We all have expectations about breastfeeding. We may not know that we do, indeed we may think that we do not, but they are there. If we did not have expectations we could never be disappointed. Our breastfeeding expectations may be that it is, or should be like formula feeding, if that is all we know. Or it may be that it is normal and natural if we have seen it many times before. Few people brought up in this country have an untainted view; it is hard to imagine anyone being exposed to open, unrestricted breastfeeding in our culture, and seeing it as the norm. Those couples I speak to who have been brought up in other cultures find it hard to believe that we have a problem with breastfeeding when they have seen it working well. Even so they may experience the problems that come with being isolated in a society that does not support a mother breastfeeding. The very reason why they could not see how breastfeeding could be difficult may be that they did not realize how supportive their culture was, and how important that support is to successful breastfeeding. When that support is absent, parents are without the knowledge they need from experienced people who know about managing breastfeeding well. If they experience problems themselves the advice they receive may not be compatible with continuing breastfeeding and they may not know why it has failed.

The practice of giving ‘supplementary’ feeds to newborns to ‘increase their weight gain’ is a good case in point. First of all it suggests that the mother cannot make enough milk when she is new to breastfeeding. Then it suggests that her baby should be gaining more weight than it is. Finally the practice undermines the mother’s milk supply just as she starts out, and she will end up not making enough if she continues to give formula.

You may not know that a normal breastfed baby’s stool is bright yellow and runny. Breastfed babies absorb almost everything in their mother’s milk, the yellow colouring comes from the bile used in the process of digestion, there is not much left to be passed in a motion. Some people worry that their baby is ill if they do not know that this is normal. Also, some breastfed babies only dirty a nappy every few days, others at every feed.

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