The pros and cons of breastfeeding
It’s good to see breastfeeding being actively promoted these days as something you should try to do with your baby. For many years this biological functions was deemed as beneath humans to do and that feeding artificial milk, that though vastly improved on previous generations is still not the same as what our body naturally produces, was the best way to go. Which has led to a lack of understanding about how breastfeeding works and to a misguided view of some that a child nursing is an act not to be observed by the common man, woman or child (but yet scantily clad women are shown regularly in advertising and movies that exposes even more flesh than a child being nursed). And breastfeeding can is hard, but breastfeeding is easy as well. The pros and cons of breastfeeding are many, but in this post I will tackle just a few.
Breastfeeding is easy.
Breastfeeding is the easiest way to feed a baby. The mother’s body creates the exact right nutrients for the stage of development of the child, from colostrum for the first few days after birth, to milk for a newborn, an infant and a toddler (if you are lucky enough to get that far). It comes already prepared with no need for mixing, heating or finding a bottle the child will accept. Going out to the shops requires no other preparation than having a nursing bra and top with easy access. (I’ve found ready-made nursing tops are not essential, just one loose enough to lift is good. Skin tight clothes just leads to boob compression, which you really want to avoid).
To some women, breastfeeding comes really easily and they are able to keep going as long as their child wants. Or till they reach the milestone they were hoping for whether 3 months, 6 months, or 2 years. And they absolutely love it!
But to some other women breastfeeding is a journey fraught with pain, discomfort and body issues. They dread the thought of feeding a child in public. To these women breastfeeding is hard!!
Breastfeeding is hard
With our disjointed society in the 21st Century, we have lost our sense of ‘the village’ where your close relatives all live nearby and can help out with the baby and child rearing tasks. You’ve heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child”? It is so true! Having your first child can be such an unknown in life – so many new things to learn as a parent and as a mum.
We no longer constantly see women around us breastfeeding their children. We don’t always have our mum, sisters and cousins, aunts and girlfriends around us to see this skill practised. There is no longer a whole village to consult on how to do this strange new skill.
The need for professional breastfeeding help
And although breastfeeding is a natural act, it can take time to learn how to do it – for both mother and baby. With my first daughter it was over two weeks till I felt comfortable enough to know I could continue with breastfeeding. Even with my second I was ready to throw in the towel at 6 weeks with some issues, except I know that I could do this as I had before.
Because of the lack of a Village to ask about issues with breastfeeding in our modern society and our modern focus of needing to have our babies in hospitals, we have a lack of firsthand information on these vital skills. Luckily some people have seen this need for more education and we now have Internationally certified Lactation consultants based in at least all major hospitals or offering private services to families.
Issues that make breastfeeding hard.
There are a number of issues that can occur with breastfeeding that can make it especially hard to continue. Tongue ties and lip ties is a very common one heard about lately. It can cause a lot of latching and discomfort issues and undiagnosed case can cause so much pain or feeding problems, like loss of weight, that many mothers stop before they can find the real cause.
Blocked ducts are often painful and hard to predict. I had none with baby #1. Quite a few with the second! If left untreated they can also lead to mastitis- an even more painful and serious condition needing antibiotic treatment.
Thrush is another common culprit. Untreated it can be passed back and forth from mother to child.
Another highly under-reported condition with breastfeeding is called vasospasm. With two causes for the blood vessels tightening and going into spasm; trauma to the nipple or a condition related to Reynaud’s phenomenon. It causes painful cramping in the nipple and breast tissue, often accompanied by a whitening of the nipples and then colour change from red to blue/purple.
This was one I discovered with my second child, and only became aware of it being a thing after posts from other mum’s in my online mother’s group. It made feeding so painful on one side that even though I’d experienced a reasonably pleasant breastfeeding journey with my first daughter, that I felt like giving up when number 2 was only 6 weeks old.
Thankfully I found out about vasospasm, and with some advice from a lactation consultant I increased my magnesium which saw relief come quickly. I’m so grateful for finding that solution as I successfully breastfed her to 22 months…a massive achievement!
The pros and cons of breastfeeding can make or break your breastfeeding journey
There’s a lot to learn with breastfeeding. How do I get a correct latch? How do I know when a newborn is finished feeding. How can you judge if they’re getting enough milk. What to do if away from baby for an extended period. What medications you can take when feeding. All of these issues can make it seem too hard, too painful or too much work without the right support for many women to continue their journey. And past experiences with bad advice from some professionals that should know better can make women not want to even give it a go on their next baby.
For further support with your breastfeeding journey visit Australian Breastfeeding Association.
I’m hoping that as we become more educated as a society on what is hard and easy about breastfeeding, that more women are able to have a successful and enjoyable breastfeeding journey for as long as they and the child are wanting. And for those finding they have one of these hard issues I’ve mentioned (or any others) that they can get the right support to help them, instead of just feeling like they have no other choice but to give up.
Comment below on how your breastfeeding journey has been.
Australian Breastfeeding Association (2017, August) ‘Vasospasm’. https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/vasospasm