This is a statement you hear all too often. Sadly, many of the reasons women believe they can't breastfeed are steeped in misinformation and decisions are often hastily made in a fug of tiredness and stress.
So, here are some of the reasons women give up on breastfeeding - accompanied by some, hopefully, useful information to help ensure the decision is what they really want.
There is a lot of reference to 'the latch' and further explanation can be found below this list.
|Little B's first feed and plenty of skin to skin straight after the birth|
- "My milk never came in." It can actually take up to ten days for the milk to come in, but before this, baby is still getting very calorie-rich colostrum. The more baby suckles and the more skin-to-skin contact you have with your newborn, the better chance the milk has to actually come in.
- "My baby was losing too much weight." Babies do lose weight in the first few days. But the colostrum and then the milk you produce is actually more calorie-rich than formula. Rather than reaching straight for the bottle, try and increase feeding sessions. Again - more skin to skin and suckling will prompt more feeding and supply. You should also get your baby's latch checked as sometimes poor weight gain is linked to a poor latch.
- "I couldn't produce enough." The amount baby is able to get from the breast is vastly different to what you may be able to express. So as long as baby is producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies, you can be confident that baby is getting enough. And the more baby feeds (especially at night), the more you'll produce. Again, get your latch checked. Sometimes a poor latch will mean that baby is not stimulating enough of the milk producing parts of the breast and a simple adjustment will increase supply.
- "My baby was constantly feeding."The more baby feeds, the more milk your body will produce. That's why optimum feeding depends on responding to baby's demand rather than going by timings (eg every 4 hours). Babies will often 'cluster feed' in the evening as they put in their order for the next day's milk. They will often feed a lot at night as this is when the milk producing hormone prolactin is at its highest in the mother. Babies also go through a number of growth spurts, which makes them feed or suckle more frequently and for longer to boost supply. It won't last forever. It is in the first 4-6 weeks that baby is stimulating all the milk-producing parts of the breast and once their all operating at full capacity, your body will find it much easier to respond to baby's demand without them having to feed so often. Your baby's stomach, which starts life the size of a walnut, will also have expanded to take on more milk and so the time between feeds will stretch out. Stick with it and you'll reap the benefits.
- "I wanted my baby to sleep through the night."Formula does not guarantee that baby will sleep for longer. And in the early days, it is preferable for baby to wake more often as deeper, longer sleep cycles have been linked to SIDS. The best you can do is actively differentiate between night and day and your baby will catch on when it is ready.
- "My baby wouldn't latch on/wasn't interested/wouldn't take the breast". Breastfeeding is a dance that needs to be learnt by both mother and baby and each pairing is different. Some babies latch straight on. Others take a little longer to get the hang of things. It can be frustrating, so seek help and persevere. Spend lots of time skin to skin with baby and offer the breast frequently. An afternoon snuggled up in bed naked with your newborn close to your chest will often do the trick. Watch for feeding cues such as rooting or chewing on fists rather than waiting for the hunger cry and gently tease baby's lips with your nipple and stroke along the jaw bone to encourage baby to latch on. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help - not just from your midwife or health visitor, but from La Leche League, your local breastfeeding support group or a lactation consultant.
- "Feeding was too painful."While you and your baby are learning to work together in feeding, sometimes you may experience pain. You may also be suffering from after-pains as your womb contracts down after the birth. Most of the time, the feeding pain is down to your body getting used to the milk let down or your baby not quite having the right latch. A simple readjustment can make a massive difference. You may also want to try a topical nipple cream to ease soreness. Or you could try stuffing a savoy cabbage leaf down your bra - the smell's not great, but it has amazing soothing properties! It might also be worth getting baby checked for 'tongue tie' which can inhibit feeding and cause a painful latch. It is easily remedied by a medical professional.
- "My partner/husband wanted to be involved in feeding the baby." Once feeding is established (after around 4-6 weeks), there's nothing to stop you from expressing and allowing your other half to bottle feed breastmilk. There are also many other ways fathers can bond with their babies - bath time, nappy changing, cuddling etc are also very special times where baby can get to know dad.
- "I couldn't leave the house because I was too embarrassed to feed in public." Sadly, today's society often equates breasts to sex, which can make feeding baby an uncomfortable prospect. However, there are many ways you can feed privately and without attracting any attention while out and about. For the first time, why not find a buddy to come with you to give moral support. To prevent any excess flesh being flashed, wear a vest top underneath your normal top (lift the top layer and drop the vest top and you only reveal the part of the breast that goes in baby's mouth. Wearing a scarf, drapy cardigan or sling/wrap baby carrier can provide further cover and isn't as 'obvious' as a muslin or purpose-bought breastfeeding cover. The law is actually on your side and it can be helpful to know that the Equality Act 2010 means it is unlawful for you to be discriminated against because you are breastfeeding. According to Maternity Action, this means 'service providers must not discriminate, harass, or victimise a woman because she is breastfeeding. Discrimination includes refusing to provide a service, providing a lower standard of service or providing a service on different terms. Therefore, a cafe owner cannot ask you to stop feeding or refuse to serve you.'
- "Friends/Family said it was disgusting." Other people's opinions can be hard to deal with - especially if they are people whose thoughts you would usually respect or listen to. Think about what is best for you and your baby and respond to their comments with facts about the benefits of breastfeeding (reduced risk of infection, illness, allergies, SIDS, cancer and diabetes in later life, obesity, its cheaper than formula etc). And remember - they are just opinions and they will have opinions on all aspects of parenting, not just feeding - many of which you will be happy to ignore.
To ensure you have the best latch ensure the baby's spine is in line with you, put baby's nose to your nipple and ensure baby takes a big mouthful, not just of the nipple, but plenty of the areola (the dark bit round the nipple) too. When you are holding baby, support the back and hips, but leave baby free to move his/her head.
Signs of a good latch
You will know you baby has a good latch if:
- Baby's lips are curled out
- If you can see any of the areola, it's above the top lip, rather than below the bottom lip
- Baby is making regular swallowing movements/noises
- Baby's cheeks are full and rounded
- Baby's chin is touching your breast
|Little B trying to demonstrate a good latch|
Obviously, the way you choose to feed your child is your decision. But before deciding to go down the formula route, at least be aware of the facts and ensure you are making a really informed decision and be aware of the wealth of help and resources available.