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Breastfeeding: The Myths and Realities

Breastfeeding: The Myths and Realities

Let me let you in on a secret: having a good latch is the key to most breastfeeding issues!!!

So I recently found this fabulous website, Best For Babes, which addresses problems women face while breastfeeding, something they have nicknamed “booby traps”.  As I was reading through all their wonderful information, I realized I hadn’t really addressed issues with breastfeeding here!  There is a ton more great information on the Best for Babes website, but here’s a brief overview of some more common issues.

So I think the main roadblock many women face with breastfeeding is that they don’t really get a great education on the subject.  In most childbirth classes, breastfeeding is barely covered.  Most hospitals don’t have a great track record for being committed to helping moms breastfeed – sure, they have lactation consultants, but hospitals have been known to employ consultants who aren’t certified.  Plus, the lactation department at hospitals is usually dramatically understaffed, so you might only get a couple of minutes with them.  Even if they’re the best in their field, when baby isn’t latching it takes more than a couple of minutes to sort things out!  My advice to moms?  Take a class that focuses only on breastfeeding before baby comes.  You’ll be better prepared, and much more confident in your ability to breastfeed.  After baby comes, if you’re having trouble, I would recommend hiring a lactation consultant to come to your house for an hour.  You can find one by visiting the International Lactation Consultant Association website.

In the meantime, let’s look at a couple common breastfeeding myths.

  • Some women don’t produce enough milk.  It is extremely rare for a woman not to have the milk her baby requires.  More commonly, the baby can’t get the milk that mom does have because he doesn’t have a proper latch.  This is why it is so important to be shown how to get that baby latched on correctly by someone who really knows what they’re doing on the very first day.  But remember, it is never to late to find a proper latch, you just might need a bit more help.  Check out those lactation consultants I mentioned earlier.
  • Formula is just as good as breast milk.  Let me put it this way: Breast milk is customized to your baby’s specific needs.  It is designed just for her, and changes as she grows to continue to meet her needs.  Formula is designed for every baby, which effectively makes it designed for no baby.  Breast milk contains over 100 ingredients that formula companies can not duplicate.  One of these is antibodies, which is what helps the baby’s immune system develop normally.  Another problem?  Some ingredients formula does have are in the wrong quantities and aren’t absorbed correctly.  There is more protein in formula, but the proteins in breast milk are absorbed more completely and easily digested.  There are more of minerals such as iron in formula, which are not absorbed completely and can change the balance of bacteria in the gut.  Say hello to stinky, hard stools!  And, most importantly, breast milk contains more lactose than formula, and lactose in higher quantities leads to larger brain development.

  • There is no/not enough milk for the first few days after birth.  There is certainly less milk than you would expect, but remember how tiny your newborn’s tummy is!  The milk during the first few days after birth, called colostrum, is extremely high in nutrients and designed so your baby doesn’t need to consume much to get everything he needs.  The problem here is that if you and your baby haven’t figured out a good latch yet, he won’t get anything.  Again, I stress the importance of getting your baby latched on well on the very first day!!  I promise you, with a good latch your baby is getting everything he needs.

So now that we’ve covered some myths, lets move on to how to overcome some very real problems women encounter while nursing.  There are quite a lot, but we’ll just take a look at some common ones.

  • My breasts are swollen, feel like they are throbbing, and are very warm.  You’re experiencing engorgement! This can become painful, and is caused because you’re making more milk than you are expressing.  This can also make things difficult for baby, because your breasts can become so swollen that your nipples lie flat and make latching on much harder.  Try not to turn straight to a breast pump to remedy the situation, as you could cause your breasts to produce even more milk, which obviously is not what we want.  Instead, try hand expression (here’s a tutorial – be warned, bare breast shown, for those of you in a non-breastfeeding friendly environment right now) when you find yourself experiencing discomfort from being engorged.  If baby is having trouble latching, a simple breast massage can soften you up and make it easier.

Engorged Breast

  • My nipples are in pain!  Normal nipple pain lasts only for the first 30-60 seconds of nursing, and should only be mild.  If you have intense pain that lasts longer, you may have an injured nipple.  This is usually due to an incorrect latch or poor positioning.  It’s time to see a lactation consultant!  In the meantime, you can use breast shields to protect from friction between feedings, and apply a thin layer of a lanolin ointment right after feeding.
  • I have an uncomfortable red lump on my breast.  You probably have a plugged duct.  This happens in areas of the breast where milk flow is blocked, usually by skin cells and milk.  To treat, you need to make sure you are completely and frequently emptying all the milk from your breast.  Make sure to nurse the affected breast first to help ensure that it will fully empty!  Hot showers and massage will also help with this.  If the plugged duct does not resolve within 72 hours, see a doctor!!

So has anyone heard any funny breastfeeding myths that I didn’t cover here?  If so, where did you hear it?  It’s surprising how many myths are told by doctors!

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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in How To


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Too Posh To Push? Then Don’t Get Pregnant.

