The Things You Should Never Ask a Breastfeeding Motherby Sabrina Hackett-Saikul
We have all heard the stories about how people assume that it is appropriate to ask questions to new mothers in general. But as a breastfeeding mother and advocate for all that breastfeeding stands for, I have heard so many questionable things during my own journey in the last three and a half years. I thought I would share some of those more poignant questions with you today, and educate everyone on the facts during the answers too. Here is my article on the things you should never ask a breastfeeding mother.
Why are you breastfeeding?
It is nobody else’s business as to why you may choose to breastfeed your child, and if you can breastfeed (make sure to give yourself a chance that first week or so) then breast is what is best for your small human. No manufactured milk will have the same properties and changing nutritional value as your own breastmilk does. Your body makes the exact consistency of milk that baby requires for that age, time of day and it even alters to fight illness. Breastmilk is filled with antibodies and a mother’s breast also adjusts the substances of the milk to fit the needs of baby during that day, including helping them fall asleep. Remember to read up on all of the facts and don’t fall for the advertisements of formula companies, it is not the same as human breastmilk. So if someone asks you “Why are you breastfeeding?” you can simply respond with “I am feeding my baby”.
How do you know they’re getting enough milk?
Most breastfeeding women who exclusively feed at the breast won’t know exactly how many ounces their little ones are getting, that much is true, but providing a breastfed baby is gradually gaining weight and having plenty of wet and poopy nappies, then that is considered enough in a medical capacity. You don’t need to measure everything out when a baby is fed upon demand. Breastmilk also digests easier and faster than any manufactured milk which is often why breastfed babies would feed more often. Most women don’t realise it can take days for your milk to come in, and lots of people give up too soon due to pressures from loved ones. If you want to breastfeed then get help before you give birth and do all of your research. Get in touch with breastfeeding coordinators and their team at the hospital. Try Google for “Cluster Feeding” and “Colostrum” or “Liquid Gold” to start with; get all the information you need now if you’re thinking about breastfeeding your baby.
Have you tried giving them a bottle so that you can have a break?
This is a patronising one that I heard many times when my son was tiny. After a few months, he refused to take a bottle at all which is what I hear so many times from other breastfeeding mothers. Most people assume that people would like a break but actually breastfeeding was one of the best choices I ever made, and I was happy to keep feeding my son on my own. I would happily hand him over to a grandparent to do the burping if they were keen to help, but as his mother, I was proud to be sustaining him purely from my own body. Some women choose to pump their milk and give their baby breastmilk in a bottle that is expressed, but that is down to the parents and their own personal choices. If you ever feel like you need a break you don’t need to justify that to anyone, it is nobody’s business except your own. If your little one will combination feed between expressed milk in a bottle and taking milk at the breast then you have the best of both worlds. That never worked for me sadly but I wouldn’t change my breastfeeding journey due to the bond I have with my son. Pumping also is not for everyone, it caused me to get Mastitis a few times and I could never pump as well as my son feeding directly from me. It’s a trial and error thing that you can only understand if you’ve breastfed or pumped. Breastmilk whether at the breast or pumped from your body still has benefits that outweigh any other alternative.
Do you want to leave the room and do your feeding in private?
Let me ask you this question in return, if you were told you had to go and eat your meal in private would you be offended? I have always fed my son whenever he wanted and wherever he needed to be fed. I hear so many times across friends and social media about people in a restaurant or a public setting having an opinion on them feeding their own child. People need to be reminded that their baby is having their actual meal via the breast; they have no other option except for breastmilk until closer to age one. I am amazed that even in this day and age women feel they have to hide away in public toilets or in restaurant corners with coats over them. If your baby needs to be fed then be confident and be proud, you’re keeping a human life sustained from your own body and that is a huge achievement that you should be very proud of. If anyone told me to cover up my baby’s head during a breastfeeding I would be telling them to look away.
When will you stop breastfeeding and move on to bottle or formula feeding?
It is no one’s business when you will move on from breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation suggests breastfeeding should last until a minimum of age two and even beyond that. Breastmilk does not lose its nutritional benefits as the child gets older, so therefore a mother can breastfeed their child as long as they see fit. Moving on to a formula or even a cow’s milk is unnecessary when the human body makes exactly what your child needs for the stage that they are on.
