Conquering the challenges of breastfeeding
If such an elixir exists in which its first quaff can alter the course of human life, surely it is breast milk: One swallow jumpstarts antibodies that protect newborns from germs, food allergies and jaundice.
During the first six months of life, the exclusive consumption of breast milk meets every nutritional need an infant has. Its antibacterial properties stave off respiratory infections and diarrhea. Its tranquilizing components may mollify tantrums as babies grow into toddlers. It may quicken speech development and lead to superior hand-to-eye coordination.
As children stop nursing, the benefits linger: Children who were breastfed tend to have fewer cavities and need for orthodontia; in adults, they show a pattern of having higher IQs, lower obesity rates and lower chances of diabetes and certain cancers. Study after study has shown that breastfeeding has tremendous benefits, and the World Health Organization recommends that every baby should breastfeed for at least six months and continue for up to and even past 24 months.
For something that would seem so natural a process, the mechanics can be exceedingly difficult, especially for new mothers. Ivy Makelin was one of those mothers.
Though determined to breastfeed, she “was in tears and ready to give up” when, by her fifth day, her son still had not latched on, and frequent unsuccessful attempts led to excruciatingly painful blistering. Meanwhile, by day three, her son became jaundiced as a result of not eating enough.
Enter La Leche League.
The breastfeeding advocacy group explained to Makelin on the phone how to get her baby to open his mouth wider and latch deeper. “Ninety percent of the time when you have sore nipples, it’s because the baby’s not latching properly,” explains Makelin, now a La Leche League leader who runs the Chinese language meetings every month.
According to Makelin, the trick is to get the baby to open their mouth wide, like a yawn, and the best way of doing this is to let the baby latch onto the breast naturally: The mother should hold her baby, bare-breasted, gently but firmly at the rump and shoulders. Start with the baby upright high up on the chest – heart to heart. Allow the baby to root around and feel for the nipple with his or her cheeks. Eventually the baby will feel the breast, smell the nipple, open the mouth wide and latch on deeply.
Babies need to feed anywhere from 8-12 times in a 24-hour period, but many mothers only nurse five or six times. This leads some mothers to believe their milk supply is insufficient. However, Makelin warns that “once you start to add formula, it’s a vicious cycle.” The amount of milk the mother’s body produces decreases as the amount of formula increases, until the baby is unintentionally weaned from the breast. “If you start with one bottle one day, then your baby’s not taking that amount of milk from your breasts.”
When it comes to breastfeeding, facts are often misconstrued. Judy Chan, a Hong Kong mother of two, was told that “after six months, the quality of breast milk goes down” – untrue.
“Most formulas are made from cow’s milk,” Makelin clarifies. “Cow’s milk is for baby cows that basically have to stand up when they’re born and run around … but breast milk promotes brain development, which is what humans need.”
If, perhaps, one technique can alter the breastfeeding experience from first nursing, it’s confidence. Positive reinforcement from husbands and family can go a long way, says Makelin. “A kind word [can give way to]those happy, confident feelings that help keep the milk supply high.”
La Leche League
Meets at The Yurt
Beijing United Family Hospital (Lido area)
2 Jiangtai Lu
8559 1237 or 8564 6764
Fourth Friday of every month at 1pm. www.llli.org/Beijing.html
Second Saturday of every month at 10.30am. www.muruhui.org