Little Ryan Matthew is only 10 weeks old. His tiny fingers and toes belie the hassle he has caused his mother, 33-year-old call centre worker Maude Jacobs. ‘I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding in the first month as it was very painful,’ she admits. ‘My nipples were in constant pain. Ryan did not latch which made it really bad.’
As familiar as most mothers are with the benefits of breastfeeding, for many the reality of hours of hard work is too much. ‘Jemma had jaundice when she was 10 days old and was re-admitted to hospital,’ explains Melinda Kuhnert, 36. She only managed to breastfeed her daughter for two weeks full-time, following by three months in conjunction with the bottle. She describes her breastfeeding experience as ‘painful, stressful and tiring’.
Breastmilk – the benefits
The World Health Organisation recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. This is backed up by an American study published earlier this year which revealed that breastfeeding can save lives, not to mention money. The research found that 911 babies could be saved each year if the percentage of breastfeeding mothers rose from 43 to 90 percent, and that increasing the breastfeeding rate would also save $13 billion a year in medical costs from illnesses such as stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome and even childhood leukaemia.
The major benefit of breastfeeding is optimal nutrition, says dietician Lee Glickman. This is because breastmilk contains around 300 nutrients compared to about 30 in formula. ‘Breast milk contains the perfect ratio of calories, fat, protein, fluid, vitamins and minerals required to promote physical and mental growth and development,’ comments Glickman. ‘Breast milk is also unique in that its composition changes in order to meet baby’s changing nutritional requirements both during a feed and as the baby matures.’
Other advantages include improved mental development, enhanced absorption in baby’s gut which minimises gas and discomfort, reduced development of allergies and protection against disease. ‘Breast milk contains anti-bodies from the mother’s body which protect baby’s under-developed immune system against bacteria and viruses,’ says Glick. ‘Colostrum (the thick, yellow milk produced during the first few days after birth) is so rich in anti-bodies that it is often referred to as “baby’s first immunisation”.’
When breastfeeding goes wrong
Paediatrician Dr Martin Bailey believes that any breastmilk your baby receives will stand him in good stead, especially colostrum. But he points out that continuing breastfeeding if it is causing you undue stress is not advisable. ‘Always keep a balanced perspective. Feeding your baby should be an experience you enjoy which forges a bond between you and your child. If you find breastfeeding painful and you hate doing it, if it’s making you crabby, exhausted and short-tempered, then it’s probably not worthwhile to continue, for your own sake and your baby’s.’
Registered midwife Joann Lugt puts down most breastfeeding-related complications to a lack of knowledge and support. ‘Most problems originate in the first three days and have to do with either
the baby not being latched well at each feed which leads to sore, painful or even cracked nipples or the baby not being fed frequently enough which prevents the mother from producing sufficient milk,’ she says.
Lugt recommends seeking help sooner rather than later. This could take the form of a midwife, clinic nurse, lactation expert or attending La Leche League classes. ‘No foreign objects should be put in the newborn baby’s mouth such as a dummy or bottle teat,’ she advises, ‘as the first thing a baby suckles on leaves an imprint on the neurons in his brain. It’s important that this first imprint is of the breast as babies suckle differently on a bottle or dummy than they do on a breast.’ Lugt also recommends ensuring that your child has latched well at every feed as a good latch prevents sore nipples.
Tips for successful breastfeeding
- Make sure you are calm and comfortable when feeding your child. Ensure that you have adequate pillow support to rest your arms.
- Eat healthily, keep hydrated and try to avoid caffeine and other food known to cause gas such as beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and onions. Citrus fruit and tomato can also upset your baby’s tummy.
- Ensure that your child is latching properly. Ask for expert advise if you’re struggling with this.
- If you’re returning to work, start practising expressing your milk at least two weeks beforehand. An electric breastpump is recommended. Express once or twice a day, preferably in the morning. It may feel unnatural at first, but persevere – you will need to get used to it. Find out from your employer where you will be able to express at work, preferably a private room and not a bathroom. Plan and practise storing your milk as you will need to become familiar with milk storage once you return to work.
Your breastfeeding questions answered
Should medication like antibiotics be avoided during breastfeeding?
You don’t necessarily have to stop breastfeeding if you’re on antibiotics, although do be aware that they may cause diarrhoea, tummy ache and colic in your baby. However, most medical practitioners agree that the health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the temporary negative side-effects of antibiotics.
Can I have the occasional glass of wine?
Yes, but don’t overdo it. No more than one to two units per week, and avoid breastfeeding two to three hours after consuming alcohol. Bear in mind that newborns have immature livers and can’t metabolise alcohol as quickly as babies older than three months can. If you drink too much, baby will probably not sleep well and it may affect your flow of milk.
What can be done about insufficient milk supply?
Reduced milk supply could be the result of an insufficient number of feeds or from improper positioning at the breast. Remember, the more baby sucks, the more milk you produce – a simple equation of supply and demand. Hormones and fatigue can also play a role. Enquire at your nearest clinic about herbal supplements that can boost your milk supply, drink plenty of fluids and cut back on supplementary bottle feeds.
I love breastfeeding because…
Nomonde Rozendaal, 32, mother to Michal, nine months
…of the health benefits it gave Michal, especially in the early months. But now the main reason is that I get to bond with her in the evenings and mornings. It really helps to still the often irrational conversation in my mind about whether I’m managing the working mom thing right. Will she remember me after spending so much time with the nanny? I’m also working on quality rather than quantity in terms of time, and find that breastfeeding is a good way to spend quality time with her.
Linda Bowker, 33, mother to Benjamin, 17 months
…it’s a bonding experience. I enjoy it and he enjoys it. Breastmilk is always available and it’s always at the right temperature – great for travelling and night feeds. No bottles and no sterlisation! It’s also a lot cheaper because you don’t have to buy formula.