THE REALITY OF BREASTFEEDING

 

BIRTH EXPERIENCE

 

The way a woman gives birth makes a big difference to her experience of initiating breastfeeding. If the birth is straightforward, mother and baby will be alert and responsive to one another, and this is the ideal time to learn about breastfeeding together. The feeling of elation after birth seems to be referred to little, though I have experienced it myself and have friends who have too. I spoke to the husband of one friend after a home birth and he said “She’s in her usual state of postnatal euphoria”. This contrasts with many women’s experience of birth and explains why breastfeeding sometimes does not get off to a good start. Do not despair. If your birth is not everything you had hoped for you may find that breastfeeding gives you great satisfaction and restores your self confidence. The same is true of mothers who failed to breastfeed in the way that they would have liked to and yet go on to succeed with subsequent children. There is a spin off effect that helps to make up for the time before and improves your relationship with the previous child. Second- or subsequent-time mothers, who have bottle fed the first time, feel like first-time mothers when it comes to breastfeeding and may find that everyone expects them to know what they are doing. You may have to ask for help. Obviously if the mother is very tired after the birth she may just wish to sleep. Nature prepares the baby for this; he has enough fat stored to keep him going for several days while his mother recovers. During this time it is helpful if you can avoid giving the baby bottles of formula. This is something that fathers can explain if their partners are feeling weak; they can also put the baby to the mother’s breast while she rests. The baby may be equally sleepy and uninterested in feeding until the mother feels stronger anyhow. Being born is tiring for the baby too. A new baby only needs a little breast milk each time he suckles to keep him going until both he and his mother have recovered. If the mother has had drugs during delivery this can make an enormous difference to the responsiveness of the baby. The effect may take a week to wear off. If the baby is born by Caesarean section, breastfeeding is still possible, though the mother will need physical assistance. I cover Caesarean section in Special Circumstances p.51.

Women who have home births find breastfeeding easier to initiate. They have privacy, only a few chosen people around and their familiar surroundings. Those women who feel safer giving birth in hospital sometimes choose to go home early to breastfeed in peace. For a first baby, some women like to be in hospital where they feel more help is at hand. Whatever your situation, keep asking until you get the help you need and don’t feel that all is lost if you do not get off to the ideal start you had planned. You have about 4 weeks to play with while you and your baby learn about each other, and during this time you may have to make several attempts at establishing breastfeeding, before you are up and running.

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CATHERINE HOLLAND
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