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Monday, October 1, 2012

Breastfeeding - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There is a lot of pressure on the modern mum to breastfeed, after all "Breast is Best".  Or is it?

Let me tell you what your doctor won't.

Having just gone through those difficult first few months I now understand why bottle-feeding is so popular.  Breastfeeding may help you regain your figure, but it may cause you to lose your sanity.

However , it is a one time only gift that only you are can give your child.  It's short time to make some sacrifices so your little one may have the best start in life.

The Good -  This is the easy part, I'll start with this

Your breastfed baby is
  • Less likely to suffer stomach upsets, coughs, colds, and ear infections
  • At lower risk of developing diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure
  • Not as likely to be obese in adulthood as a bottle-fed baby
  • Less likely to develop skin conditions such as eczema
  • Mentally developing quicker
  • Developing better mouth formation and straighter teeth

Breastfeeding You :
  • Lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • Lower your risk of  osteoporosis/ brittle bone disease
  • Regain pre-pregnancy figure quicker ( during the first few days you actually feel your stomach contracting back down)
  • Bond with your baby better (while feeding happy hormones are released, helping bonding and preventing post natal depression) 
  • Save money on formula
  • Can feed anywhere anytime without preparation or sterilising equipment
  • Breastfeeding alone can be over 98% effective as contraception (but use something else anyway)
  • Probably won't get a period for a few months at least

The Bad - These are the things that will drive you insane

  • There is no routine, your baby will graze throughout the day and night as he/she feels like.  You will find it difficult to make plans or stick to any kind of schedule.  You will also find it difficult to get a break as your baby will constantly look for you.
  • You will have to watch your diet carefully, think of it as continuing on with your pregnancy diet, only probably a little bit tougher.  For example I've had to give up fizzy drinks completely in case it gives my baby wind, and caffeine so we are not awake all night.
  • Headaches.   Breastfeeding headaches are common, during feeding be prepared for dull aches or sharp stabs.  This is normal. 
  • Expressing.  A baby is at least 3 times more efficient at taking milk than a pump.  Lots of people will like to say to you "just express a bit and you can have a night out"  It can take hours of pumping for 2-3 bottles so this can be a frustrating one to listen to.  It is impossible to do in the first few weeks anyway, as you are struggling to keep up with your growing baby's needs

The Ugly - These are the nasty things nobody warns you about

you might also want to take a pic
  • The Milk comes in:  On around day 4 your milk changes from colostrum to the mature milk.  On this day prepare to have the biggest boobs of your life.  Stretched completely to capacity they are sore and swollen, think: very fake boob job.  Around this time you will have to avoid hot showers as this makes the problem worse. 
  • Active Let down:   Milk is produced on a supply and demand basis, so the more your baby feeds the more you produce.  If you have a lot of milk you can develop an active let down which means your milk can literally spray across the room ( embarrassing) or usually all over your unsuspecting baby's face.  
  • Fussy Baby: It is easy to feed discreetly out and about unless your baby is being particularly fussy.  If your baby is starving, he or she may growl/grunt/snort at your breast, while clawing and hitting you.  Turning your discreet feeding time into a circus of mortification. 
  • Sex: Your vagina has already been through the wars.  Breastfeeding will reduce lubrication and make the tissue more tender, so it will be even longer til you are back to your old self.

Like most first time Mums I was in blissful ignorance about how easy it would be to look after a newborn baby.  In the final weeks of my pregnancy I imagined myself coming home from hospital and spending my days dressing my baby up in cute clothes and heading out to show him off.  The truth is in those early days it was nothing short of miraculous if I made it out of the house.  And as for dressing up, yes there was plenty of that.  Not just for fun more out of necessity as Sam had just puked, peed, or pooed on his clothes.  Ideas of tucking my newborn into his crib at night and settling down for relaxing nights were put to bed, while we stayed up all night.

Similarly my preconceptions of breastfeeding were way off.  Imagining a few simple minutes suckling every few hours turned out to be completely ridiculous.  Breastfeeding constantly, days and nights became a blur. I struggled to stay awake, hallucinating as I tried my best not to fall asleep with my baby latched on. 
so it's less like this

.....and more like this

I would still recommend every mother to try breastfeeding.  Although it is extremely tough it is probably the most rewarding thing a woman can do in life.  Unfortunately it does not work out for everybody, and as someone clever once said to me.  "If you went into a classroom and looked at 30 healthy children, could you tell which ones were breastfed?"  Probably not.  

