What I wish I knew about nursing before becoming a mother.
Prep for first-time mums is always overwhelming. Doing up the nursery, buying way too many newborn diapers and onesies, watching birthing videos (bad idea, by the way), deciding on a confinement nanny etc… But one thing they often overlook is breastfeeding.
New mummies are either told that breastfed babies are undernourished, or that breastfeeding will come naturally to them. That advice sure didn’t help me when I was struggling to nurse my baby! So instead, here are the top six things new mummies should know about breastfeeding.
1. You will need support
Don’t assume that nursing your baby is easy just because women have been doing it for centuries. A 2013 US study surveyed 418 first-time mothers and found that 92 per cent of them faced difficulties in breastfeeding by the third day.
Antenatal classes aside, there will be a lactation consultant in the hospital who can help with any problems you are facing before you and your baby are discharged. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or try out the various cradle, cross-over and football positions. Outside the hospital, approach Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (Tel: 6339-3558) for help or emotional support, especially you have one of ‘em anti-breastfeeding camper elders.
2. Breastfeeding hurts
Images of mummies breastfeeding their babies always seem so serene. But newborns get hangry (hungry and angry) too, and it is always guaranteed to be painful. Other than keeping a record and setting feeding schedule alarms, watch for the hungry signs like sticking out his tongue or puckering his lips as if to suck – because by the time your baby cries, he is already hangry.
That’s not all. The 2013 National Breastfeeding Survey in Singapore showed that 51 per cent of first-time mothers faced problems such as engorgement, infection (mastitis) and cracked or sore nipples at two months postpartum. Don’t suffer in silence if you encounter these difficulties – talk to your lactation consultant, put nipple cream to ease the soreness, and always pump until your breasts are empty.
3. Try to stay calm
The more anxious you are, the worse it gets. Instead, go into a quiet, cool room (air-conditioning is a godsend despite what your confinement lady says), settle into a comfortable position, and gently massage your breasts before trying to latch Baby on. Make things easier for yourself too, such as using a breastfeeding pillow for easier feeding, wearing nursing tops and bras instead of struggling with tight clothes, and having a cover on so that you won’t be as conscious when nursing in public.
4. There is no need to supplement breast milk with water
All nursing mummies will have well-meaning elders advise them to feed water to their newborns to prevent dehydration. Seemingly innocuous, this advice is actually a big no-no. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that healthy babies do not need extra water. Breast milk and/or formula provides sufficient fluids during their first six months.
What’s scary: Feeding water to newborns can actually cause water intoxication or throw off their salt balance in the bloodstream, warns Dr Diana Lin, an associate consultant from the Children’s Emergency department at National University Hospital. Babies usually get just the right amount of sodium and other electrolytes from milk, so too much water might cause their levels to dip – and this can cause seizures and even a coma.
5. Breastfeeding can prolong your baby’s jaundice
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in US, jaundice (or yellowing of the skin and eyes) occurs when “a normal substance, bilirubin, builds up in the newborn’s bloodstream faster than the liver can break it down and excrete it through the baby’s stool”.
Normal (physiologic) jaundice affects nearly all newborns and is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups like the Chinese. Then, there are the two types of jaundice associated with nursing – breastfeeding jaundice and breast milk jaundice. The former usually occurs in the first week, when there is not enough milk produced or when the newborn drinks insufficiently. Breast milk jaundice can be caused by substances in the nursing mum’s milk that reduces the baby’s liver ability to cope with bilirubin, and happens after the first week. CDC stats show that breastfeeding jaundice is more common, affecting one in 10 babies, while breast milk jaundice occurs in about one in 200 babies. In both cases, you can continue to breastfeed your baby.
As an advocate of “breast is best”, I enforced a strict no-formula policy. So when my second child had breastfeeding and breast milk jaundice, I continued pumping and delivered packs of breast milk for the nurses to feed my baby during her hospitalisation for phototherapy.
6. You are not a bad mother if you can’t (or don’t) breastfeed
I can’t emphasise this point enough: If you can’t or don’t breastfeed your baby, it doesn’t make you a bad mother. I know how it feels, because I experienced an immense sense of guilt when my milk supply diminished after an overseas work trip and my 9-month-old refused my boobs. Someone told me that I shouldn’t feel like I failed as a mum, because there will be plenty of time for that when my kids grow into teenagers!