeeding always straight forward?
Breastfeeding is a natural process and all of us wish we could bring some romance in here, but sometimes there are challenges.
Maybe let’s not dwell here for too long, on the challenges and let’s look beyond theses- let’s focus on the possible solutions.
No matter what challenges the breastfeeding journey might bring, there are few things that are important – preparation and information, during pregnancy and after.
Support is vital!
Planning the postpartum period can bring huge benefits to the mother. This planning can help the mum to rest, and recover from birth and ensure she has help to focus on her baby and breastfeeding if that’s her choice.
Having someone to cook nutritious meals, for example, nourishes her body and she will have more energy, physical and emotional to cope with challenges that might arise.
Getting help from the right people, at the right time sure makes a difference in the breastfeeding journey!
Breastfeeding: Getting help
If you feel you may need additional support and you want to be in touch with our Midwife Georgia or our Doula Priscilla simply get in touch by clicking on Contact us below!
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