Virtually all people involved with infant health agree that breast milk is the ideal food for a baby. And they agree that, ideally, breastfeeding is the best food delivery method.
Not every woman can breastfeed, but most can. 97% New Zealand babies start with breastfeeding. At six months, 66% of New Zealand babies are being breastfed. At one year, 37% of babies are getting some breast milk.
Breast milk not only provides complete nutrition – it also protects the baby against infections. Mother's milk changes as the baby your newborn gets older and their nutritional needs change.
Talking about breastfeeding
Breast milk is the best food for a young baby
Breastfeeding has a lot of advantages
If she knows her partner wants her to breastfeed the baby, she’s more likely to try do it
Her partner being supportive and informed about breastfeeding makes breastfeeding easier for her
Before the baby arrives, many couples haven’t talked about breastfeeding. Many men will make assumptions about breastfeeding or overheard her talking to her mum or to friends about it. But if you haven't talked about it directly, then she won't know what you know or think about it. And you won't know what she's thinking about it.
Maybe you figure it’s women’s business – or that it’s her body so it’s up to her. Well … not quite. It is about her, but it is also about the baby. And the dad is in the mix.
If you haven't told her that you think breastfeeding is important and that you want her to do it, then she won't know that's what you want. Many women assume that their partner aren't that keen on them breastfeeding.
How to help her breastfeeding
Her partner can …
Encourage her and appreciate the effort she is putting in
See that she has a good, comfortable place to breastfeed the baby
See that everything she needs is within reach (pillow, cloths)
Make sure she has plenty of water to drink within reach
See that she eats well, herself
Agree that no one smokes anywhere near the baby
These are more ways you can help your partner breastfeed your baby.
When she has trouble
Many women experience breastfeeding becoming difficult and painful when the baby is between 3-8 weeks old. This may come as a surprise if it had been going along fine. Things like sore or cracked nipples or mastitis can makes breastfeeding very painful. She might be thinking that she’s had enough, she can’t do it anymore.
The best thing you can do is to:
Acknowledge how hard it is
Help her find advice and support
Support might be someone she knows who went through the same thing and got past it. There are professionals who specialise in breastfeeding who can help a woman work through it:
Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse
Plunket Line - 0800 933 922
Le Leche League volunteers
lactation consultant – many DHBs employ these
Most women get through this difficult period and come out the other side happy and comfortably breastfeeding again.
When she’s in pain, you might feel like you should put your “I'll fix this” hat on and tell her, "Well, you tried, but maybe it would be better go to formula feeding.” If you suggest going down that route, be aware there is no turning back. A woman’s breasts produce milk in response to the baby sucking it. Her milk production will stop if her breasts are not emptied regularly.
It’s important that you know what's going on for her and that she knows that you are there for her through it all. This might mean simply listening to her.
Breast pumps: milking machines
Breast pumps generally look something like this: a hand held unit that is applied to the nipple. There is a tube that comes from pump that powers it.
Her expressing milk with a breast pump can have some important advantages. It means that breastmilk can be stored and used later. It also means that she isn’t the only one who can feed the baby.
A breast pumps work similar to how a baby sucks on a breast.
a pump uses suction to pull the nipple into a tunnel and then release it every second or so, similar to a baby
the milk flows into a container which can be put into a bottle and fed to your baby then or refrigerated and used later
pumping can allow a mum to “pump-off” some milk to reduce uncomfortable pressure on her breasts
At some point you may decide to get a breast pump for the convenience. It won’t necessarily save time – it can take as long to pump as to breastfeed. But a breast pump can allow her to express milk when it suits her. And having breast milk in the fridge means the dad can to do night time feeds, or allow a someone else to look after the baby, or may give the mum more flexibility about going to work.
Breast milk can be safely frozen for up to six months. This link is to guidelines about storing breast milk in the fridge, the freezer and about thawing.
A woman’s ability to breastfeed
There is no hard data about the percentage of women who can’t breastfeed, but it seems to be relatively small.
Breast size has nothing to do with a woman’s ability to breastfeed or the amount of milk she produces. Nor does matter whether her own mother couldn’t (or didn’t) breastfeed her babies. Most women who don’t breastfeed, or stop early usually do for these reasons, not because they can’t. However, some women either can't breastfeed or cannot produce enough milk for the baby.
What's in formula
Formula attempts to replicate human breast milk, usually made of:
A base of modified cow’s milk
A blend of dairy, fish or vegetable fats
Added vitamins minerals and trace elements
Our Ministry of Health is very keen on women breastfeeding – and has good information on the risks with formula feeding and the advantage of breast milk.
Formula is fine - and an important alternative for babies if their mum cannot produce enough breast milk.
If your partner can’t breastfeed
Don’t panic. Breastfeeding just might not work for her. This may be disappointing to both of you. She may feel she’s failing her baby. Be supportive … it's not the end of the world. This might be particularly hard on her as her. Your job in this case is to keep letting her know she is the best mum in the world.
There is formula to fall back on. Formula fed babies are not destined to become overweight or have health problems because they were fed formula. How they are fed is important, but just one of the factors that lead to good long-term health.