WHEN BREASTFEEDING ISN’T WORKING
New mums are taught that it’s important to breastfeed their baby from birth. And as much as that is true, that doesn’t necessarily work out for everyone.
But why are mums stopping? According to recent surveys, the biggest reasons for giving bub bottle feeds were: not enough milk (30 per cent); it was just time to stop (23 per cent); problems including cracked nipples (10 per cent); and going back to work (eight per cent).
And it’s apparent that mothers who find themselves weaning their babies from the breast often feel a deep sense of loss and failure.
“While this is a completely natural reaction, it is important to remember that you certainly have not failed and even if your baby received one drop of colostrum, you have provided [them] with a great start to life,” says Ashlee Stirling, a lactation consultant at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.
“Don’t feel concerned that
because you aren’t breastfeeding, you have lost your opportunity to bond with your baby. You are still her main carer and your connection will be strengthened every time you respond to her needs,” she explains.
Thanks to her job, Ashlee talks to many mums about their options when finishing up with breastfeeding. Here are some choices to consider.
EXPRESSING MILK Growing a baby from your own milk is an incredible feeling, but when your baby isn’t able to be fed directly from the source, there is another option.
“If you are unable to breastfeed ... expressing and feeding your baby your breastmilk is far superior than any other breastmilk alternative,” says Ashlee.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding states “the choice of the best alternative depends on individual circumstances”, but lists “expressed breastmilk from an infant’s own mother” at the top. Many mums are concerned they may find it harder to bond with their baby because they aren’t physically holding him to the breast, but there are ways around this.
“By incorporating lots of skin-to-skin contact into your day and cuddles and interaction into feeding times, you can still retain the closeness felt when feeding your baby,” says Ashlee.
Talk to your local breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant about quality breast-pump choices, or even consider hiring a hospital-grade pump, as it will likely get a good workout. Search online for exclusive pumping support groups – there are more of you around than you think!
USING DONOR MILK Talk of using another mother’s milk is making a resurgence, too, with formal milk banks popping up worldwide, as well as a huge network of informal milk sharing between mothers, facilitated by the everexpanding social media
network. “As milk sharing is not without risks, it is important that mums are provided with enough information to make informed choices to help them choose the safest source of donor breastmilk,” says Ashlee.
In Australia, there are five formal breastmilk banks – in WA, Victoria, Queensland and two in NSW – with many restrictions around who can access and donate this milk.
“Milk banks are able to provide tested, pasteurised breast milk to minimise the risks of transmission of communicable diseases, but in Australia, these are few and far between,” says Ashlee. If you are considering donor milk obtained through the internet, you should be aware of the risks, including exposure to infectious diseases as the mother is unlikely to have been screened, and the possible contamination of milk if it’s not handled and stored properly.
If you’re still considering it, Ashlee suggests interested mums contact Human Milk 4 Human Babies(hm4hb.net), a not-for-profit, social-media-run community promoting safe milk sharing by encouraging full disclosure and the formation of relationships between donor mums and recipients. In Australia, it is illegal to accept money for breastmilk.
USING FORMULA The most common alternative to breastmilk is infant formula. For many mums, it is a difficult decision to switch from giving bubs their own milk to a commercially made product. Often, however, there is no choice, and at the end of the day your baby needs to be fed in order to thrive, and therefore you shouldn’t feel guilty about this option.
“Once you have made the informed decision to formula-feed your baby, it is important that you are shown the correct way to prepare, handle and store formula in order to reduce the risk of passing an infection to your baby,” says Ashlee.
COMBINATION FEED So breastfeeding isn’t working, but you’re not quite
ready to give it up yet? “Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’,” says Ashlee. “It’s very beneficial to breastfeed your baby or give her the expressed milk you have, along with donor breastmilk or formula. Research has shown that the immunological properties of breastmilk increase as supply decreases so even a small amount is invaluable.”
If supply is the issue, it’s even possible to combination feed (where you breastfeed and top-up with formula or donor milk) until your baby starts solids, and as the amount of food builds up, drop the bottles until you are only offering a few breastfeeds a day and solid food.
Other women find they relax when the pressure is off them to exclusively breastfeed, and their milk supply actually boosts up to their baby’s need as a result. To make combination feeding work to your best advantage, it’s good to talk to a lactation consultant, as there are techniques they can share with you to stop problems such as breast refusal as baby gets older.
RELACTATION What if you give up and then change your mind? Despite what many people think, stopping breastfeeding isn’t irreversible, and if mums are wanting to rebuild their milk supply and have the right support networks, they can certainly relactate.
Ashlee advises mums interested in re-starting their milk supply to seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, preferably one with experience in relactation to help work out a plan to meet your breastfeeding goals.
“The plan will generally include lots of time at the breast for your baby – if they are willing – or skin-to-skin contact, an expressing regime and herbal supplements as well as pharmacological medications to increase the milk supply,” explains Ashlee.
Relactation takes a lot of patience and perseverance, so seek out emotional support from family or friends, or look up your local Australian Breastfeeding Association group, which may be helpful in connecting you with a likeminded support network.
There are lots of options for mums wanting – or needing – to express milk, including hand-held pumps and electric pumps. Bear in mind that any pump will get a good workout, so consider hiring a hospital grade electric pump, which are often available at your local chemist.
Professional lactation counsellors are worth their weight in gold.