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Breastfeeding: frequently asked questions

What are the advantages of breastfeeding? What place for the father? When to wean? The answers to your questions are here

Kitett® answers to the most frequently asked questions on breastfeeding.

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1 – What are the advantages of breast-feeding?

Artificial milk is offered as an alternative to mums who cannot, or do not wish to, breast-feed. However, breast milk is the best diet there is for an infant, as it is rich in:
  • proteins
  • fats
  • iron
  • lactose
  • minerals
  • water
  • enzymes
  • cells that help boost the immune system.
So far, scientists working on the composition of industrial milk have not been able to reproduce the various components. The properties of breast milk are so efficient that breast-fed infants are less prone to the risks of eczema, asthma, allergies, gastro intestinal infections and even diabetes. Furthermore, breast-feeding has more advantages for mothers in:
  • economical
  • ecological
  • practical terms.
They also benefit from the production of oxytocin, which helps to accelerate uterus contraction. Breast-feeding also helps greatly in calorie loss, which quickens the chances of returning to a normal weight.

2 – When to start breast-feeding and how to approach first feed?

Mums who want to breast-feed are often encouraged to do so during the first few minutes of their baby’s life. Women having had a C-section can also ask carers if they can start breast-feeding as soon as they are able.

Once babies are placed against the mother’s breast, they are often naturally drawn by the smell of the milk and instinct guides them towards the mother’s nipple. The liquid they absorb, the mother’s colostrum, is thick and yellow and contains a very large amount of antibodies, which will be very useful for boosting the baby’s immune system.

However, it may sometimes transpire that mother and baby will not ‘synchronise’; these moments are usually very difficult for a young mother, as she will feel genuinely frustrated (due to a strong desire to succeed with breast-feeding).

Nowadays, one in two women do not wish to breast-feed, or simply give up in the first few weeks. To be successful, breast-feeding must take place at the right moment, when a mother is feeling calm and relaxed. Under no circumstances should it be a source of stress.

3 – Where does the father fit in during the first few months?

Some dads are worried at the idea of seeing their wives breast-feed. The fear of feeling alienated is a legitimate one, as the bond between mother and child is very strong during the first few months.

However, all fathers will find their place with time without any trouble . They can interact at play, with eye contact, by smiling, taking part in baby care routines, at bathing time or simply by watching over baby. All dads will have their own way of communicating depending on their personality and wishes. Dads can help partners to prepare a comfortable corner for breast-feeding. They can also organise baby’s room and stay with mum while she is breast-feeding. Such intimate moments of sharing contribute enormously to the well-being of the whole family.

Women who express their milk can also ask dad to bottle-feed baby, as young fathers often enjoy such intimate moments.

Generally speaking, the father’s presence is reassuring, he can provide physical and moral support to mum, who is often left feeling exhausted after pregnancy, after giving birth, falling hormone levels and the first few nights, which are sometimes difficult.

4 – Are there any specific, or practical positions to adopt for breast-feeding?

Already during birth preparation courses, mum can familiarise herself with the various positions that work well for breast-feeding. As soon as baby is in her arms, she will have to adapt to baby’s reactions.

The first issue to deal with is that of comfort. Mum will have to find a way by trying out several techniques and will usually choose one or two positions that she finds comfortable. In order to be able to breast-feed successfully, the infant must hold the nipple partly in its mouth and the lower lip will need to be curled back. Baby’s belly should be facing mum’s and it must be easy for baby to access the nipple without having to move its head.

Thus, most mums will choose to rest baby’s head against their forearm (in the so-called ‘rugby ball position’). Others prefer to breast-feed lying on their side, which will help them to fall asleep next to baby after breast-feeding, for example. There are many comfortable positions in which mums can experiment with as they wish once they have gained more confidence.

Each breast-feeding experience is unique and it is important to allow a lot of room for improvisation.

5 – What are the problems facing young mums wishing to breast-feed?

Even if it burns calories and makes a mum thirsty, breast-feeding does not cause fatigue. It is unfortunately a common misconception, because some people associate a mother’s general state of health (following labour and baby’s arrival, etc.) with the act of breast-feeding itself.

Conversely, breast-feeding can lead to cracked nipples. This can be rather painful, especially while continuing to breast-feed and may cause bleeding. Fortunately, breast milk is a natural healer; it can be of comfort if applied to mum’s nipple at the end of breast-feeding.

Special creams are available to promote healing and are also safe for baby. To avoid this type of discomfort, it is also possible to buy silicon nipple covers. These, however, should be used with caution as they can interfere with baby’s suckling reflexes.

Finally, an infant’s weight loss can be a major cause for concern among breast-feeding mums. If the newborn infant does not get into a positive growth curve before mum leaves the maternity ward, her stay may be prolonged. If baby does not gain significantly in weight, mum will have to use a breast pump, or start supplementing baby’s feed.

6 – Is it possible to get help in case of failure, and when breast-feeding is really desired?

Many women have a strong desire to breast-feed, but do not succeed. However, studies show that 98 to 99% of women are physically able to breast-feed.

carers present at the maternity ward (midwives, childcare assistants, nurses and paediatricians) are perfectly able to help mums deal with this type of situation. Since their stay in the maternity ward is rather short (3 to 5 days on average), young mothers can often look outside for help, mainly among lactation consultants.

Many associations also offer their services to assist mums in their search. Thus, the Leche League or the IPA (breast-feeding information association) for example, encourage young mothers to attend meetings. Volunteer group leaders share their experiences and give valuable advice to reassure mums and can help them succeed in their breast-feeding. During these meetings, mums wishing to breast-feed can listen to the testimonials of others having had similar experiences.

