Mum & Baby: Is Breast Best?

The matter of how you will feed your new born child may possibly be one of the biggest decisions you make in yours and their life. Newborn and infant feeding is a personal matter and one that’s likely to draw strong opinions from everyone.

We spoke to Emily Wheeler a Student Midwife and Peer Supporter from Manchester.  Emily is a huge Breastfeeding Advocate who is extremely passionate about infant feeding and hopes to take this further in her career. She is mum to her three year old son, Kasper.

With all the latest formulas currently on the market, designed to fit a baby’s needs why even bother breast feeding these days?

Breast milk changes monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly during every feed to meet the needs of each baby and every feed depending on what nutrients and vitamins are needed. The baby’s saliva sends signals to the mother to adapt her breast milk accordingly. Breast milk is a live substance. Artificial milk however, contains the same amount of nutrients and vitamins, never changing.

Breastfeeding is also so much more than just nutrition. It also provides comfort to the baby, a safe place when they are over stimulated or overwhelmed by situations and soothes almost every tantrum!

Surely a healthy & happy mum is just as important as a healthy and happy baby so, what’s in it for mum when it comes to breast feeding?

It’s widely known that there are ‘benefits of breastfeeding’. Breastfeeding is the biological norm, and there are only increased risks of not breastfeeding. Immediately following birth, breastfeeding releases oxytocin (as it does during every other feed!) which cause the uterus to contract and return quicker to its pre-pregnancy state therefore reducing the risk of post-partum haemorrhage as well as depression. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of the mother developing breast and ovarian cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. In addition it goes a long way to help a mother feel closer and and more connected to her baby.

A lot of women worry about breastfeeding as they feel they might not be able to feed their baby enough therefore, isn’t it better to formula feed a baby as you can measure exactly what they are consuming and be sure they are gaining?

Feeding responsively is the best way to ensure your baby is getting enough milk, as well as an effective position and attachment at the breast to warrant milk is being transferred effectively. Responsive feeding means watching for your baby’s feeding cues. Many mothers think that their babies aren’t getting any or enough milk because they’re feeding so often, but in the early days, this can be very normal as regular and frequent breastfeeds make sure the mother’s milk supply is maintained.

The most effective way to monitor a breastfed baby’s input is by monitoring their output! Nappies! A breastfed baby should have at least two dirty nappies a day, the size of a £2 coin (or more!) for AT LEAST the first 6-8 weeks of life. After this time, it is common for them to go longer between changes. Babies should also be urinating 5-6+ times a day once the mother’s mature milk has transferred in. Before this, it is expected they have one wee for each day of their life (one on Day 1, two on Day 2 etc..)

You actively campaign in favour of breastfeeding and trying to spread awareness for public feeding, why do you feel so strongly about it?

Breastfeeding is something that I am really passionate about, for women and babies. I advocate strongly for each baby’s right to breast milk and to receive nutrition that is optimal and just for them.

I feel strongly about ‘normalising’ breastfeeding as so many people still seem to have an issue with it, and see breasts as only sexual. By talking publicly about breastfeeding, I hope to show people that it is what it is; natural and the biological norm.

Did you breastfeed your child?

Yes. He’s almost 3 now and nurses regularly.

It’s all very well saying breast feeding should be done where ever but, how can you breastfeed in public without exposing yourself?

The best way I found was the ‘one up, one down’ method. I used this myself and found it really successful. You wear a vest top (either a nursing top, or one that is loose enough to pull down under your breast) and a normal top over it that you can lift up. By doing this, your tummy and top of your breast is still covered, and then once the baby is latched on, there is nothing to be seen!

You can also get nursing covers, or you can tuck a muslin cloth or small blanket into your bra strap and drape it over but some babies don’t like to be covered completely and will fuss.  This is where others should be ore understanding of a nursing mother.

How long do you have to breastfeed for, in order for it to be beneficial to your baby?

There’s no time limit, or deadline. As I said earlier, breast milk changes daily and also provides an infinite amount of comfort and safety. No child is ever too old to receive that from their mother.

With a newborn isn’t the most important action that you fatten them up as quickly as possible, I’ve heard that breastfed babies struggle to gain weight as quickly as formula fed babies do?

