THE REALITY OF BREASTFEEDING

LET DOWN

 

The let down is the expression given to the moment after the message from the baby latching onto the breast has been relayed to the brain, the hormone has been released, and the breast reacts by expressing the milk forcefully from the milk sacs through the ducts and out into the baby’s mouth. This sensation is usually felt by the mother. Usually it is a tingling sensation. Sometimes it is a burning feeling, and it can be painfully strong. Throughout the duration of breastfeeding the feeling usually lessens, and some women never feel it. It can be an indicator of whether the baby is getting enough to eat. If the baby is unhappy, constantly feeding and dissatisfied and the mother does not feel any letting down, the baby may not be getting enough hind milk to feel full and grow well.

When the baby first takes the breast, he munches a few times to tell the mother’s breast that he wants to receive her milk. Then he waits, taking the foremilk that is already present in the ducts. The breast then begins to squirt hindmilk into the baby’s mouth after a little while. The normal time interval varies from half a minute to several minutes. It also varies between women, in the same woman at different times and with different babies, if the mother is relaxed, happy with breastfeeding, cold, tense or frightened. I have recently noticed that it is affected by the mothers’ relatives anxiety about the baby getting enough milk to thrive … a self - fulfilling prophecy.

Failure to let down adequately is temporary. Sometimes women worry that their milk has dried up, when it appears not to let down. This is a biological response to stress as the frightened mother will stop lactating and move to a safer spot to nurse her young. All over the world women are breastfeeding while they labour or in troubled circumstances, perhaps as refugees. The last thing on their mind is whether they will be able to produce milk. Since they always have, they take it for granted. There was a report in a breastfeeding newsletter by a western mother who was sheltering in an air raid shelter during troubles in Israel. She was nursing her baby while wondering whether a bomb would drop on them all … . It put everything into perspective for me, reading her account and realizing what conditions a woman must be able to survive, and keep breastfeeding through.

The effect of breastfeeding also calms a mother and enables her to be protective of her children under threatening circumstances.

 

During a feed there may be several intervals where the baby sucks, waits, drinks, and sucks and waits again. This is the way that the breast reacts to and produces what the baby needs in each feed. People have a tendency to worry about the fact that the baby does not feed at the same rate throughout a feed and that sometimes it stops and looks around (perhaps while waiting for the let down). Babies do not have the same urgency or fears that they will be underfed if they don’t take their milk in a certain time. There is all the time in the world and that is the way it is supposed to work. Again the comparison with bottle feeding is unfortunate. The person holding the bottle is in control, not the baby. While the bottle is tipped up the baby has to swallow or choke. If the person with the bottle is responsive to the baby, they will find that the baby likes to stop for little breaks in its feed too. When a calf feeds from its mother the same process of asking and waiting exists. The young being responsible for the type and amount of milk they take.

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CATHERINE HOLLAND
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