It's not surprising if stories of cracked nipples and saggy breasts have left you feeling confused about what's best for you and your baby. TheSite.org gives you the facts on breastfeeding so you can decide.
Although breastfeeding is on the increase in the UK with 76% of mums choosing to breastfeed, the UK still has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe.
Why breast may be best
- The first breast milk produced is called colostrum, which is rich in antibodies that boost the baby's immune system;
- Breast milk reduces the risk of diarrhoea, chest, ear and urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis and eczema;
- Breast milk is nutritionally balanced, containing all the protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and iron your baby needs to grow;
- Breastfed babies have less smelly nappies;
- Breastfeeding is associated with higher IQ scores in children;
- It can reduce the risk of mothers developing ovarian and breast cancer;
- It can help you get your pre-pregnancy figure back - breastfeeding burns up to 500 extra calories a day. It also releases hormones that help the uterus to contract to its pre-pregnancy size;
- Breastfeeding is free and eco friendly;
- You can use a breast pump to express milk into a bottle;
- And the good news is that breastfeeding doesn't necessarily mean you'll get saggy boobs, according to plastic surgeons in the US.
How to breastfeed
Babies can breastfeed eight to 12 times in 24 hours with each feed lasting up to 45 minutes, so correctly positioning the baby is important.
- Make sure you're sitting comfortably with your back and arms well supported with cushions;
- Hold the baby lengthwise, its nose level with your nipple. Make sure its back, shoulders and neck are supported;
- Wait until the baby opens its mouth widely then gently guide your breast into its mouth, making sure its tongue is below your nipple;
- The baby should take a large amount of breast, covering the whole areola (the dark area around the nipple). Squeezing the areola to make it the same size as the baby's mouth can help it to latch on;
- When your baby's had enough milk, it will come off the breast by itself, and should appear content and satisfied with its full tummy! You may find that your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding, so it could take a few attempts to keep them awake until they've had their fill.
When your baby has been breastfeeding for a few minutes there can often be a strong tingling sensation in your breasts. This is the sensation of the 'let-down reflex', which makes the milk ducts in the breast contract, squirting the milk out through the nipple.
Problems with breastfeeding
Uterine cramping may affect you in the first week or so. This happens because the same hormone that stimulates milk to be released from the breast also causes uterine contractions. This pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications, but always check with your doctor (GP) first.
As your breasts fill with milk, you may find they feel uncomfortable and tender - this is often referred to as engorgement. Again, this generally only lasts a few days and there are ways to make things less painful, such as wearing a supportive bra.
Many new mums have problems getting their baby to latch on properly at first and you may also find that your nipples feel sore. However, cracked and bleeding nipples aren't a normal side effect and this may mean that your baby isn't latched on properly to your breast, so get some expert advice from your midwife or doctor.
Some babies may react to certain foods that you eat when you're breastfeeding. The Food Standards Agency has some advice on what to eat and what to avoid.
Women can feel under a lot of pressure to breastfeed. However, talking to a midwife or health worker who is properly trained in breastfeeding management can help. Organisations, such as the Breastfeeding Network, have telephone helplines that provide support for young mothers. You can also visit one of the UK's Baby Café drop in centres. There are a number of centres open around the country and it's a good chance to meet other breastfeeding mums and talk about any concerns or issues that you have.
When should I stop breastfeeding?
What if I only use formula milk?
Breastfeeding requires commitment and can be challenging and time-consuming, so some mums may choose to bottle feed instead by using formula milk. Although formula milk doesn't have the anti-bodies of breast milk, it's still a nutritious alternative and has advantages of its own:
- Bottle feeding can give you more freedom and flexibility;
- It's easier to work out how much milk your baby is getting;
- Fewer feeds may be needed as formula is digested more slowly than breast milk;
- Bottle feeding duty can be passed on to the father, friends and family, leaving you and your body to have a well-earned rest.
Written by Marcella Carnevale
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