In honour of World Breastfeeding Week 2019 which began last week Thursday and ends today, I am finally making a comeback 🙈. Yes, it’s been so long. Greatest apologies! There’s number 2 now 😃 and several other changes I had to adjust to but hopefully, I won’t abandon my Mummy stories anymore. Once you’ve opened this, I know I’m already forgiven for not writing in forever so thanks for forgiving me!
So exclusive breastfeeding! When I was pregnant with my first, I sincerely hadn’t thought much about what he’ll eat until a friend who gave birth a few months before I did encouraged me to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months when he arrives. I read more about it and all sounded well and nice so I was in for it!
What did I find out when I read more?
- Breast milk contains antibodies which protect the baby from common illnesses.
- Breastfeeding enables mum and baby to have a stronger bond due to the physical closeness, eye-to-eye contact and skin-to-skin touching. This bond is the beginning of creating a sense of security in the child.
- Breastfeeding helps the uterus contract so it helps in reducing your “mummy tummy”.
- Breast milk contains exactly the amount of nutrients that your baby needs to grow healthy and strong. One very clear sign of this is around age 4 months in an exclusively breastfed baby, you will notice that the baby poops less often. In fact some can go as much as a week without pooping. Why? There is no “waste” for the baby to bring out! Every single bit of nutrient in there is being used.
- You can’t overfeed a breastfed baby. Exclusive breastfeeding is usually done on demand, that is, when the baby needs to eat so the baby is hardly ever overfed or underfed.
- Breastfeeding is free! Who doesn’t like free stuff?
With these benefits in mind, I was poised to try out breastfeeding exclusively. I’m happy to say I was able to breastfeed both of them exclusively for 6 months shy of a few days. But my goodness! It was CHALLENGING! When my friend was encouraging me, she mentioned that people will say all sort of things but I must say I wasn’t prepared for the kind of “against” that I was met with for choosing to feed my own baby with my own breast milk.
I sent out a survey some time last year and I realised I wasn’t alone in these challenges. I will attempt to address these challenges in this post and look to your comments to add on where I missed.
Before I go ahead, I will like to say here that this post is in no way demonizing formula feeding. I know for some people, exclusive breastfeeding can’t work for them. My post is basically to encourage other mothers who are contemplating exclusive breastfeeding that it is very possible and not as impossible as society makes it seem.
So what are the most common challenges when attempting to breastfeed exclusively as a mother in Ghana?
1. Family, friends and other people around me do not support exclusive breastfeeding.
This for me is the most challenging! For most of us, our mothers, aunties etc grew up in an era where there was barely any talk about exclusive breastfeeding so it’s hard for them to adjust to this whole idea of exclusive breastfeeding. Once you have made up your mind to do this, you must be ready to stand up for what you are doing, be dedicated to it and do it really well. If you feel you need to convince those around you about it, talk to them about the benefits. Otherwise, stand firm, keep your head up and close your ears to what others say. After all, it’s always said that whatever you do, others will talk.
2. Breast milk will never be enough
Yes, people say this very often. Well, from what I have read and from experience, my babies were able to get full on breast milk. Breast milk is produced according to what your baby demands so the more you feed, the more you will produce. In the first 6 weeks, it is advisable to feed your baby averagely every two hours. This helps your body adjust to how much of breast milk your baby will need. There will be some feeds that will be brief but still make an attempt at it. Once your body adjusts to your baby’s demands, you will notice that your breasts will fill up around the time your baby is hungry and your baby will simply need to suckle and belch loudly to say “thank you, Mummy, that was a good meal!”
3. What do I do when going back to work?
Resuming work after 3 months of maternity leave? Yes, you can leave enough breast milk for your little angel. The trick is to start pumping some milk to store in the freezer ahead of time. Remember in the first 6 weeks, we are trying to get our body used to baby’s demands so it’s advisable not to start the storage then. However, around when Baby is 2 months, begin to pump breast milk, store it in breast milk storage bags and keep in a deep freezer. Breast milk in a deep freezer can last up to 4-6 months. Personally, I preferred to pump breast milk first thing in the morning because that is when my breast is most filled up with a lot left over for Baby. If you are able to store up about a bag a day for a month prior to resuming work, that’s about 30 bags in the freezer!
