THE REALITY OF BREASTFEEDING

 

CLOCKS

 

There is no place for timing in a full-term healthy breastfed baby’s feeding. Many of the problems experienced by breastfeeding couples stem from eagerness to regulate. The fashion for this is dying out but there remains a fear of overindulgence if a baby’s’ needs are met consistently. In fact the production of the milk relies on the baby taking what it needs. The system is adaptable enough to cater for each baby’s preferences producing the amount, type and consistency at different times of the day and throughout each feed. It is also flexible enough to meet a baby’s increasing demands as it grows or when it is unwell within a matter of hours, given adequate access to the breast. Most babies do, however, develop a pattern of their own. This may take several weeks to establish. It will also change every few weeks as the baby grows and needs to stimulate the breast further to increase production. It also changes if baby or mother are ill.

We have been led to believe that babies feed at regular intervals. For example every 2 or 3 hours. They may not any more than adults do. Since they have smaller stomachs they can be expected to eat a lot more frequently than adults eat. Babies, also like adults, vary enormously in the length of time they are prepared to go without food. Mothers who do not wish to feed their babies in public find it useful to learn this pattern in order to organise activities around it. Some babies are predictable in this way, but a lot aren’t. If you have one that isn’t, I include some suggestions of how to deal with the situation in which you find yourself and still have a life (see Discreet Nursing p.26).

The difference in feeding times between normal babies is illustrated beautifully by two of my children who were of a similar weight at birth and put on about the same amount each week. The first of my daughters fed for an hour every two hours, the other fed for one and a half minutes every hour and a half (on one side only per feed). This took me by surprise after the first one! It shows how different two babies can be, even in the same family and with the same parents. The breasts adjust to the different feeding patterns of each baby. This second baby was born during a hot summer and began nursing on two breasts each feed many months later. I also fed her on one side during the day and the other at night because it was convenient to me to use my right hand for other things while feeding in the day - and nurse on the left side.

Fortunately it is no longer fashionable to expect babies to go for four hours between feeds. Some people do still remember this as a figure to aim for however, and to them I would say that in the fourteen years I have been dealing with mothers and babies I recall only two babies that have fed regularly every four hours by choice. There is nothing to be gained by trying to get a baby to feed less frequently just for the sake of it. If we want our children healthier and breastfed, then we need to make the information available about what is normal in breastfeeding, so parents know what to expect. At present some mothers are choosing to formula feed because they do not want to feed their babies as frequently as they see breastfeeding needing to be done. This is only a problem if it cramps the mother’s lifestyle, and I would love to see it become more acceptable for women to nurse their babies wherever they were, and not formula feed because they feel it is more convenient. Physically it is easier to breastfeed; there is no preparation needed, no washing of bottles and teats, no need to buy formula. So the pressure against breastfeeding must be enormous for women to voluntarily take on this burden. If we could change our perspective on the difficulty and undesirability of breastfeeding, it would seem the easier option and women would choose to do it.

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CATHERINE HOLLAND
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