If you don’t know, breast milk and breastfeeding… Well, it’s pretty magical stuff.
Breast milk can change, depending on what the baby needs at that point in time. When baby is ill, a cue in the baby’s saliva encourages the mother’s milk to produce antibodies specific to that illness; night feeds contain more serotonin to help the baby rest; each feed will have both hindmilk and foremilk; when a baby is going through a growth spurt the fat content will increase. At my placement hospital, if a baby has eye discharge and the mother is breastfeeding, we actively encourage the mother to treat the eye with breast milk – it is high in anti-infective and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it perfect for this. One study found that breast milk was as effective as hydrocortisone on nappy rash… Like I said, it’s basically magic.
All the above said, whilst it is scientifically proven that “breast is best”, it doesn’t work for everyone, nor is it the best choice for all families – no matter how each baby is fed, fed is best! In the UK, 81% of mother’s choose to initiate breastfeeding, yet 6 weeks after birth 55% of mother’s continue to breastfeed (be that exclusively or mixed feeding) and only 24% of mother’s exclusively breastfeed at 6 weeks in England.
Through my training I’ve been taught that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, then the positioning/attachment is wrong and you should start over. My experience of this, is that this is entirely untrue. Unsurprisingly, having a baby suck on your nipples near on 24/7 for the first few weeks is really quite painful! Also, when babies are born, whilst they have a few instinctive reflexes, they really don’t know what they’re doing at all, so any breastfeeding journey that a mother goes through, she goes through with her baby/babies as a team… And there’s a lot of learning to be done!
It. Is. Hard.
Despite all my training (hihi, I got 98% on my breastfeeding OSCE at university), there were several points during our journey that if Jack hadn’t been wholeheartedly supporting me, I think I would have thrown the towel in. I got the early warning signs of mastitis not once, but twice (and those early warning signs were bad enough – I’m just glad that we knew exactly what to do to battle it off before it really got started!); rock hard breasts that were sore and inflamed (bright red, too!), flu-like symptoms and the worse levels of tiredness ever. Normally, whenever I feel as unwell as I did then, I would have gone straight to bed and slept for as long as possible. You can’t do that when you have a baby, of course, and even if I could, having mastitis means you need to empty/unclog the breast/s ASAP, before it worsens.
As soon as you think you have breastfeeding under control, another thing pops up to make it a bit more difficult – when babies get more aware and are distracted by their surroundings they often “rip” themselves off of the breast (yes, this is as painful as it sounds), and I don’t think I really need to discuss how difficult teething makes breastfeeding..!
So, in honour of World Breastfeeding Week, high-fives to all of you who were able to breastfeed – whether your journey was a long or short one. Yay for boobies!
PS – I recently read this BBC article – “Why did some animals evolve milk and breastfeeding?” – and found it fascinating! It’s well-worth a read if you’re so inclined.