Keeping it real about breastfeeding with Heidi & Ruth
Breasts. Boobs. Ta-tas. Jugs.
Whatever pet name you assign to them, they’re a magnificiently powerful part of the female physique. They can beguile men (or women) with their sexual prowess, they’re romanticised in art, sexualised in the media and they invoke eroticism in Western society much like the nape in Japanese culture.
But let’s be real. Apart from their common depiction as objects of desire, they actually contain mammary glands for the sole purpose of feeding life-nurturing milk to human offspring. Just like many other animal species, our breasts were destined for the mouth of babes, and not for the pleasure of men.
Breastfeeding is a topic that can fiercely pit people against each other on either side of the fence. Common rhetoric such as “fed is best” is slung back to combat the “breast is best” phrase campaign (and actual legal responsibility for formula companies to declare on their tins). Personal vindications abound as feelings are thrown into the crossfire. All the meanwhile, expectant mothers are bewilderingly trying to navigate through it all as they anticipate their own feeding journey with their impending newborn.
Enough already! It’s time to cut through the emotional drag and present some simple truths in a friendly non-confrontational manner.
So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce my friend and breastfeeding savior, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant [IBCLC], Registered Nurse [RN] and Midwife, Ruth Carson. I’ve asked Ruth to answer some questions surrounding the wonderful journey that is breastfeeding (obvious bias intended) in the hopes that it may answer some of your questions you may be too afraid to ask. Or perhaps you just weren’t aware of. Enjoy!
Heidi: There is something remarkably clever about the hairy snail trails women can develop from their breasts to their vaginas during pregnancy. Can you enlighten us as to why please?
Ruth: The ‘snail trail’ known as linea nigra that you develop in pregnancy from your pubic bone to under your breasts is yet another wonderful outcome of those raging hormones (this one caused by an increase in the skin-darkening melanin). While it may not be the most welcome physical change, it will go away (phew!), so don’t worry.
Dark lines and extra hair growth may also appear around your belly button and areolas too, but they should all disappear between nine and 12 months postpartum. Alas, they act as baby’s road map with the darkened areola as the bullseye to the food source after the birthing journey. Google ‘baby crawl’ and watch what human babies can do for themselves; they are just like any other mammal and can find the breast unaided.
Heidi: What’s so important about the newborn’s intake of colostrum as opposed to beginning straight off the bat with formula?
Ruth: Colostrum has high concentrations of nutrients and antibodies, yet is only a small volume as that is all your newborn infant requires. Their tummies are still full of amniotic fluid they have been swallowing while in utero.
Newborns have very immature digestive systems and colostrum delivers its nutrients in a very concentrated low-volume form. It has a mild laxative effect, encouraging the passing of the baby’s first stool, which is called meconium. This clears excess bilirubin, a waste product of dead red blood cells. Bilirubin, which helps to prevent jaundice, is produced in large quantities at birth due to blood volume reduction from the infant’s body.
Heidi: After the colostrum has turned into breast milk (aka the milk has come in: hello big swollen boobies), is there any nutritional benefit to breastfeeding over formula?
Ruth: Ooh! Heidi…. Human milk is for human babies and the normal way to feed our young, and is dose dependent! If you want your infant to reach their optimum potential physically, mentally, and have life-long better health outcomes, breastfeed for as long as mother and baby wish.
Cow’s milk (breast milk substitutes as I like to call it) is for calves; your baby will grow, yet you need to be very conscious of hygiene, preparation, equipment, cost and feeding techniques and volumes – full stop!
Heidi (in reflective mode from this point forwards): Breastfeeding hurts my nipples! Like really hurts! When does this end?
‘Really hurting nipples’ is not normal and needs to be investigated. In the first week, some tenderness and soreness as your milk comes in and baby attaches is normal, while you are both learning to breastfeed. Yet once your milk has letdown and is flowing, it shouldn’t continue to hurt. It only takes one poorly positioned attachment and breastfeed to damage your nipple, and this is the most common reason for continued hurting of your nipples.
A few things you can try to deal with full, tight (sometimes engorged breasts) together with hurting nipples are making yourself as comfortable and relaxed before starting to breastfeed. ‘Prepare the equipment ‘ before baby comes to nurse by gentle arm rotations and lifts to really get the blood flowing/circulating, applying warmth to your breasts. A warm shower also helps to get your milk flowing. If you’re not due or needing a shower, try submerging your breast in a large mixing bowl of warm water over the sink – it feels great! Then follow with some gentle massage down towards the nipple.
The next step is hand expressing some of your milk to soften around your areola in order for baby to achieve a deeper latch – so that they are breastfeeding, and not just nipple feeding. Plus, hopefully you will trigger your letdown so that as soon as baby starts suckling, they are receiving milk and won’t suck as hard, therefore won’t hurt you as much. If you have a side that is really hurting, start on the less sore side first or even try changing positions to a more laid back position rather than cradle hold or football style if that is what you have been doing.
Otherwise, you can always call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 and speak with a trained Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding Counsellor.
Heidi: Why does my uterus shriek out in agony every time I breastfeed my newborn?
Afterbirth pains or uterine cramping, also known as involution of the uterus after your baby’s birth is a really healthy, normal process as your uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size and location. Afterbirth pains are typically mild for first-time mums (if you feel anything at all) and don’t last long, but can be quite uncomfortable after second delivery and get worse (very painful) with each successive pregnancy/delivery.
Breastfeeding can bring on these cramps and make them more intense because baby’s suckling triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn causes contractions. (Try to see this as a good thing as these contractions help to reduce your blood loss, and get you back to your pre-pregnancy state quicker).
You can also help yourself by ensuring you pee often, even if you don’t feel the urge to go. A full bladder displaces the uterus so it can’t contract as well as it should. Also, gently massage the lower belly (you can feel the hard ‘rock-melon’ of your uterus). Plus, use of analgesics – Ibuprofen generally works well, alternating with Paracetamol if afterbirth pain becomes too much for you.
What is this latch thing about? How do I figure it out, what’s it meant to look like, why can’t I work it out? Help!
Latch is one of the most important parts of breastfeeding – as a baby that is attached well to the breast causes no nipple pain and drains the breast well, reducing the chances of blocked ducts and mastitis. A good latch also ensures good milk transfer, and milk supply so that your baby grows well. A poorly latched baby is usually not taking enough milk, leading to more frequent feeding, taking in a lot of air – which can cause wind, and an unsettled baby.
Although breastfeeding is a natural bodily function for a lot of new mothers, it is a learnt skill in our modern Westernised culture. To help mothers figure out how to do it, I encourage ‘baby-led attachment’ or more laid back breastfeeding in the early days/weeks. All mammal babies have natural instincts which enable them to seek out and find their mothers breast from birth with little or no help from anyone. So if you use baby-led attachment and adopt a more semi-reclined/laid back position, with lots of skin to skin – baby can do the rest. A great video to watch to see for yourself is on the raisingchildren.net.au website called ‘Breastfeeding and baby-led attachment’.
Did you enjoy this post? Or do you have any breastfeeding questions that you would like answered by Ruth? I’d love for you to comment them below, on the Facebook page, or send me a message via Facebook.
And a huge thank-you to the wonderful nursing mumma’s who allowed me to use their photographs. Go check out their Instagram feeds using the links below:
You can also upload your own breastfeeding photos on Instagram using the hashtag #normalisebreastfeeding to become part of the voice!