Shortly after having my son, I attended
a postnatal class at the hospital where I
gave birth. Although most of the women
in my class were breastfeeding, many felt
like they weren’t prepared for some of the
challenges of nursing their children – despite
having taken a prenatal class on the subject.
While breastfeeding can be the most natural,
wonderful experience for many mothers and
babies, one baby plus one pair of boobs doesn’t
always equal immediate success.
The World Health Organization and Health
Canada both advise exclusive breastfeeding
for at least six months. “I tell moms to aim to
breastfeed for a year as long as they continue to
find it satisfying and enjoyable,” says Dr. Morton
Goldbach, pediatrician and assistant professor of
pediatrics at the University of Toronto. Ultimately,
he says that parents have to make their own
decisions about what works for them.
Working through possible challenges may
be worthwhile. As pediatrician, author and
breastfeeding expert Dr. Jack Newman says,
“every time a mother breastfeeds it’s as if silently,
mother and baby say to each other ‘I love you’.”
When I talk about breastfeeding with
other new moms, the sentiment is often the
same: women tend to associate the ability
to breastfeed with their womanhood, just
as a man might associate his sperm count
with his manhood. Those feelings alone
are enough to start arguments, but add
the overwhelming emotions of having a
baby and the pressure to make all the right
parenting decisions and it’s no wonder
that breastfeeding is such a contentious
issue. And it’s an issue that’s revisited time
and again in the media.
One of the most controversial stories
of 2012 was the article on attachment
parenting that made the cover of
magazine. Featuring a mother
breastfeeding her three-year-old son with
the headline “Are you mom enough?”, the
image made just about everyone angry
– including the cover girl, herself, who
reportedly thought the photos made her
look confrontational instead of warm and
Last January, breastfeeding advocates
were outraged when Facebook removed
photos of a B.C. mom breastfeeding her
daughters, calling the images sexually
explicit. Since then Facebook has included
a note on breastfeeding in its Warnings,
explaining that photos of children actively
nursing are acceptable but fully exposed
breasts are not.
It was big news when superstar and People Magazine
’s Most Beautiful Woman of
2012 Beyoncé was seen breastfeeding at a
New York City restaurant.
More recently, a White House reporter
intent on using a breast pump while at
work was dismayed she had nowhere
clean and comfortable to do so – despite
the Obama administration’s new law that
employers must provide a lactation space
other than a bathroom. She wrote a story
about it for Yahoo and received backlash
from readers who thought she should just
stay home with her baby.
The subject of feeding can dominate your
thoughts during Baby’s first year. Am I doing this
right? Is my baby getting enough nutrition? When
should I start solids? Our feeding guide will
outline the basics, benefits and challenges.
How is breast milk made?
Females are born with milk ducts but they stay
dormant – besides some growth during puberty –
until pregnancy when the ducts grow and branch
off, forming a network of channels and milkproducing
alveoli. The hormone prolactin, which
your body begins to make as soon as you deliver
the placenta, stimulates the alveoli to collect
proteins, sugars and fat and make breast milk.
One common breast milk misconception is that
your milk doesn’t “come in” until a few days after
baby is born. When your baby is born – and sometimes
even during your third trimester – your body
produces a protein-rich liquid called colostrum.
When your baby is a few days old, true breast
milk is produced and flows into the breasts. Some
women even feel a warm rush in their chest when
“In my opinion,” says Dr. Newman, “the most
important reason to breastfeed is the special
relationship that develops between the mother
and the child. It is an intimate, physical and
psychological relationship between two people
who love each other.”
In a perfect world, your tiny new baby latches onto
your breast and it feels totally natural and meant
to be. In reality, new mothers can expect to feel at
least a little pain for the first few weeks. I was told
to count to 10 when Baby first latched and if it still
hurt after 10 seconds, the latch wasn’t correct.
The most common problems Dr. Newman sees
are sore nipples, the baby not getting enough milk
and babies who won’t latch. But none of these
problems has to mean the end of breastfeeding.
With a little determination and support from a
doctor or lactation consultant, most problems can
Certified lactation consultant Cindy Battaglia
says that getting support early is important, as
is finding a support person you click with. “It’s
a very special relationship,” she says. Even more
important, she says, is sticking with it, even when
things aren’t going well. “Don’t quit on your worst
day,” she advises.
