There’s a story I like to tell about breastfeeding and human babies and I like to divide it up into researched and known facts. Each little fact has a name so it helps you to remember them, but the main purpose of me bringing your attention to these facts is to ease your mind and help you to relax and enjoy your baby. When you understand how it was really meant to be, I find it is so much easier to accept and understand what your baby is doing, and why.
1.CARRY MAMMALS: We, as human beings, are classified as “Carry Mammals”. A “Carry Mammal” is a type of mammal who is supposed to carry their infants around and not put them down at any point. We are the same as the gorillas and the apes, who don’t make a nest for their babies and visit it every 3 or 4 hours, like a dog or a cat (“Nest Mammals”). We are not “Follow Mammals”, like a cow or a horse, whose young can walk from soon after birth so they can follow the mother around and feed when she lets them. If a gorilla or an ape made a nest for her tiny new baby and left it there for a while, she would surely come back to an empty nest!! On saying this, I am not suggesting that you carry your infant around twenty-four seven and never put it down….I am just saying that this baby is born EXPECTING to stay in your arms at all times.
2. NINE MONTHS IN AND NINE MONTHS OUT: We are actually born only half way through our gestational period. There’s research to suggest that it is nine months “in” and nine months “out” before the baby’s brain is fully developed and the infant is ready to be separated from its mother in any way. Apparently this happened when we stood up and became “erect” mammals. As we needed to become strong in our core and able to walk upright, our female pelvis became smaller than it was before when we were on all fours, and the baby’s brain, being the largest of all mammals, wouldn’t fit through any more. If you think about what a newborn human can do, it is very little compared to other animals. We know how to make our way to the breast, we know how to suck, and we know how to cry and alert our carers that we need help……and that’s about it!!
3.BORN TO GRAZE: Human infants are born EXPECTING to take very little milk, very often. When we are born our stomach is the size of a small marble. The first milk, or colostrum, comes in droplets. As the volume of milk increases over the next days and weeks, so does the capacity of the baby’s stomach, but still, the breastfed baby will stop feeding when it is full. It is NORMAL for a breastfed baby to wake and feed 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. This startles a lot of parents and sounds like hard work but if you relax, understand that this is normal, and enjoy your baby through this period of time, the result will be a good reliable milk supply for however long you wish to breastfeed.
4.THE MORE YOU TAKE, THE MORE YOU MAKE: You may have heard this one before and be quite familiar with it, but it’s quite a hard concept to grasp sometimes. It’s a “Supply and Demand” situation and it equates to “The more frequently you feed or pump e.g. empty your breasts, the more milk will be made”.
5.THE 40 MINUTE RULE: This is a really good one to remember: a) It only takes 40 minutes for a breastfed baby’s stomach to empty and for the baby to be ready to feed again. It’s called “Gastric Emptying Time” and it is surprisingly short. The breast milk is in fact the most easily digested fluid in the world. It is very low in protein but highly nutritious and perfect for your baby in every way.
b) It only takes 40 minutes for your breasts to fill and be ready to feed from again. Inside your breast is like a factory, full of milk producing cells in your breast tissue. A breast is NEVER completely empty and the milk producing cells respond to the breasts being emptied. If the breast is emptied the production speeds up, if left full, it slows down. That’s why, if you feel your milk supply is low, it’s a great idea to feed more frequently and to do some pumping.
6.THE CRYING BABY RULE: A crying baby is a hungry baby: Too simple?? Maybe, but true all the same. MOST newborns are crying because they are hungry and the only other reason they cry is because they are being separated from their mothers, or “put down” in the cot. If you don’t believe me, refer to all of the rules above!
7.EATING IS PLEASURABLE FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS: These are my thoughts on “wind”, “colic”, and “reflux”. These words may shock and upset you as you may have thought that your baby is definitely in pain at some stage, or even on most days. Think about when you eat and drink yourselves and how often it is debated that “food is better than sex”!! The human body is born to enjoy eating and drinking and most of us do enjoy it on a regular basis. Our digestion is controlled automatically by the “autonomic nervous system” and after our food has passed pleasurably through our mouths and throats and into our stomachs, we are basically unaware of any other part of the process of digestion. There are several reasons that a parent thinks their baby is in pain. The baby has a very thin layer of skin over its digestive organs and so we can feel and hear and even see the digestion happening. The baby, lying on its back and crying, does so with its whole body, jerking its legs and arms and waving around with no control…..because it has no ability to cry in any other way. It looks like the knees are drawing up in pain and we have perceived this to be pain for a long time now. When a baby needs to burp, it will, and the same goes with the other end…out it comes, no inhibitions there! “This baby is very windy” is the adult response……only because we can hear it is the truth of the matter. The actual process of a baby feeding at the breast, becoming full, digesting the milk, and then passing it out the other end, is a PAINLESS process. Most babies will cry due to hunger and separation and their very immature nervous system. Your baby needs lots of cuddles, lots of love and lots of help to feed and sleep. No baby, throughout the history of mankind, has been harmed in any way through too much love or breast milk.
8. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FLOW: One of the most important concepts to learn about when breastfeeding is THE LET-DOWN or MILK EJECTION REFLEX. When your baby calls out to you, cries, snuggles in and starts to suckle, a message is sent via your nervous system to a part of your brain which in response to this stimulation, sends out the hormone OXYTOCIN. It’s my favourite hormone because of how amazing it is and the many wonderful things it can do. The main function of Oxytocin with breastfeeding is to allow your milk to come out of your breasts and into the baby’s mouth. The hormone travels through your blood stream to the muscles surrounding your milk ducts and pushes the milk out of your breasts. You may see your other breast start to leak as you are feeding from one breast, you may feel a tingling sensation, or you may just notice that the baby has stopped “flutter sucking” and has started sucking and swallowing, loudly and rhythmically…..this is the “Let-Down”. At the same time you may start to feel all dreamy and filled with love, sleepy and thirsty….it’s all the work of Oxytocin, “hormone of Love, Lust and Labour”. We even release Oxytocin when we kiss our loved ones, as there are special little receptors on our lips to stimulate its release. The thing to remember with breastfeeding is that you can have five or six “let-downs” per breast per breastfeed. The breast milk flows and ebbs away again and then a new flow comes. Remember always….NO LET-DOWN, NO MILK. If your baby is fussing around at the start of a breastfeed he or she may be waiting for the let-down and becoming impatient for the flow. This is your indicator to relax, breathe deeply, stroke your baby, try some skin-to-skin and let it all happen. As the baby gets older and starts fussing at the end of a feed this may mean that the flow has ebbed off and the baby, once again, is becoming impatient for more or, in fact, has had enough for now and has other things to do with his time rather than lying around with mum anymore. So, the message is…..whatever happens with your feeding, think about the Let-Down Reflex and remember its ALL ABOUT THE FLOW.