Cesarean sections are a hot-button topic for me, and when someone has one electively and plans it months in advance it makes me so angry at them.  I have nothing against C-sections when they are used for the purpose they were designed for – to save a baby who is in distress during labor – but otherwise the practice completely repulses me.  These days, you hear supporters of women’s rights, feminists, celebrities, and plenty of other women going on about how we are strong, and we can do anything.  But I call BS on it.

There are very few women who consider themselves to be strong enough to take the childbearing plunge without the help of drugs or scalpels.  And for some reason, everyone sees it as normal, and safe.  News flash, ladies: a cesarean section is a highly invasive surgery with many possible complications and a long recovery time.  We, as women, are willing to put up with that (and with a cranky newborn in the house no less!), but why?  Every woman has her reasons.  Some are completely justified: if you have an STD that could potentially be passed to your baby, a c-section may be a good option.  Others are not: if you are scared of your hoo-ha being stretched and not returning to it’s previous tightness, a c-section is just selfish.  But women tell themselves it’s for the baby’s health, that they won’t get their heads misshapen by going through the birth canal, that the baby is breech and couldn’t possibly travel through the birth canal safely that way, that it takes less time to have a c-section.

For a list of things women tell themselves (and apparently women’s WEBSITES tell women), check out this horrifying slideshow from iVillage.  Please read the whole thing, then read what I have to say about it.  I had a lot of issues with this article, so I want to address each of the excuses presented in it.  They made a lot of false claims and claims that aren’t supported by good evidence.  So here’s the real story:

1. You’ll Know Exactly When Your Baby Will Arrive.  So having a baby makes your life a little unpredictable for a few months at the end there.  The reason there’s not an EXACT amount of time every baby spends in the womb is that every baby needs a slightly different amount of time to get ready to join the rest of us out here.  Just like they develop at different rates after being born, babies may fluctuate in the amount of time necessary before being born.  Scheduling your c-section may deprive your baby of the extra week he or she needed to develop fully. That can cause all sorts of complications, such as minor social and learning disabilities and difficulty breathing when first born, among many other things.  Is it really worth knowing the exact day and time you’ll meet your child if the consequences last a lifetime?

2. Your Baby Will Be Camera Ready. This is a dumb excuse.  Babies were meant to travel the birth canal.  That’s why their heads are soft, so they can fit.  It’s not bad for them, so the only reason this excuse is valid is cosmetic.  And are you really that shallow?  Also, even if the baby’s head comes out a little squished, it returns to normal adorable roundness after a few days.

3. Operating Rooms Have Gotten Cozier. There is nothing cozy about an operating room.  People die in operating rooms, and yes, that is a risk of cesarean section.  And yeah, your partner can stay with you now!  They can stay during vaginal birth, too.  Many doctors skim over the risks of a cesarean section, which is totally unfair to the woman going through the procedure.  Here’s a link to check out the risks yourself.  It’s not a pretty picture.

4. You Get A Little More Privacy.  Yeah, you don’t have 6 people staring at your hoo-ha. You do have someone’s hands buried inside your internal organs, though!  It’s silly to be self-concious about people seeing your intimate parts during labor – they’re all professionals, unless you’re at a teaching hospital where they let students watch, and even then you can tell those students to get out.  That’s your right as a patient.  If privacy is what you seek, though, think about looking into a birth center or even a home birth – us midwives try to be very discreet during birth, and are more open to having less people in the room if it makes you uncomfortable.

5. Extra Hospital Time Has It’s Perks. Really, who likes being in a hospital?  The food is horrible, your partner can’t stay the night with you (unless he’s willing to take on a very uncomfortable couch and/or chair), and you are in recovery from major surgery, meaning you will probably be on pain meds and have a more difficult time bonding with your baby and breastfeeding.  The reason you’re required to stay longer for a c-section is because you literally would not be able to care for yourself or your newborn in the first couple days without a support staff.  Vaginal births get to go home faster because they are already feeling like they can get up and do things, not to mention take care of their own baby.  And if you have a vaginal birth and don’t feel 100% after you go home, that’s what your PERSONAL support team is there for.  You just had a baby!!  You are the queen.  Ask your husband to take on a few extra things like cooking and cleaning while you’re recovering.  Ask some good friends and family if they want to come see the baby, and when they ask if there’s anything they can do to make your life easier when they come to check out the little ball of joy, don’t lie!  Let them know you’re too tired to stand at the sink and do dishes.  Tell them you’re craving a home-cooked meal but baby starts crying as soon as you set him down.  I guarantee that they will be all too happy to help – if they can hold the baby for a few minutes! 😉

6. You Get Treated Like A Queen. This should be a given whether you get sliced open or not.  After a c-section, you will almost definitely be unable to perform simple daily tasks.  After vaginal delivery, you can do what you’re comfortable with, and see my response to number 5 for the things you don’t want to do.

7. Everyone Will Take Your Pain Seriously.  You really do need painkillers after surgery.  If you have a c-section, take them.  However, you aren’t prescribed prescription painkillers after natural birth because you don’t need them, and they can interfere with the care of your newborn.  Are you really going to pick up your baby while you’re on Vicodin?  Some people would call that irresponsible.  Yes, you can have pain after natural birth.  It’s a given.  But those remedies that doctors recommend, such as warm compresses and sitz baths, are usually plenty to ease the discomfort.  And when they’re not, you can always call your doctor and ask what else you can do, or consult a naturopath who may have natural remedies that will eliminate your pain.