Comedian Tina Fey found it challenging. As
she writes in her memoir Bossypants, “Over the
whir of the milking machine, I could almost
hear my baby being lovingly cared for in the
other room.” After seven weeks of pumping
breast milk for her daughter who never latched
correctly, she became depressed.
Without the right support from a doctor
or lactation consultant, problems with
breastfeeding can lead to exhaustion, says Dr.
Goldbach. “A mother’s mental health and wellbeing
are very important,” he says.
Whether you’re formula feeding or
using a breast pump to express breast
milk, bottle-feeding has its share of
benefits and challenges, too.
Formula is made with cow’s milk
that is altered to simulate breast milk.
Carbohydrate, protein and fat levels are
made to match those of breast milk and
vitamins and minerals are added. Like
breast milk, formula provides all the
nutrients needed until babies are
six months old.
Benefits of bottle feeding
While some doctors may not see a point
to expressing milk while breastfeeding
exclusively, many moms find it hard to be
attached to their baby 24/7 and want to
have a date night with their partner or get
a pedicure. And a short break from Baby
may help a tired new mom feel refreshed.
If you’re formula feeding, dad can share
bottle duty, which may help you get some
Sometimes formula fed babies sleep
longer than breastfed babies. This is
because formula takes longer to digest than
breast milk. Keep in mind, this is only if
Baby is waking from hunger. Your formula
fed baby may still wake often for a cuddle.
Bonding with a bottle
Skin to skin contact is important for all
babies, breastfed or not. And feeding time
is perfect for some skin-to-skin bonding.
So even if you’re using a bottle, undress
your newborn and lift your shirt, then
cozy up under a blanket.
You may have heard the phrase “food before one is just for fun”
but this isn’t entirely true. By between six and nine months of age,
babies need iron from sources other than breast milk or formula.
Most doctors suggest starting solids around six months when
Baby starts to show an interest in your food.
Although some babies may do just fine on breast milk alone
until nine months, according to the International Breastfeeding
Centre, starting solids is an important developmental milestone.
If started too late, your baby may have trouble adjusting and
accepting solid foods.
Baby led weaning
Around six months old, little ones use their newly-honed skill of
reaching and grabbing to, well, reach and grab everything that
captures their fancy. It’s around this age (and often earlier) that
babies also become fixated on food and watching you eat.
Baby led weaning encourages parents to skip traditional baby
foods and purées and let babies chew on hunks of food either from
parents’ plates or prepared specifically for baby. The term was
coined by a health professional in the UK where weaning doesn’t
mean removing breast milk, but adding solid foods to a baby’s diet.
The idea is that once babies have developed the skill of grabbing
something and putting it in their mouth, they’re ready to gnaw
or chew on solid or soft-cooked foods. Baby led weaning allows
babies to show you when they’re ready – and, if you let them, to
choose which foods they like best.
Whether you’re feeding your baby purées or solid pieces of food,
your little one should be supervised and learning infant first aid
and CPR is always a good idea.
Ah, nipple confusion.
When a baby begins to
prefer a bottle or pacifier
over the breast. Experts
are divided on the issue,
but Dr. Newman says it
is more likely to happen
in babies who haven’t
when a mother has low
milk supply or a slow flow
from the breast. When
this happens, he recommends
using a lactation
aid and avoiding the use
You can also try products
that have been designed
to replicate actual
Share and share alike?
Women who can’t breastfeed for medical reasons, or perhaps because they’ve
adopted an infant, may get breast milk from a milk bank. There is one milk bank in
Vancouver and another coming to Toronto. Donors are screened for diseases and
infections, and often milk is pasteurized before being given to a family in need.
But what about women whose milk supply is a little low or who have trouble
pumping? There’s a growing trend among moms to share pumped milk on a casual
basis. Have a friend with litres of milk in the freezer but you’re struggling to pump
enough to go on a date with your husband? Friends are sharing their supplies.
Although Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society advise against informal
milk sharing, Dr. Newman recommends milk sharing if it’s needed. In order
to ensure that the milk you give your baby is safe, Dr. Newman advises mothers
to flash heat or pasteurize the milk before feeding it to Baby. This can be done at
home with a liquid safe thermometer and a double boiler.
Vanessa is a Toronto-based editor and writer with a very hungry nine-month-old boy.