By Ann Douglas Special to the Star
Wed., Aug. 17, 2011
If anyone has a handle on what moms really need to know about breastfeeding, it’s Teresa Pitman. Pitman has been providing support and advice to breastfeeding mothers for more than three decades. She’s executive director of La Leche League Canada, a non-profit that provides mom-to-mom breastfeeding support and wrote a parenting column for Today’s Parent. She is the co-author of two bestselling books about breastfeeding: Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, now in its eighth addition.
During a recent interview, Pitman offered these words of wisdom for new moms and moms-to-be.
- It’s important to do your breastfeeding homework ahead of time.
“Take the time to find out about breastfeeding supports in your community while you’re still pregnant so that you don’t have to try to find these services after the fact,” says Pitman. “Most of us don’t anticipate that we’re going to have problems breastfeeding.” Have the information on hand just in case. It’s much more stressful to track down the names of clinics and the right breastfeeding book when you’re stressed and worried about feeding your baby.
When you’re reading up on breastfeeding, make sure to consider the source, says Pitman. “Many booklets about breastfeeding are put out by formula companies. They are not helpful.”
- Other mothers who have breastfed their babies successfully are your best source of breastfeeding support and information.
“When you’re making up your mind about breastfeeding, get to know other mothers who are breastfeeding so you can see how it works for them,” Pitman suggests.
“It’s one thing to read about breastfeeding or to walk past someone breastfeeding in a mall. It’s when you get to know other mothers who are breastfeeding their babies that you get a sense of what’s really involved.”
- Your baby only has one way of signalling your breasts to make more milk: by nursing more frequently.
It’s helpful to understand how breastfeeding works, says Pitman.
“Breasts are not bottles that are attached to your body. Breasts make milk continuously, but they make milk more quickly when your breasts are emptier. Frequent feedings help to establish your milk supply,” she says. Especially during the first few weeks, the frequency of feedings helps to signal your breasts just how much milk your baby is going to need. “If you interfere with this cycle by supplementing with formula, your breasts make less milk. If your baby isn’t well enough to nurse a lot, it’s important to hand-express or pump so that these signals are still transmitted to your breasts.”
- You and your baby will have your own unique feeding pattern.
Don’t be alarmed if your baby wants to nurse more than the eight to twelve times each day you’ve read about. Most babies do, says Pitman.
“Women vary in their breast-milk storage capacity and, contrary to what you might think, the amount of milk that breasts are capable of storing doesn’t directly correlate with breast size. Women who have less storage capacity need to breastfeed their babies more often while those who have greater storage capacity don’t need to breastfeed quite as often. Likewise, babies have their own unique feeding patterns. It’s not helpful to compare your nursing schedule to those of other moms you know.
- Breastfeeding is not supposed to be painful.
“Pain in our bodies is a signal that something is not quite right,” says Pitman. “It really helps to understand that almost all of the reasons you might have pain are fixable if you get help.”
Her advice? “If you’re struggling, ask for help sooner rather than later. If the first person doesn’t help you, ask another person.”
While there are fewer and fewer government resources devoted to supporting mothers with breastfeeding, you can still turn to La Leche League. The hospital where you gave birth may also have a clinic you can access free. You can also hire a private lactation consultant. Many charge fees on a sliding scale based on income.
- Breastfeeding is more than just a way of feeding a baby.
“We think about breastfeeding mostly in terms of feeding, but it is so much more than that,” says Pitman. “It comforts a baby and it relaxes a mother. It’s designed so that you relax and enjoy your baby more.” Breastfeeding helps your baby sleep better and soothes her if she’s is hurt or scared, she adds. “And those quick little nursings keep your milk supply up.”
- Breastfeeding is a lot more flexible than most people think.
Nursing is much more convenient than most parents realize, particularly when they’re in the intensive period when it’s getting established. “Breastfeeding is very portable. You don’t have to refrigerate anything. If you work outside the home, you can use a pump,” says Pitman.
It also has a pretty impressive track-record: “We know that breastfeeding works. We wouldn’t be here if it didn’t. You are the child of many ancestors who breastfed successfully. You simply need to have confidence that you can make this work in your life.”