Most breastfeeding advocates such as me would prefer not to give any other milk except human milk to our baby unless advised for medical reasons. But my son is actually allergic to dairy and also some alternative milk due to multiple food allergies. But I would in fact choose not to give him dairy because I don’t agree with giving another animal’s milk to a human. Breastfeeding also saves you hundreds of pounds every year that you continue by allowing your own body to keep producing the milk; you, therefore, have no further need to purchase any alternatives. When you choose to give your child another milk that should be on your terms.
Will your child sleep better if you didn’t breastfeed them?
It is a total myth about formula fed babies sleeping more or even for longer. Breastmilk actually has properties in it that allow babies and children to fall asleep faster at the breast and also easier due to the milk being made uniquely for your little one. When a baby feeds their saliva passes into the mothers breast and tells her body what the baby requires at that time, the milk then alters to suit baby’s needs. Hunger is only one reason for a baby to wake at night, others include needing comfort, maybe they are in pain from teething, feeling cold, feeling hot, are thirsty or are simply missing their mothers smell, these are just some of the other reasons babies wake at night. Please read up on the fourth trimester if you’re expecting, this will allow you to understand baby’s needs more.
Don’t you have to cut out all sorts of things in order to breastfeed?
Here is another myth that does the rounds when you’re expecting! People will tell you about all of the things you must avoid if you want to breastfeed and it is simply scare mongering. You can drink two small cups of tea or coffee during one day if you wanted to, without there being enough caffeine in your milk to affect your baby. You can also eat the vast majority of foods unless your child has a severe food allergy. I had to cut out fresh dairy and fresh eggs from my diet because their proteins affected my son through my breastmilk. Most women find they can eat normally. The only other thing a mother should avoid is Peanuts if there is a family history of allergies to them.
If you’re breastfeeding all the time and on-demand, aren’t you overfeeding your baby?
You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby; a mother’s milk alters to her baby’s needs which include creating thinner or fattier milk depending upon what baby requires at that time. During the latch, a baby’s saliva passes into the mother’s nipple to let her body know what is needed. A mother’s body then responds and creates the next feed with the properties needed.
Are you still breastfeeding?
This question applies to me because I am still feeding my son several times a day and he is now over the age of three. I am well aware of the fact that my supply isn’t what it was two years ago, but he is still getting nutritional benefits from me including antibodies and pain relief from my breastmilk. It is made entirely for my son and therefore I am happy for him to continue until my milk dries up. If anyone ever questions you about why you are feeding please remind them about how the WHO recommends breastfeeding until age two and beyond, and that it is totally normal to breastfeed children beyond two years of age. You would actually be surprised how many women are still feeding children over that age, but because they do it at home behind closed doors you aren’t aware of it. Until I became a breastfeeding mother other friends came out and spoke to me about my values and they admitted to feeding their own children when they were at home. Breastfeeding is an amazing start for your baby and if you can continue in any way shape or form, even if it were just in an evening, it is giving so many benefits to your baby and to your own health as well.
So, the next time anyone decides to question your choices in life remind them that it is just that, your life and your decisions and your baby and your body. People will always be curious and will always ask the questions, it is how you choose to answer those questions that matter. Go out into the world and do as I do, educate people about how breastfeeding is not only normal, but how it should be celebrated. Women should be proud of their physical sacrifice and proud of doing the best possible thing for their baby or child. If you feel you need support for your own breastfeeding journey please reach out to your GP, Midwife or Consultant, talk to the breastfeeding team at the hospital you are due to give birth at, and make sure that your choices are explained, your voice heard and listened to. Most women I have talked to who didn’t continue breastfeeding were those who were unsupported at the start, or those who had birth trauma and felt they weren’t able to give their baby what they needed at first. But with help during those first two weeks, most women can actually breastfeed; they just need help and guidance. If it is important to you to try for your own breastfeeding journey make sure you take those steps before you give birth and make sure it is on your birth plan as well. Most hospitals will support breastfeeding mothers for between two and three weeks after birth, just do your research and talk to the relevant people.
Good luck on your own journey and don’t forget that there are groups on Facebook that are very supportive to all breastfeeding mothers should you have questions that others cannot answer. As a community, most breastfeeding people are more than happy to help out fellow parents, just as I have done today by writing this article for Your Baby Club.
Best wishes, Sabrina