I came across your post on Facebook today about starting your wee babe on solids. They grow up fast, don’t they?!
You shared your concerns:
'I was worried about starting Ciarán on solids, I didn't know how I was going to fit it in to our already full day. But ... I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders now he is getting food from somewhere else other than me, I don't have to be as worried about how much he is getting and was it a good feed, did you feel this relief?'As many of your fans commented, it is reassuring for your readers to know that you suffer the same insecurities as them: How will I find the time in my busy day? Is my baby getting enough milk from me? Is my milk ‘good’ enough? Am I enough for my baby?
It’s okay to feel this way! After 200 years of aggressive artificial baby milk marketing, breastfeeding knowledge and confidence is at an all time low. That’s sad, huh?
But the good news is, many mums find relief from these common worries by being reassured about how their milk supply works.
Essentially, breastmilk supply works like this: milk removal causes milk production.
Pretty straight forward, right? The baby sucking at the breast stimulates nerve endings in the nipple, which causes a surge of milk-making hormones in the mother’s body. These hormones, combined with the removal of milk from mother’s breast, give the body a clear message: make milk for our baby!
Breastmilk contains, amongst that huge host of great stuff, a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL). Sounds fancy, but it’s really just a chemical that, when left sitting in the breasts, tells the body to halt milk production for now. Because if the body kept making milk while there was lots of milk still sitting in the breast, the woman would end up with mastitis, you see. A woman’s body is very clever like that! So when breastmilk is removed, the volume of this FIL protein is lowered, and the body is free to make milky abundance.
Babies need to go to the breast for many reasons: sometimes they’re thirsty and they will have a quick drink, sometimes they’re hungry and they will take a longer feed, sometimes they’re uncomfortable or unhappy and need the comfort sucking at mama’s warm breast can provide.
Humans evolved for our bodies and our babies to match perfectly. A baby is driven by instinct to control his mama’s milk supply by signalling for the breast when he needs it: some babies will need to suck frequently (almost around the clock!) and others a little more infrequently, or at uneven times throughout the day. But you can relax—all babies eventually fall into their own pattern and daily rhythms as they grow older.
So, the more milk removed, and the more frequently the baby suckles, the more milk mama’s body will make. It really is that simple!
Another reassuring fact to remember is this: breastmilk is a constant secretion. Like blood, it is something our bodies produce constantly. So the breast is never truly ‘empty’. Provided baby goes to the breast when baby needs, you cannot ‘run out’ of milk.
So how do we know if our baby is getting ‘enough’ from us? We live in a culture of fear that a crying baby, or a baby who wakes frequently or needs help getting to sleep, is a baby lacking milk. This simply isn’t true. (Again, you can blame the formula manufacturers and 19th century doctors for this myth.)
The signs of a well-fed baby are: lots of wet, clear nappies (a sign of good hydration), the occasional soft poo (breastmilk is a natural laxative—a well-breastfed baby will never be constipated!), good skin tone and bright eyes, crying with energy and gusto (a dehydrated or malnourished baby will have a weak, high-pitched cry or may not have the strength to cry at all), and a baby who has some content periods and communicates well for the breast. And finally, a baby should be expected to grow in length and head circumference, and gain some weight, over the space of a month.*
The use of dummies, 'top-up' bottles of formula or EBM, or scheduling feeds can all negatively affect a breastfeeding relationship by stopping the baby from directing mama's milk supply as he needs. So it's best to just toss any of those things away, okay?
Now, let’s talk a little about the ‘right’ age to introduce solids. Indeed, there’s a bit of conflicting advice about, isn’t there? After all, there’s a lot of money to be made in convincing parents their baby needs food! ($117.7 million in Australia alone in 2012) But rest assured, despite the occasional junk-science study saying otherwise, the World Health Organization still recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months.
Now of course, this isn’t a fixed-to-the-day date that will suit every baby. All babies are different, and some might display readiness for solids earlier than 6 months, and others much later. (Neither of my children were much interested in solid foods until they were about 12 months old!)
Back in the days before parenting ‘experts’, human babies began eating solid foods when they showed they were ready: sitting up, able to bring their hand to their mouth purposefully, and when their tongue-thrust reflex was gone. The tongue-thrust reflex is that pesky reaction that causes baby to spit rice cereal back at you, no matter how much you spoon it in! It’s a survival response that nature designed to stop baby from choking before they were able to chew. In other words, until they have the readiness to chew, push food to the back of their throat and swallow it, their tongue will reflexively poke it all back out.
All of these things demonstrate a gastrointestinal readiness for foods other than breastmilk. Again, for parents, it comes down to watching your baby. Most parents I know understood their babies were ready for solid foods when the baby kept stealing their dinner from their plate!
A healthy baby with free and unrestricted access to the breast will, in almost all cases, do just fine. Rare instances where breastmilk supply may be compromised by physiological conditions include mastectomy or some breast surgeries, rarely in cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or insufficient glandular tissue (Hypoplasia or IGT). Now, granted, I don’t know you personally so perhaps one of these rare cases apply. Even if that is the case, there are ways to ensure baby gets a good supply of human milk.
I hope this information—things women have known inherently for all of human existence—helps you feel more confident.
Lots of love,
Cert IV Breastfeeding Education (Counselling) | Mother of two | Breastfed for 7 years
*It goes without saying: if in doubt, get it checked out. See a good doctor.