Next, keep pumping when you get back to the office. My boss was pretty understanding of this need so I was allowed to use one of the rooms in the office to pump some milk. I will usually pump twice a day, pumping two bags each time. Now, when you get home, your baby will be excited to see you and would want to rush for some breast milk, but hold on to that and get a bag or two before feeding Baby. So with your five bags from this, one of the bags in the freezer and one bag from your early morning pump, you have about 7 bags which is usually enough for your baby.
I must say this takes a lot of discipline and it’s at this point that I nearly gave up. Like seriously, two babies and hundreds of pumping sessions later, I still would not call pumping breast milk an activity I enjoy. I only encouraged myself with the fact that it’s not about me but about giving the best to my baby. Nothing good comes easy!
Unfortunately, I can’t talk much about those who can’t get a private space to pump breast milk at work because I haven’t lived it. If I faced this, I would try to find as many options as I can. If nothing works, well, congratulate yourself for breastfeeding exclusively for 3 months. It’s better than not trying it out at all!
4. My baby struggles/struggled with breastfeeding properly
Yes, some babies have difficulty with either latching or suckling. My second born had this challenge during his first week. I had to top up with formula on the third and fourth day or so. However, with my determination to breastfeed exclusively, I read more on what I could do and followed a suggestion online that said to pump down some milk and top up with that instead. I tried it and it worked! I did that for a day or two and afterwards, he didn’t need a top up any more. Without my determination, I may have concluded so early in his life that exclusive breastfeeding won’t work out. I encourage you to do same if you are determined to breastfeed exclusively.
5. My breast milk supply dropped
Stress, change in diet, change in routine (example returning to work) can actually affect your supply of breast milk. It did happen to me with my first in our last week of exclusive breastfeeding so I just decided to start him on solids anyway because we had come so close. It happened again with my second but this time during the last two weeks. This young man however decided he’ll wait for my milk. He literally refused to take the formula milk. Luckily, my supply was restored so we got back on track. Personally, formula milk is better than no milk so if you really do not have enough supply, it’s good reason to suspend exclusive breastfeeding. However, I will encourage you to try giving Baby maybe one feed of formula as your body attempts to restore the supply and then keep trying. Bottom line, if this is what you want to do, do not give up too easily. Keep trying till you know for sure that there’s nothing more to do than just end there. I have observed some baby shops marketing foods that can help keep up breast milk supply. I haven’t tried any of them before so I cannot speak to it. If you have, do let us know what you think about it in the comments below.
6. Exclusive breastfeeding is stressful
Yes, it is. But so is preparing for an exam, working, cleaning etc. There are a lot of stuff that are stressful but we keep at it because we know there is a reward at the end. This is how I encouraged myself any time I felt stressed. Going out with your baby? You will almost always need to wear a dress or shirt that has a relatively low neck or buttons/a zip in front so you can conveniently breastfeed. Got an event to attend but suddenly realise that you do not have enough breast milk stored up? You either have to cancel your event or take your baby along. However, if you are stressed to the point that your health is affected, give yourself a clap for how far you have come and put a hold to it.
7. My baby was not gaining enough weight
Usually, this shouldn’t be the case. Since breastfeeding is done on demand and your body produces exactly what your baby needs, usually, your baby should be gaining enough as expected considering his birth weight and age. Remember that every baby has their own growth curve so don’t expect your baby to gain as much weight as your friend’s. If you really have weight gain issues, it’s advisable to visit a paediatrician who will advice how best to go about feeding.
8. Exclusively breastfed babies are more difficult to introduce to solids
This, I can boldly say is a myth. Some babies naturally take to solids easily. This was my first. Others are more picky. This is my second. So yes, there is no correlation there.
Exclusive breastfeeding like anything else with pregnancy and child raising is both beautiful and challenging. Just as you don’t give up on your pregnancy or your don’t give up on raising your child, encourage yourself not to give up with exclusive breastfeeding either. It’s not easy but it’s surely worth it. Take it one day at a time, one feed at a time. Before you realise, it’s 6 months already!
How was exclusive breastfeeding for you? Did you face some challenges that I haven’t touched on? Do you have any other tips to add? Share with us in the comments below.