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Early on in my pregnancy, when my doula asked me whether I was planning to breastfeed, I was baffled by this question. Being raised in Russia, I did not understand what was being asked. I am having a baby, the baby needs to be nourished, that’s what the breasts are for, hence – yes, of course I would be breastfeeding.

After reading more literature regarding postpartum, I realized that in North America formula is for some reason considered a viable alternative to breastfeeding (and not just an emergency measure), and breast- versus formula-feeding is a hot political topic. Leaving out serious medical conditions (of which there are very few) that would prevent a woman from breastfeeding, most alleged benefits of formula-feeding presented in literature were “being able to tell how much your baby consumes” and “convenience for the woman”. The first sounds like an argument from the same way of reasoning as that encouraging incessant weighing of the woman during pregnancy, as if weight is the main gauge of the baby’s or the mother’s health. This information can be obtained from the number of wet and poopy diapers put forth by the baby. The second one never made sense to me: how can you weigh your baby’s health and optimal nutrition which are extremely important to the baby’s well-being against such a petty thing as convenience? Pregnancy is not exactly a convenient affair, yet we understand and bear the limitations placed on the woman to ensure the health of the offspring. Labour is not a very pleasant or convenient experience either, yet we go through it and endure needed interventions for the sake of a healthy baby. Now that the baby is born, suddenly our convenience takes precedence and their nutrition is a secondary consideration?

I will leave out the discussion of the benefits of breast milk, the inferiority of the formula, and the unethical practices of formula-producing corporations such as Nestle – enough information sources exhaustively cover these facts. I will also omit detailed descriptions of common issues such as engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and tongue-tie, as they are described in detail in “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” which I highly recommend to have on hand to look up this information if and when it becomes necessary. I will cover a few tips to which I arrived through my experience and found helpful.

Tongue tie is a condition that can interfere with breastfeeding. A baby with a tongue tie has a hard time latching on and effectively getting milk. It is easily fixable with a simple procedure, but getting a doctor to perform it might prove a challenge. I cover it in Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding. There are many opinions regarding alcohol consumption while breastfeeding – my research and references to many sources are covered in Alcohol and Breastfeeding.

Correct latch is extremely important in breastfeeding, to ensure that mother’s nipples do not get sore, and that the baby can effectively draw milk from the breast. A number of educational videos are available at the Dr. Jack Newman’s site, showing babies from several hours old to several days old latching on. They also illustrate finger feeding, cup feeding, using a lactation aid, and a tongue tie release.

If you find yourself having a plugged milk duct or mastitis, look into echinacea as soon as possible: used in the first 24 hours it might prevent the infection (see “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” for detailed instructions). After that, if infection is developing, antibiotics might be necessary. Dr. Jack Newman recommends taking soy lecithin as a preventative measure against plugged ducts: “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk, by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.  It is safe, inexpensive, and seems to work in some cases.  The dose is 1200 mg four times a day.”

Useful aids for breastfeeding include:

  1. Nursing bras (I am quite happy with Bravado ones) of which you will need several, since at least one of them is going to be in the wash at any given time.
  2. Breastfeeding pads – I have tried the organic cotton ones, and although they are environmentally friendly and all, they turned out to be extremely ineffective as they (a) tend to shift around, and (b) are soaked with milk in a very short period of time. I found that disposables work much better – they absorb the milk effectively, last longer, and are held in place better. I have settled on the Lansinoh pads. My doula also mentioned Johnson and Johnson as her pads of choice.
  3. Lanolin ointment for nipples, which can be applied after a feeding and does not have to be removed before the next feeding as it is safe for the baby (such as Lansinoh lanolin recommended by La Leche League). In the case of cracked or sore nipples, expressing some breastmilk, applying it to the nipples, letting them air-dry and then applying lanolin can help them heal.
  4. Breastfeeding cushion (such as Boppy) makes it much easier to breastfeed when sitting. Without it, you might need several normal pillows to achieve a comfortable position that does not put a strain on your back and arms. Considering that a baby breastfeeds every two to three hours on average, being comfortable during that time is crucial if you are to be able to perform any other tasks.

Learning to breastfeed lying down is one of the most useful things I have learned. It is easier on the back and arms, and allows the baby to easily drift to sleep after a feeding. During night-time feedings, neither the mother nor the baby has to fully wake up to feed. Combined with co-sleeping, some people find it the most comfortable way to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding in public

When breastfeeding in public, you have rights which include the right to breastfeed in any place where you are allowed to be with your baby, and not being required to cover up. These rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a card you can carry with you to show to those people not educated on the subject that try to infringe on your rights.

Some people say that covering up is a matter of manners. Those people do not understand the issues that might be encountered by large-breasted women for whom it might be hard to fully cover up, by babies that will refuse to breastfeed with a “breastfeeding burka” covering them and separating them from their mother’s face, by babies that have trouble latching on and women not being able to guide them in a latch due to lack of visibility, by babies that pull away if the there is too much milk, and other possible breastfeeding issues. Let these people try eating their dinner under a blanket and see how they enjoy it. Same goes for those suggesting that you feed your baby in a bathroom – let them take their food there.

There are those who say that a woman should pump and bring a bottle to a public place instead of breastfeeding in public. However, a baby being in an unfamiliar place might want the comfort of the mother as well as food, and the bottle will not provide that. Would you rather endure a crying baby than a small amount of boob mostly covered by the baby’s head anyway? There are those who think that a breastfeeding woman should stay home or go out only without the baby. This implies having a second person at home watching the baby (which is rarely possible for those of us who do not have relatives living in the same city), the baby being fed on schedule (as opposed to on-demand), or the woman only being able to go out in no more than 2 hour increments, between feedings. These people can place themselves under a house arrest. Breastfeeding women need to be able to go out and share the world with their children, not be confined to four walls.

Magazine covers and scantily-clad women walking around show a lot more breast and thigh than breastfeeding women ever do, yet no one seems to object much. If the society finds that acceptable, it can survive an occasional reminder of humans being mammals.

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