Breastfeeding - Before You Start

By Maureen Thorpe, RN on March 14, 2007
When a group of mothers was asked why they were breast-feeding, they said, "My husband's family has allergies, I wanted to protect my baby as much as possible" and "I knew it was the best possible food, it gives my baby everything she needs to grow strong and healthy" and..."I understand it protects my baby from germs". These are powerful words from mothers.

When you breast-feed you may be protecting yourself by reducing your chances of developing breast cancer and cancer of the ovaries.

We also know that the longer you breast-feed you may be reducing the chances of your baby getting juvenile diabetes and some childhood cancers. It may even increase a baby's intelligence!

Breast milk is a powerful fluid. It is human milk for human babies. More and more women are deciding that is how they want to feed their babies and more and more men are supporting them.

The Decision Is Made
Many women say they thought breast-feeding was 'natural' - that it would just happen, like having the perfect birth. Some babies are born knowing what to do and some mothers feel very comfortable breast-feeding. Some babies don't seem to get the idea right away - and some mothers feel as though they have 2 left arms and really need 3.

Get Support
First, and most important, you need to organize support.

The key to making your breast-feeding experience pleasurable is to find another mother who breast-fed and enjoyed it. Many communities now have some sort of support network, so if you are new to the area, call your local Health Department, La Leche League or look for a lactation consultant in the phone book. They can all tell you what is available.

If you make contact with someone before you have your baby it will be easier to talk to them afterwards.

Classes, Books, Videos
While you are talking to people, find out if there are any breast-feeding classes in your area. Again, health departments, La Leche League and lactation consultants may know. Check with your doctor, too. There are some good books listed at the end of this chapter. Videos are also a useful way of discovering more about breast-feeding.

Myths
When you are discovering all of the new information, you will find out that many of the things you had heard about breast-feeding are just not true. For example, it's not true that breast-feeding makes your breasts sag. It's the hormones you produce during pregnancy that give them a more mature shape! No, it's not true that breast-feeding stops you from going out. Babies travel easily and people are getting used to seeing mums feed their babies in malls, restaurants and even at ballgames.

Some mothers may tell you that they tried to breast-feed and couldn't, that they didn't have enough milk, that it was painful or that they had bleeding nipples. The sad thing is, all of these problems probably could have been prevented if the mothers had been better prepared or had sought help at the first sign of problems.

Memo: Include your partner in your breast-feeding plans. Partners can make great supporters.

How It Works
When your baby starts to suckle, a message is sent to your brain to produce milk. Your brain passes the message on to your breasts by releasing a hormone. Deep in your breast tissue are bunches of tiny milk-making cells. These cells start to make milk as baby continues toward the nipple.

As baby keeps suckling, a second hormone is released which lets the milk out of the breast and into your baby's mouth. This is called 'the letdown' or 'milk ejection' reflex. These actions will repeat themselves throughout the feed and will only happen if baby is positioned well and suckles.

You may feel the milk let down as a warm, tingly sensation but you may not. You will know that it happens because you will see baby suckling harder and hear baby swallow. You will also see milk dripping from your other breast.

Colostrum
The milk which is there for babies, even before they are born, is called colostrum. This is what you will give your baby for the first two or three days. Colostrum is rich in vitamins, protein and substances which will protect the infant from germs. It is very valuable, so try to give whatever you can. If, for any reason, baby can't breast-feed, ask if the colostrum can be given by cup, dropper or syringe. The nurse will show you how to express milk.

Colostrum is thicker than the later milk, yellower in colour and babies often only take a little at a time so will feed frequently.

Colostrum also acts as a laxative. This helps to pass the first stools, called meconium, which are dark green - almost black. Babies who breastfeed frequently (one to three times per hour) will have less jaundice.

Your Milk Changes
By about the third day, the milk changes. This milk contains more water and your breasts will feel fuller. Frequent feeding prevents engorgement.

By about two weeks, your milk changes again into mature milk and continues changing to meet the baby's needs all the time you are breast-feeding.

Fat Content
Breast milk contains fat. This is an important ingredient as it helps baby to gain weight and feel full and sleepy at the end of a feed. The fat becomes available toward the end of a feed and increases with the length of time baby spends on one breast.

Memo: Some mothers have asked if they could get their breast milk tested to check the quality. There is no poor breast milk. Breast milk changes during feeds and at different feeds and is different for each woman and baby.

Recommended Reading
Breastfeeding: Getting Breastfeeding Right for You. Renfrew, Fisher, and Armes (In most book stores).
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. La Leche League, International.

Breast Feeding Support
  • Public Health nurses
  • La Leche League
  • Lactation Consultant Association
  • Community Health Centres
  • Breastfeeding Clinics
Video
There are many videos about breast-feeding. Ask at your public health department or library. BCCE


By Maureen Thorpe, RN| March 14, 2007

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