Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My Third Antenatal Class: Breastfeeding

This was the fun class where we had to bring in teddies to practice on. At first the midwife talked about the importance of breastfeeding, for both mum and baby, and she explained that we no longer have the natural instinct of how to breastfeed, due to evolution. She said that is why so many women struggle to do it these days, and that persistence is the key.
Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and osteoporosis for the mother, as well as suck her uterus back into place quicker and help burn 500 calories a day. It reduces the risks of asthma, other allergies and being overweight for the baby. It also contains all the correct nutrients the baby needs to set up their immune system.

She said there are videos that show if you lay a baby low down on the mother when they are first born, eventually they will commando crawl up the stomach and locate a nipple to feed on, as it is an automatic response they have when they are first born. There is an argument that the linea nigra and nipple darkening we get during pregnancy is so that the baby can see a clear pathway to the nipple when it is first born. This is why skin to skin contact as soon as they are born is important, and that this is needed for at least 45 minutes. If anyone breaks that contact in this time, the baby has to restart the 45 minute process as they have to go through a routine before getting onto the latching and feeding part.
She showed us a variety of marbles, and explained how when the baby is first born their stomach is the size of a very small marble, so they only need a very tiny amount of the colostrum, which is why we don’t produce much in the first few days. She said if we use formula milk instead, this means the baby will drink a higher amount at this stage (as the sucking reflex is far easier on a bottle, so they don’t have to work hard to drink) and this will stretch their stomach. This can be why bottle fed babies can end up overweight when older apparently.
By day 3 or 4, the real milk starts to come in and the breasts can feel engorged and painful. During this change, she said it is normal for the baby to become quite difficult and to want to feed every 30 minutes for about 24 hours. She said this is because the colostrum starts to taste different as it changes to milk and can cause this reaction in the baby. She said some mothers can mistake this behaviour change as them not being able to produce enough food for the baby and so they give up, but this is not the case.
She showed us how to help the baby latch on, by putting chin to the bottom of the nipple, keeping the baby’s body straight (horizontal across your body) and making sure their lower arm is not tucked into their chest. She said you should alternate the breast you use at each feed, so keep a note of which breast was used at each feed to remember. If the baby prefers one breast, she said you can start them off on that breast each time, but then move them onto the other breast (sliding across body and hold them under your armpit) after a few minutes.
Savoy cabbage leaves (cold) are apparently very good to put on the nipples to soothe them whenever you are in discomfort, and if there are any blocked ducts or lumps in the breasts, she showed us how to massage the lumps whilst still feeding the baby.
She talked about hand expressing if the baby doesn’t want to latch on in the first few days, but explained that this should be into a feeding cup or syringe, and not a bottle with a teat. The baby should not use teats until after 6 weeks feeding from the breast, because the different sucking motions confuse them.
They have to work harder to get the milk through the nipple, and this sucking motion can help their ears and throats avoid infection. Bottle teats are far easier to suck and use a different cheek muscle.
She then talked about the poo they will have if they are breastfed, and what colour changes to look out for. Breastfed babies have less potent smelling poo which is good, and it is normal for girls to have blood in their urine for the first few days, whilst the boys can have crystals in their urine. If this continues after a few days it must be reported to the GP though.
The class confirmed that I want to try to breastfeed, but I won’t beat myself up if I cannot achieve it. I am under no illusions that it would be easy, and I think the first few weeks would be a nightmare, and I have heard that it can feel very painful when they are sucking. However, I do want the baby and myself to experience the long term benefits of it, which is why I will try my best. If it doesn’t work out, I know the baby will be fine, because none of the women in my family have managed to breastfeed successfully, and we all turned out ok!

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