Friday, 13 November 2015

Controversy Corner: Breast Milk

This article is a Controversy Corner for a reason; writing about breastfeeding and formula seems to be more of hot button topic than ever, and I’m really not sure why. Every mother wants to do what’s best for their child, and that should be the primary concern when feeding your infant.

Full disclaimer: I failed at breastfeeding. I say “failed” because that’s how it felt – the hospital staff, family, and society make you feel that you are not doing a great job at being a mom if you can’t do this “simple” task. My body knew how to make a baby and my baby knows he needs to eat… so why is this not working? I am also not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination. This article is for discussion purposes, because I didn't know about a lot of these options when they might have helped me. Talk to your doctor if something here makes sense to you.

I chose to supplement with formula, and eventually converted entirely for my sanity and my baby’s health. I don’t regret it, because I know I tried everything I could at the time. That doesn’t mean I won’t try again with the next one, and this time I’m armed with even more information: a powerful tool. If you are struggling to produce enough for your baby’s needs and personal belief or religion prevents you from supplementing with formula (even vegan formulations which are available), things might be a little rough as you navigate the options available to you.

Your doctor or mid-wife might suggest a lactation consultant as a first step. Often available to come to your home or bedside, these specialists can assist you with different positions, props, pumping, and other methods that might build a routine that works for you. Lactation consultants can be very expensive. There are free ones, but mine never made it to the hospital the three days I was there. Free ones in your area might require an application based on your socioeconomic status, and if you don't qualify, in Toronto for example, their services can cost 60+ dollars an hour, and they probably won't fix your issue in one session. Coaching could feel awkward at first, but the support of someone that believes in what you’re doing might be nudge you need to push through the harder days. It takes practice and patience, things that are really difficult to regulate with a tired mom and an unpredictable newborn. Successful moms some times dedicate days to focus exclusively on bonding and latching, without visitors (or much time in a shirt.)

Another option is to seek the support of a group of moms. Women who have or are currently breastfeeding get together to discuss biting, mastitis, thrush, engorgement, let down, and all the other tricky topics that come with the territory. It’s not all boob talk, though! My community offers many “caf├ęs,” meetings, and talks for moms to come and chat about anything and have a hot drink. You might find this idea uncomfortable if you are very shy or modest. A cover will help (most ladies wear one), but be prepared for women who are confident in doing it "freely."There may also be women or facilitators that want to help you in a "hands-on" way. If you don't feel comfortable about that, be sure to say so! I very much support finding like-minded ladies with which you can chat for reasons of your own sanity alone, and getting out of the house is a great idea at least a couple days a week. If it makes you feel more relaxed and helps with breastfeeding, all the better.

There are also dozens of products on the market aimed at boosting your supply; such as raspberry leaf teas, milk-thistle or fenugreek capsules, and vitamin enriched “lactation” cookies, available at natural health food stores. They are not quick fixes, so you might have to build up over a week of use to see results. I have known a few women who have had great success with one, or a combination of these products, and some that saw no change at all. These items can be a little harder to find, and not all brand names are reputable or regulated, so you do need to proceed with caution. You might feel more comfortable with a thoroughly researched prescription instead of something homeopathic. In that case, you might ask your doctor if domperidone or something like it could help your with your production. 

If none of the above options seem to improve your success, and your baby’s weight is very low, or is ill, there are services available that can even supply pasteurized human donor milk. That’s right, gone are the days of a wet nurse like in Romeo and Juliet. Hospitals work with suppliers that screen, collect, pasteurize, and bottle breast milk from women who have some to spare (whoever these magical women may be.) It might seem odd at first thought, but before formula, wet nursing was the only other option, and they didn’t even have the technology we have today! If formula is off the table, and there is milk that could otherwise go to waste, why not? I think it’s an amazing idea.

While many people still firmly hold the belief that “breast is best,” and that may very well be true (it's certainly cheaper), the fact remains that the breast is no longer strictly "necessary", and you do not need to feel guilt for feeding your baby highly regulated and nutritious formula. For women who are ill, gay couples raising a child, babies that can’t latch, for whatever reason – these children no longer have to die in developed nations because we have formula. That’s a wonderful thing. Of the 4 children born in to my extended family in the last two years, 3 were at least supplemented with formula for a variety of reasons. They are happy, healthy, smart, and wonderful children! That said; you have the right as a mother to not want to feed your child formula, just as I have a right to feed my son the way I see fit.

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