Finally, these associations can explain how to use certain accessories or products designed to promote breast-feeding.

7 – How long does breast-feeding last?

It is generally thought that most babies around the world breast-feed for at least a year. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusively breast-feeding a baby for at least six months.

A mum’s return to work will often mark the end of breast-feeding among working women. However, it is perfectly possible to express and keep breast milk to allow baby to enjoy it for longer.

Breast-feeding should not be stopped overnight, since the baby needs to be weaned off gradually, before transitioning to bottle feeding and/or industrial milk. Breast-feeding is an intimate, quality moment during which an emotional bond is formed between mother and baby. Breast-feeding should be stopped gradually.

Some mums only breast-feed during their stay in the maternity ward, others continue for weeks or months afterwards, while other, more motivated, mothers manage to breast-feed their babies until the age of two or above.

There is no cut and dried answer to the length of time needed, but it is generally recommended to breast-feed exclusively for up to 6 months. Every mum should proceed as they wish, the most important thing being that the bond between mum and baby must thrive.

8 – When and how to start weaning off?

According to the Leche League, only 57% of women breast-feeding in the maternity ward continue to do so for the following 3 months, which generally coincides with mum’s return to work. Despite the advice of the WHO, only 26% of women continue to breast-feed at 6 months and 3% at 1 year.

Weaning should be progressive so as not to upset the infant. It is, for example, possible to wean a baby off breast milk in one month, by eliminating one breast-feed per week.

Stopping breast-feeding should also depend upon the mother’s gut feeling and the condition of her breasts. If they are painful, the mother can massage them in warm water and use cushions to control leakages throughout the day. Mums can also choose to breast-feed once or twice a day to relieve engorgement and prolong these quality moments with baby if they so wish.

During initial bottle-feeding, it is important to carry on cuddling baby throughout, so that it is aware of the change without being afraid. Finally, the choice between bottle-feeding and breast-feeding is an important phase in the weaning period.

9 – When to start introducing a more varied diet?

There is much debate about when to start diversifying the diet. Some experts agree that you should start at between 4 and 6 months, while others recommend breast-feeding for up to 9 months, given that the mother’s milk covers the infant’s entire needs.

It should be remembered that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusively breast-feeding an infant for up to 6 months.

To start with, a varied diet should be used to supplement breast-feeding, but in no way replace it. Generally speaking, mums should start by introducing fruit purees and mashed cooked vegetables. This should then be followed by cereals and then meat.

Parents should also watch to see if the infant has any potential allergies. Nuts, kiwis and celery are often prohibited for infants less than 1 year old.

Finally, it is vital to introduce any new foods gradually. By the same token, it is essential not to disrupt the child’s life with too many changes at once (registering the infant with a child-minder or a nursery, moving it to its own room and introducing dietary changes at the same time, for example).

10 – How do women cope with a working career while breast-feeding?

Breast-feeding leave was stopped in 1975. Nowadays, working women who wish to continue breast-feeding have to seek other solutions.

Fortunately, the labour law provides that women are allowed to breast-feed one hour a day (or twice a day for half an hour) to be able to relieve engorgement. This law is applicable for the baby’s first 12 months of life.

Large companies who employ more than 100 women must provide a breast-feeding room on the premises or nearby. These rooms may be requested by employees; there should be at least one comfortable seat and a washbasin with running water. Women returning to work can therefore express their breast milk and store it in a fridge, cool box, or freezer. The baby can then be given the milk (in a bottle) by the specially assigned carer. Mums working during the week can, for example, continue to breast-feed baby in the morning and at night.

During the weekend, stimulating the new-born infant will help to boost optimum milk production. It will therefore come as no surprise that milk production is greater on a Monday morning than on a Friday evening.

11 – Which are the most practical accessories to facilitate breast-feeding every day?

Breast-feeding cushions are hugely popular with young mums. They are generally purchased during the first few months of pregnancy and can prove particularly useful. A cushion provides a pliable surface for mum’s arm or back to lean on in order to get comfortable.

Breast pumps can also have several functions. They are a valuable aid for mums wishing to increase breast milk production when baby no longer wishes to, or can no longer, breast-feed. Manual or electric breast pumps (battery- or mains-powered) are therefore available, with one or two pumps and sometimes several speeds. Some offer different options, such as ‘stimulation’ and ‘expression’ modes to ideally reproduce baby’s suckling patterns.

Breast-feeding cushions also play an important role by preventing breast milk leakages.

Finally, shields are effective in collecting the milk of one breast while the other is in expression phase, which helps, among other things, to minimise wastageait.

12 – Is it possible to keep breast milk? If so, how and for how long?

Of course, it is possible to keep breast milk.

Women who us breast pumps can, for example, opt to leave the valuable fluid in the receptacles supplied with the machine.

Some prefer to use pre-sterilised bags, which are light and easy to keep, as they take up very little space.

Fresh breast milk can be kept for 10h at room temperature, 8 days in the fridge, 3 to 4 months in the freezer compartment and 6 months or more in a deep freezer at a maximum of -19°. Defrosted milk should not be refrozen; it can be kept for only 1 hour at room temperature and for 10 hours in the fridge.

For defrosting, it is recommended to use a double boiler, but not allowing the water to boil so as to preserve all its properties intact. It should also be noted that the antibodies contained in the milk disappear during the freezing process, it is therefore preferable to keep it at room temperature or in the fridge.

Whatever the case, it is better to give an infant frozen breast milk than industrial milk.