by Dr. Trisha Macnair
10 August 2000
My personal obsession with parenting, as my family could all tell you, is the psychological side of well being. While I fuss about the happiness and confidence of every child I see, I let my own children eat all the wrong foods (shame on me, especially as the wife of a dentist). I don't seem to notice that they are utterly grubby and, I am totally blase about the threat of pesticides and toxins.
A chore or a wonder?
But there are a few parental chores that I do tend to get a bit adamant about. One of them is breast-feeding. And yes, I would call it a chore - sometimes at least. Of course it is the most amazing bonding experience, so much so that some adoptive mothers make great efforts to breast-feed their new babies; read about how they managed it at: http://www.lalecheleague.org/NB/NBadoptive.html
And there's no doubt it is a constant wonder; the act of nurturing a baby at the breast has inspired glorious art.
Of course it's convenient and cheap, but many women find that there are times when they would rather hand their baby and a bottle over to someone else. Maybe, no matter how hard you try to get your baby in the right position, your nipples are in agony and, you are tired of being chewed like a piece of old rubber. Maybe you are rather tired of the sticky mess, the hammocks called feeding bras, and the leaky boobs, or perhaps you are simply just tired, exhausted by the endless process of feeding through long broken nights.
Just talking about the problems can help, while many women find that by expressing milk, they can get time off and have more freedom, or simply get back to work. Read some basic advice on expressing at: www.ukparents.co.uk/archives/expressing.shtml
After both my children were born, I spent many weeks trundling back and forth to work, armed with breast pump and bottles, and I know how it requires a fair deal of persistence. If you are exhausted anyway, and you don't have time, space and privacy, then the only thing that flows are your tears of frustration.
If you are going back to work whilst still breast feeding, demolish some of the myths first by visiting: www.obgyn.net/pb/articles/bf_newman17_0600.htm and www.obgyn.net/pb/articles/bf_newman14_0200.htm
Protection from disease
The reason why it is worth persisting with breastfeeding when it seems like a chore, and why I have such a thing about it, is that it protects babies from a range of diseases, some of which could be life-threatening.
To spell it out, if you breast feed, your baby is:
- less likely to get respiratory or ear infections for many years. See some of the research at: www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/316/7124/21
- less likely to suffer stomach upsets for many years
- less likely to develop allergic diseases such eczema and asthma for many years. See some of the research at: www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/319/7213/815
- less likely to become constipated
- may have a higher IQ and do better at school
These benefits come from the chemicals secreted in breast-milk. In particular, the mother's antibodies provide protection against infection, while special fats help build healthy nerves and brains. There will never be another chance like this to give your child so much protection against illness in one easy go.
Persist if you can, don't feel guilty if you can't
Breast-feeding is a subtle art. No matter how instinctively your baby attaches itself (and many don't), there's still a lot to learn. For example, what do you need to think about in your own diet, does spicy or strong food upset the taste of the milk, can you still exercise as normal, and how can you get a good night-time routine going? The answer to many of these questions will depend on you and your baby.
For information on herbs and breast-feeding, visit: http://126.96.36.199/reading_room/herbs.html
There is a mass of information available to help you, from your local health visitor, or on the Internet, for example www.breastfeeding.com/ and www.lalecheleague.org/
Persist if you can for at least 3, if not 4, months. The research shows that it is in these early weeks that breastfeeding gives the maximum protection from disease - protection that lasts for years.
Stopping breast-feeding can be a very emotive time, whether after 3 days or 3 years. Sometimes it seems like it's a woman's lot in life to feel guilty, but try not to - it won't help you or your baby.
Some women find that they are unable to breastfeed successfully. There are many reasons why this may be, some of which you may be able to do something about (you may need help), and some of which you can't. Modern formula milks are very good, and are carefully designed to include the best ingredients possible. Reassure yourself; and concentrate on the other positive things you are able to do for your child, like making sure they are happy and confident. See: www.fda.gov/fdac/features/596_baby.html