Breastfeeding is cool. It just is. I’m a big fan. When I was pregnant with our first baby, it was Mister Husband who first broached the idea of me breastfeeding. I didn’t have a strong opinion on it one way or the other. Like a lot of people, it has to be pointed out. So I decided I would “give it a go” and do it for the duration of my maternity leave at least. A lot of things about pregnancy, birth and motherhood surprised me. I surprised me.
I hit the three month mark, then it was six months, soon after that the first year was celebrated and we were still going strong. One of the things I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would enjoy breastfeeding. I’m quite territorial when it comes to my newborn babies. I’m not a fan of everybody having “a hold” of them in the hospital. They stay with me, thank you very much. For me breastfeeding was a sort of extension of that. I learned the basics, like the proper latch, not to bother timing feeds, to always feed on demand, and as time went on, I learned a little bit more. Hardly a day went by in the early days where I didn’t learn something either of casual interest or of scientific value. The human body never ceases to amaze me. I love how it prepares to nourish from the moment of conception. Your body is putting down the groundwork to feed your baby before you even know you’re pregnant. Now that’s cool! I thought I’d share some of my other favourite cool things about breastfeeding. (Not in order)
o It’s free and it’s perfectly tailor made by me for my baby. There is never a need to worry about whether he’s “getting enough.” Screecher Creature No. 1 was more or less exclusively breastfed for 13 months. Ok, so there was the odd toilet roll insert thrown in for variety, maybe the corner of the phone book and no newspaper was safe while he was around, but breast milk was what mostly sustained him.
o Anyone from a farming background? Then you’ll be familiar with “beestings.” Us humans produce beestings too, except sophisticated bunch that we are, someone decided to call it colostrum. This “liquid gold” is my baby’s first food. My milk won’t actually come in for 3 to 5 days after birth but colostrum is all my baby needs till then. His little tummy is no bigger than a marble anyway and this is the perfect first food for him. Colostrum is a natural laxative and helps flush all that meconium out of my baby’s body too!
o Breast milk is always on tap and at the perfect temperature. No getting up in the middle of the night and stumbling around in the dark, going to the kitchen and slicing my foot open on a piece of Lego. I just lift Screecher Creature No. 4 from his bed, climb back into mine and we’re both happy out.
o Have baby, will travel. Got to pop out at the last minute? No bother, just fire a nappy into my bag and head off to do the errand.
o Roaring, screaming crying baby? I’ve always plugged mine in for instant peace and quiet. I know a couple of momma’s who have fed their baby during a vaccination. Not a peep out of them. The baby’s I mean. The momma’s always cringed!
o When Screecher Creature No. 4 was very wee and crying to be fed, I got stressed if I was tending to the others and couldn’t get to him immediately. But as soon as I latched him on, a sense of peace and calm would wash over me. It still does. This is because endorphins and oxytocin, the feel good hormones are released during breastfeeding. You are statistically less likely to suffer from Post Natal Depression if you breastfeed. We all know that didn’t happen to me. Twice. But who knows how bad it could have been had I not been breastfeeding. And two out of four ain’t bad!
o Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear infections. This is due to the sucking action assisting the opening of the Eustachian tube – where all that yucky fluid tends to become lodged (glue ear), thus reducing middle ear infections.
o During hot weather (aye, even in Ireland!) or on holidays in a hot climate, my breast milk will change in consistency, ensuring that my baby will never go thirsty. Another interesting fact in this area. If my baby is too warm or chilly, my breast will change in temperature to keep him comfortable.
o Breast milk changes from feed to feed. And during feed to feed.
o Breast milk is the perfect cure for sticky eye.
o I can eat what I like when breastfeeding and still lose weight.
o My milk carries the taste of my last meal so when my baby gets his chops around solid food, he is more likely to have a broader palate.
o If I’ve got a cold coming on, my body will produce antibodies which will be passed on to my baby through my milk, providing a “home made” antibiotic to fight off the bug.
o Here come the science bits. My breast milk has a high lactase level which is important for the development of my baby’s brain. Cow’s milk has high protein levels because the calf needs to physically grow quickly in order to keep up with his mother. The milk of a whale has a high fat content as the calf needs to build up a thick layer of blubber very quickly.
o Listen to this one! A donkey’s milk is closest to human milk in comparison when it comes to composition. How mad is that?? So why then, is cow’s milk so popular with us humans? Cinch. They’re easy to herd and produce large volumes of milk.
o Another little bit of science. Research shows that breastfeeding can protect a mother from certain female cancers. In the case of breast cancer, the risk decreases by 4.3% for every 12 months of breast feeding. So if you nurse more than one child for the same length of time, or longer, the percentage just gets higher. (La Leche League)
o Breast feeding can be used as a method of contraception. And before you ask, no, I wouldn’t trust it either. But if my baby is under 6 months of age, still exclusively breastfed, (this means no dummies, no bottles, even of expressed breast milk) and not going for more than 4 hours during the day and 6 hours at night between feeds, I have a 98% chance of not falling pregnant. This, by the way, is called LAM – Lactational Amenorrhea. No, I can’t pronounce it either but isn’t it amazing what the body gets up to in order to ensure survival of the fittest.
o In keeping with the above point, my baby, through nursing, controls the release of the hormones that are necessary to kick start ovulation. Back in the hunter/gatherer days, a woman would have breastfed her baby for up to three years. When her cycle returned, she would become pregnant again. So it could be another three years before her cycle starts up again. These women would have had extended periods of LAM. Scientists believe that through not having the modern day mood swings and PMS due to the absence of these menstrual hormones, it possibly leaves the female reproductive organs less vulnerable to ovarian, endometrial and breast cancer. Doubly cool, eh?
o And my favourite! I know you’ve heard of the breast stroke, but do you know about the breast crawl? A newborn baby is at his most alert for about 40 minutes in the first hour of his life. His arms flail, he locks eyes with his mother, and his sense of smell is heightened. This is all part of the bonding process. But back to the flailing arms and keen sense of smell. A newborn can smell his mother’s breast and will, literally, crawl to his mother’s nipple in search of food. That’s what the flailing of the arms is all about; the propelling action helps the baby arrive at his destination.
At the end of the day folks, we’re all animals. I realise it’s not always as simplistic as just listening to your body and it will tell you what to do. Sometimes a little help is needed, no matter how unexpected the stumbling block. But you could do a lot worse. A lot worse indeed.