8. You’ll Get Extra Help With Breastfeeding. Whether or not you have a c-section, there are always options for getting help with breastfeeding.  Most cities have lots of support groups, if the problems you’re experiencing aren’t serious, and lactation consultants you can hire by the hour for more difficult cases.  They’re probably less expensive than the thousands you’re going to spend if you stay extra time in the hospital.  Also, the claim about the drugs here is wrong.  If you are given Percocet, Morphine, Oxycodone, or Vicodin, these can certainly be transmitted to your breast milk and do harm to your baby.  Most doctors will tell you it’s ok to take them, but there haven’t been many studies on the actual long term effects of these drugs on newborn children. There are theories that they can effect their ability to learn later in life, that they can make babies more susceptible to drug and/or alcohol addiction later in life, and even that it could cause minor social and learning disabilities.  None of these have been proven, yet, but correlations have been noted.

9. Everything Will Be The Same Down There. If you do your research, you’ll find that there are many ways to return your vagina to awesomeness after natural birth.  First of all, DON’T let the doctors slice open your perineum during birth.  Episiostomies aren’t necessary if you employ perineal massage before and during labor.  That muscle will never heal to the way it was if it’s sliced.  If it tears, it will heal properly but will take time.  I’ve seen two births so far, both pretty large baby boys, delivered naturally.  With massage, there was zero tearing for both women.  I’m not saying you will magically regain your previous vagina.  It takes work.  You have to be willing to do kegels and squats (squats strengthen your pelvic floor), and you have to accept that it will be a little wonky for about six months.  But your vagina is meant to have a baby pass through it, and it does eventually return to normal.  Many mothers actually report better sex after their vagina has fully healed.  This book may be of some help to you if you want that old sex life back after baby!  It’s also good if you’ve been having trouble with “leaking”.

10. You May Actually Like Your Scar.  Really?  Yes, it’s a visual representations of the life you created.  So is the actual baby.  Most women who have c-section scars are self-concious about them.  It can be difficult to come to terms with having a line across your stomach forever.  If you have to have a c-section for health reasons, then yes, the scar is something you can be proud of, because you went to great lengths for the health of your baby.  If you have a c-section because you’re scared of natural birth, it’s just a reminder of your cowardice.  If you have a c-section because a slippery slope of interventions put you there at doctors orders, it can actually be a reminder of a very traumatic, scary experience.  It’s generally hard for women to feel good about their scar, though.

11. You’ll Embrace Your Inner Tough Chick. I can name something harder than caring for a newborn.  Birthing said newborn naturally.  You want to be a tough chick?  Go through 3 – 48 hours of excruciating contractions and pop a bowling ball out of yourself- without painkillers.  Caring for a newborn while recovering from surgery is NOT a good situation.  And it lasts a lot longer than natural birth.  it takes 4-6 weeks to fully recover from c-section if there are no complications, much longer if you get an infection or another complication arises.  4 – 6 weeks of terrible pain while attempting to care for a bawling, screaming, breastfeeding baby sounds like a much more sadistic kind of hell than natural birth, in my opinion.

12. You Can Probably Try For Vaginal Childbirth Next Time. THIS is true.  And should be very much taken to heart!  If you have your heart set on natural childbirth for your next baby after a c-section, but can’t find an obstetrician willing to attend, seek out your city’s birth centers and midwives.  VBAC is possible!!!  Never lose hope in it.

13. You’ll Be Putting Your Baby’s Safety First.  This is total propaganda against vaginal birth.  C-section poses a much higher risk of complications.  The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study which concludes: “A planned cesarean delivery doubled both the rate of transfer to the neonatal inten- sive care unit and the risk for pulmonary disorders, compared with a planned vaginal delivery.”  How is this safer for the baby?  And the higher c-section rate hasn’t created a drop in infant mortality rates, either.

All in all, this article really struck a nerve for me.  Women should be provided the whole story in articles such as these.  Yes, vaginal birth is difficult!  There’s no argument from me here.  But Cesarean delivery has its own difficulties, and I personally think the risks outweigh the benefits unless there is a good reason behind the choice.  I’ll do a post sometime in the near future about the acceptable medical reasons for cesarean section, but it’s going to require a lot of research so it gets its own post.  For now, remember that you are a woman, and you are strong, and your vagina was built for having babies.  Don’t forget it.  And before you go to the hospital, for vaginal or cesarean birth, do your research on c-section.  Educate yourself about the risks, and good reasons a doctor can give you for a c-section.  Sadly, some doctors will recommend a c-section to a laboring mother simply because they’re going to be late to dinner.  They’ll give you an explanation which sounds reasonable, but if you’ve educated yourself you’ll be able to tell if there really is a problem or not.  I hope this is helpful to women who are on the fence.  It’s a very tough decision, and has a lot of implications.  I hope that I can prevent at least a couple women from making a decision they may regret.

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Rants


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