7 things you should never say to a new breastfeeding mom

7 things you should never say to a new breastfeeding mom
PHOTO: Pixabay

"Don't tell me that"

You may mean well, but these seven statements hurt a new mum struggling to breastfeed. Sasha Gonzales finds out what you should say instead.

Breastfeeding is an experience that most new mums cherish. Besides the satisfaction and sense of empowerment they get from nourishing their babies, nursing is one of the first ways they bond with them.

According to Helen Espina Cruz, a senior lactation consultant at Raffles Hospital, skin-on-skin contact releases hormones, such as oxytocin, in the mum's body.

These hormones promote positive emotions that make a mother feel closer and more connected to her infant.

"The mum also gets to hold her baby and look into his eyes or caress him while he feeds," adds Elaine Chow, president of the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group Singapore. "In the middle of a busy day, breastfeeding gives mums a chance to just sit still and relax with their babies."

But it's not always a breeze for first-timers, as they deal with a host of issues: Fatigue caused by a lack of sleep, anxiety about their babies' feeding habits, and stress about milk supply.

There could also be the physical pain as a result of sore nipples, which might be due to improper pumping or latching problems; and plugged milk ducts because the milk was not drained completely.

There's also the fear of developing mastitis, a breast inflammation that tends to occur if the nipples are hurt or if the breasts stay engorged for too long.

Some mums also feel sad or guilty about not being able to breastfeed directly during the day because they have to work. Keeping in mind the challenges that many new mums face, it's important to be supportive of their decision.

Here, the experts share what you should never say to a new mum who is struggling with breastfeeding.

BREASTFEEDING IS NATURAL

Women may be physiologically built to provide for their babies, but breastfeeding is a learnt skill, Elaine says.

"Breastfeeding is not as prevalent as it used to be, so many new mums today don't have a point of reference," she explains.

"If they can't learn how to breastfeed from their mothers and can't see other women breastfeeding, then they'll need to learn how to breastfeed," she explains.

Wong Lai Ying, a lactation consultant at National University Hospital Women's Centre, agrees.

"Breastfeeding is not instinctive," she says. "Mums may need to seek help and also rely on the nursing team while they are still in the hospital."

You could suggest to a new mum to get tips from friends who have done it successfully or are still breastfeeding.

YOU'RE NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH

For a mum to establish breastfeeding, she needs support from her husband, family members, friends, employers and medical professionals.

"Without this supportive network, even a mother who 'tries very hard' will find it a challenge to breastfeed successfully," Elaine says.

"An early start is important," Lai Ying adds.

As soon as a couple decide to start a family, they should read up about breastfeeding and sign up for courses conducted by lactation consultants. Once Baby is born, have that skin-onskin contact immediately and latch him onto the breast - this will enhance his subsequent ability to latch on.

ARE YOU SURE YOUR BABY HAS HAD ENOUGH MILK?

Many new mums worry about low milk supply, so when you ask these questions, you are likely to stress them even more, says Cynthia Pang, a senior lactation consultant, and assistant director of nursing at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

In fact, Elaine points out that this is a mother's top breastfeeding concern.

She worries when a newborn nurses for a long time or at short intervals, especially when she compares it to how she thinks a bottle-fed baby would behave.

But when he approaches his mum's breast, it may not be because he's hungry - he could be sleepy or in need of comfort. Babies can, and do, nurse at varying intervals and for varying durations.

"If a mum doesn't have sufficient information on what constitutes 'normal behaviour' for a breastfed baby, she may lose the confidence in her decision to nurse," Elaine adds.

Similarly, comments like "Your baby looks skinny" are offensive to a new parent who's trying her hardest to breastfeed, Cynthia adds.

YOUR BREASTS LOOK HUGE

Breast engorgement is a real issue that many nursing mothers struggle with, so such a comment may come across as rude.

According to Cynthia, engorgement occurs when there's a decrease in the feeding frequency, a delay in starting breastfeeding or poor attachment, causing an excessive milk accumulation in the breast.

It often occurs in the first week after delivery, when there's abundant milk production. Engorgement can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort for breastfeeding mums.

When the breasts are engorged, the areola and the peripheral area of the breast become swollen, hard and tender.

The most effective ways for a mum to bring down the swelling are, first, to massage the area, and second, to allow her baby to breastfeed frequently - sometimes around the clock - to remove the milk.

IT'S OK NOT TO BREASTFEED

Encouraging a nursing newbie to give up isn't helpful at all, even if your intention is to make her feel better, says Helen from Raffles Hospital.

Ask her instead: Is there anything I can do to help you?

FORMULA IS JUST AS GOOD

Of course, every woman is entitled to choose if she wants to bottle-feed or breastfeed her child.

If she is opting for the latter, "we should respect her decision to breastfeed and give her the support that she needs", says Elaine.

FEEDING ON DEMAND WILL SPOIL YOUR BABY

The truth is, newborns will nurse whenever they want, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. For them, breastfeeding goes beyond mere nourishment; it's also a source of comfort and emotional security.

"Breastfeeding nurtures an infant not only physically, but also psychologically," Helen says.

"That closeness gives him the feeling of being back in the womb and makes him feel secure. This emotional bond is as vital as the nutritional benefits he receives."

Cynthia adds that while Baby was still in the womb, he grew accustomed to his mum's heartbeat. While breastfeeding, he is close enough to hear it again.

This familiar and distinctive sound soothes him. When a mum nurses her newborn on-demand - as often and as long as he wants - this will also ensure sufficient milk supply.

This article was first published in the Aug 2017 issue of Young Parents.

Purchase this article for republication.

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