In my case I wasn't handed my baby straight after the birth, as he was taken by paediatric doctors for extra care.   Feeding Sam myself definitely helped us bond straightaway.  As he spent his first couple of days in the special care unit, breastfeeding gave me the power to look after my baby myself.   It is easy to be left out of the loop by doctors and nurses who are only too happy to take over and bottle-feed your baby.  Even though I could have probably done with sleep at this stage I'm glad I persevered.  

Despite the bad and the ugly I would do it all over again. They are short-lived really and the benefits can last a lifetime.  Although its very hard not to be able to hand your baby over to someone during the first few tiring weeks, it is also very satisfying to be the most important person in his life.  Mammals make milk for a reason, the reason being that it is the perfect food for your baby.  Changing on a daily basis it contains exactly what your little one needs.  

Now that I have introduced some bottles into Sam's routine, it is plain to see that bottle feeding is about 10 times easier.  It gives a lot more structure to the day and I can understand how bottle-feeding is the clear choice for many.  The argument is a good mother is not an exhausted mother.

Looking at bottle-feeding vs breastfeeding, I think I would breastfeed again.  Better the devil you know and all that.  

Breastfeeding + all its benefits = Happy Baby
Bottle-feeding + well rested mum giving more quality time to baby = Happy Baby

Either way your baby will thrive, so there is no wrong decision.

I wrote this piece as I haven't found much honest information about breastfeeding.  It has been a great experience for us, but also one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life.  In fact a couple months of breastfeeding is much harder and exhausting than the pregnancy twice over. So next time you see a crazed looking woman with her boob out in public give her a warm smile.  Her poor head is melted.  LOL


  1. Overall lovely piece on breastfeeding :) I've breasted my four kids and I've quite a few friends who breastfeed but TBH I have never heard of breastfeeding headaches! Are you sure you weren't dehydrated?

  2. Possibly, as I have been thirsty ever since labour. I drink water constantly all day long but don't seem to be able to quench my thirst while breastfeeding. When I looked it up a few weeks ago on the net, apparently it is common to experience headaches while feeding. It was the first I heard of it too. Thank you for your comment and taking the time to read my article.
    Melissa :)

  3. I have breastfed 3 children (still nursing the last one at 19mths) and have never experienced headaches either, nor has anyone I know who has breastfed, I have experienced headaches related to my cycle and perhaps you should look at that.
    Also, while this is your experience,not all children graze all day and night, mine didn't, they did sometimes (growth spurts) but usually they were pretty routine.
    I never had to use pads or had spurting milk.
    Never had to watch my diet, even had a drink if i fancied it, all i had to do was make sure to drink plenty of water and fluids. The fizzy drink thing is a myth.
    I also disagree that bottle feeding is easier, I formula fed my first 2 from 6 mths and hated every minute of it. Such a pain in the bum; can't imagine doing that for a screaming newborn.
    Fussy babies settle pretty quickly when on the boob and a shawl goes a long way to being discreet.
    Sex was never a problem for me either.
    You forgot a few pros: babies poo a lot less (sometimes as little as once a week), babies are more content and studies have shown that moms who breastfeed and co-sleep get more sleep then those who dont.
    Just giving an alternative view.

    1. Also my third has a problem digesting dairy and formula gives him a rash, I feel so lucky to have breastfed as I think he would have been on all kinds of special formula and the like had we not made that choice.

    2. Oh Yes there are plenty of pros. To be honest I could write all day long and still wouldn't cover all the pro's or cons. Yeah I agree with you about the nappies. As for the diet there are a ton of things that I have chosen to leave out, such as cows milk, breads, fizzy drinks, spicy foods, caffeine in general. I have heard both arguments don't watch your diet, or cut out x,y and z. So really yes it's personal preference for the most part but I don't think you should throw caution to the wind and consume lots of sugar, caffeine etc. Thank you for your comment and for reading my article. I hadn't heard of these before either

  4. Its always a danger to assume your experience is reflective of the majority. tbh I find your article, whilst no doubt true to your experience, not particularly accurate. you present 'the good, the bad and the ugly' as facts, they are not.

    1. I base the good on fact. The bad and ugly is a mixture of fact and personal experience. As it is a very personal experience, it won't be possible to relate to everyone. However this is just a quick snippet of the ups and downs women may or may not encounter. Many thanks for your time and effort to read and comment. :)