How to support a breastfeeding mom

Congratulations, Andreae! It’s a boy!

If you are reading this, I’m officially a mother of two.

If memory serves me from the last time around (a foggy five years ago), I’ll be trapped under a voraciously breastfeeding infant for about sixteen hours a day when this column goes to press.

And that’s okay with me.

Far too few mothers and children in this province benefit from the foodular perfection that is breast milk. According to one recent government report, only about 67% of Newfoundland and Labrador women even attempt to breastfeed, and a majority of those who try give up in a matter of weeks.

That’s an appalling statistic.

Never mind that public health agencies recommend babies be fed breast milk and only breast milk for the first six months of their lives, or that the World Health Organization suggests children be breastfed until the age of two (although globally the average age of weaning is four).

Never mind the fact that breastfeeding is about 800 times more convenient than bottle feeding (all the supplies you need are already up your shirt, and you never have to sterilize bottles in the middle of the night), or that the biggest corporations marketing baby formula are manipulative and evil (if you want to know why I’ve been boycotting Nestlé since 1992, check out www.babymilkaction.org).

Never mind that many babies find dairy-based formula indigestible, or that soy-based formula is full of, well, soy, which is one of the top eight food allergens and which has been charged with some major shag-uppery of children’s sexual development and of adult reproductive health.

No, never mind all that. What truly baffles me is that families out there are saying “no” to free food.
If you’ve read this column at all, you’ll know that I’ll go to great lengths for free food. Generally, this means going the forager route, scaling rocks, braving brambles, and being eaten by blackflies in order to take advantage of the wondrous bounty out there. This time, through the magic of biology, I get to harness the power of free food-makery while sitting in a comfy chair with a sweet darling newborn baby of my own creation all warmly nuzzled into me. At the risk of sounding all goddess-earth-mama, it’s a pretty special feeling, and it makes me sad that so many moms are selling themselves short by not using their milk-making power to its full potential.

There are times, of course, when formula saves babies. If you’re a new mom and you or your baby have Big Medical Issues and your health care provider strongly feels that your baby should be on formula, and you strongly trust your health care provider, then do what you’ve gotta do. Formula was introduced, after all, for use in hospitals to feed babies who would otherwise not survive.

But most of the time women end up going the formula route because they’re not getting the support they need to soldier on through the first days and weeks of a totally weird new experience. Many obstetricians and family doctors don’t know a whole lot about breastfeeding; it’s something that happens after they send the moms and babies home. Many women of the last few generations have never witnessed breastfeeding, and so what once was basic cultural knowledge has been very quickly lost. In the bleary, hormone-drenched days and weeks after your baby is born, when you’re exhausted and everything hurts and your baby just isn’t cooperating with the whole breastfeeding thing, it can be hard to resist something that seems like an instant fix.

In this case, the instant fix means depriving a brand new, totally dependent baby of superstar immunity, perfectly balanced nutrition, and brain-boosting interaction with mom. And, on top of it all, it’s food that actually tastes like food.

Yes, just as dairy milk from different regions tastes different because of what the cows are fed, breastmilk varies in flavour depending on what the mother in question is eating. This means that a baby can become acquainted with the nuances of garlic or chocolate or broccoli or smoked salmon or olives before he or she ever tastes rice cereal. I’m not sure what the studies say, but many moms who breastfeed are pleased to find that their babies grow into adventurous little eaters (at least until they learn that the table is a great place for a power struggle).

Given the state of the world’s wretched food supply, wouldn’t we all do well to raise children who actually care about food and taste, and who have a solid nutritional background behind them? Perhaps, if anyone can save us from the agri-business hell of tomorrow, it’s the newborn babies who are trying to nose their way up their mothers’ shirts today. They know what’s good for them.

How to support a breastfeeding mom

• Do not stare at her boobs, even if her nipples are the size of saucers, which they may well be.

• Offer to get her a glass of water, because breastfeeding makes one really thirsty, or a snack, because breastfeeding makes one really hungry.

• If you’re in public and someone suggests that the breastfeeding be moved to the washroom, ask, “Do you eat your lunch in there?”

• If she is eating a sandwich while breastfeeding and some alfalfa sprouts should end up in the baby’s ear, point this fact out discretely. If you are very close friends, feel free to remove the sprouts.

• If she is having trouble getting the hang of things and is freaking out, get on the computer and go to www.drjacknewman.com. There are many, many breasts there, but try to remain focused. They’re for the babies.

• If she’s looking for a gang of breastfeeding pals, suggest she join La Leche League; they’re an international organization all about the promotion of breastfeeding, and there’s a group in St. John’s. You can find them on Facebook.

• If you are the partner of a breastfeeding mom, be patient with the process and encourage a relaxed vibe. Just as a watched pot will never boil, and just as a startled soufflé will collapse, so will an irritated baby refuse to nurse. Kitchens and nurseries are no places for negativity. Indigestion and crookedness will result.

Send your questions, comments, and up-shirt suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

17 comments

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Dr. Andrew Lang

17 December 2009

  1. rachel · December 17, 2009

    great piece andreae!

  2. jenna · December 17, 2009

    excellent dreae!

  3. Janet · December 17, 2009

    Great article. I will share with all of my health colleagues. keep up the excellent articles.