Formula fed babies do put on weight quicker at first, but breastfed babies gain weight at a steady, average weight. Artificial milk is dense, and hard to digest, whereas breast milk is mostly water with very little waste, so everything is used up by the body where it’s needed the most.

Isn’t it just far more convenient to formula feed as it’s better fitting to a modern lifestyle? Especially as breastfeeding is often considered to be old fashioned and out dated.

Using artificial milk is far from convenient! Many mothers have different ways of making up bottles in advance to make it convenient, but they do not comply with the instructions on how to make it up safely. What could be more convenient that just popping your baby on the breast?

Isn’t breastfeeding just over complicated and don’t you need to have some kind of training to do it effectively?

With the correct support, breastfeeding can be a walk in the park. It’s something you both need to learn how to do. You wouldn’t just hop on a two wheeled bike and ride away without falling off a couple times first. You don’t need any training, but doing a little bit of research before or during your pregnancy can always be a bonus. Knowing about the basic physiology of breastfeeding and lactation before beginning your journey would be a good idea though.

What do all the technical terms mean? ‘Colostrum’ , ‘Tongue tie’ , ‘Cluster feeds’ , ‘Engorged’ , ‘Let down’ , ‘Latching on’.

Colostrum: The first stage of milk you produce during pregnancy, and up until your mature milk transfers in. It’s usually a golden/yellow colour, which gives it its ‘liquid gold’ name as it’s thick and nutritious, and full of antibodies, vitamins and nutrients.

Tongue tie: A tongue tie is when the frenulum (strip of skin) underneath the tongue is attached to the base of the mouth reducing mobility due to its shortness.

Cluster feeds: Cluster feeding is when a baby feeds very frequently. This usually happens after birth, during growth spurts, of an evening time, or when the baby is trying to increase its mother’s milk supply.

Engorged: When a mother’s breast is engorged, it means her milk ducts are full of milk.

Let down: A let down of milk happens when the epithelial cells surrounding the milk ducts contract and the breast milk begins to flow quicker in larger quantities.

Latching on: This is a term used for the attachment of the baby at the breast.

How can you make breastfeeding work for you if you’re a working mum, especially if you work shifts?

Going back to work can be a big worry for those mothers who want to continue to breastfeed. After 6 months of age, when weaning onto solid foods, it isn’t unusual for a baby to go longer between feeds making it easier for the mother to be away from her baby for longer periods of time. Breastfeeding mothers also have the right (though it is not a legal requirement) to express their milk at work to feed to her baby and to also maintain her supply.

I’ve heard that dehydration is a common problem with women that breastfeed, why is this?

Dehydration isn’t as common as it’s thought to be however, breast milk is 88% water so lactating mothers do need to keep up and maintain their fluid intake, but it’s only in circumstances of extreme drought that serious dehydration may occur in a breastfeeding mother.

I know a lot of fathers that worry about the bond they have with their baby and feel that bottle feeding offers a fairer distribution of responsibility and attachment between both parents, that you can’t get with breastfeeding. What are your thoughts/tips on this?

There are many other ways in which a father can bond with his baby. Bath times, story times, nappy changes, winding, dressing, baby wearing, walks. Dad can also help mum by making sure she has fresh water/drinks and snacks whilst she is breastfeeding.

Don’t you have to diet and give up certain foods in order to breastfeed effectively and is this why people say it’s harder to lose weight when you exclusively breastfeed?

Breastfeeding burns around 500 calories a day but it’s very common for mother’s to feel almost ravenous when they’re breastfeeding! I think it all comes down to the types of foods being consumed as to whether you would lose weight or not. Breastfeeding isn’t a fool proof way to lose the ‘baby weight’. Unless your baby has allergies or intolerances, there aren’t any foods that need to be given up.

When and how would you suggest introducing solids to a baby’s diet and is it different depending on if the baby is formula or breastfed?

ALWAYS six months plus, and showing all the signs of readiness. Some babies may not be ready until a little later, and that’s okay. The guidelines for introducing solids from 6 months has been around for 13 years, based on scientific evidence around gut development and maturation.

While there’s no doubt that human milk is best for babies ultimately all women deserve the support they need in order to feed their child to the best of their abilities and in a way that meets the needs of both mum and baby.

For more information on this topic and others relating to breast feeding or to be put in contact with an advisor like Emily email our team:

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