Breast is Best… as long as it’s best!

We have all heard about the ‘Breast Is Best’ campaign, and I agree with it. The benefits of breastfeeding are enormous. Breast milk is the perfect nutrition for your child; even the best formulas are only imitations of breast milk. There are also proven health benefits from both mother and baby; and obvious cost savings. Additionally, breast-feeding is one of the most joyful and special bonding experiences you can have with your baby.

I always recommend the families I work with to try to exclusively breast-feed during the first six months of life of the baby.  I recommend using breast milk over formula, even in special cases when babies can’t breastfeed (i.e. premature babies). The mother can pump breast milk and offer it to the baby fresh and even keep a frozen milk supply for later on.

I, in fact, ‘breast-feed’ my twins until they were almost 8 months old (6 months adjusted age); however, those feedings weren’t at my breast. After being born at 29 weeks, they had to spend over two months in the hospital. Despite many trials, many consults with lactation consultants, they were never able to properly feed at the breast. At some point, they could latch on and suck, but they were so weak that they got exhausted and didn’t get enough milk. In addition, they both had severe gastrointestinal reflux (GERD), and would spit up often.

We were so concerned about their weight and development that I made the decision to avoid them the struggle of trying to breastfeed and burn all their energy trying, and continue pumping milk and offer it to them in a bottle. Was it easy for me? No, it wasn’t. I had always wanted to breastfeed, and letting that go, was not easy for me. Furthermore, pumping every 3 hours, day and night, to maintain my milk supply to feed both babies wasn’t easy or fun; but I am so glad I did it. My daughters weight gain during their first year of life was fantastic, they were healthy and strong, and I am glad I was able to do that for them.

Having said this, I understand that breastfeeding is not the right solution for everyone. Society has somehow stigmatized those who choose not to breastfeed. Do you remember the public health campaign comparing not breastfeeding with riding a mechanical bull while pregnant? It feels like women who choose not to breastfeed are egotistical, ignorant or abusive. I think these types of messages are plain wrong and damaging, adding onto the self-imposed guilt and inadequacy most first time moms already feel.

There’s not doubt in my mind that breast milk is better than formula, no doubt! But there’s also no doubt my mind about the fact that breastfeeding is not for everyone. There are some medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, active untreated tuberculosis, maternal varicella virus contracted two to four days prior to delivery or within six days of delivery, neonatal galactosemia, and human T-cell leukemia virus, might make breastfeeding an undesirable option. Additionally, there are certain medications that nursing women might not take, and if they must, lactation might not take place. Always check with your health care provider before breastfeeding, if you have any of these medical conditions, or if you are taking any medication.

Some women have jobs that are incompatible with nursing or pumping; and many of those can’t afford or do not want to take longer maternity leaves (if any) or quit their jobs and stay home with their child. Finally, “Breastfeeding is not always easy” I hear this every week from the women at the support groups for new moms I attend every week. Many of them struggle with breastfeeding at first; they suffer from engorgement, sore and bleeding, plugged breast ducks, or mastitis; and their babies have trouble latching on, or sucking and keep losing weight. All these challenges add on to the current stress and anxieties moms already feel. The moms who successfully breastfeed, encourage those having trouble to try yet another lactation consultant, another nipple cream, another breast shield, another feeding routine, another nursing pillow, another nursing position… and to keep at it until they are successful. I agree, as long as the ‘keeping at it’ doesn’t interfere with their happiness and the way they parent their children.

I believe that happy babies come from happy moms, and I’ve seen so many moms absolutely miserable because breastfeeding was a struggle. I don’t think that’s good for the mom or the baby. If breastfeeding becomes a terribly painful experience or filled with anguish and resentment (towards your body, yourself, or your child), then I would argue that bottle-feeding, is the best option.

A lot has been said about the unique bond you develop with your child while breastfeeding. But that’s only true when breastfeeding goes according to plan. If breastfeeding becomes a struggle, week after week after week, the mother will resent herself and her baby and that will undoubtedly affect their bond. Additionally, I do believe that fathers can have a bond as special as the one mothers have with their babies, even though they do not breastfeed; as so can adoptive parents; and mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed.

To sum up, I do believe that breast milk is a much better option than formula, I do believe that breastfeeding when going well, helps create a unique bond between mother and child. Having said that, I do believe breastfeeding is not for everyone, and I do believe that mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed can be just as good mothers or better than some who chose to breastfeed.

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Diana G. Blanco, B.B.A., M.B.A., is a Certified Youth, Parenting and Family Coach; a Baby and Toddler Sleep Expert; and founder of Smooth Parenting. Smooth Parenting is a baby & toddler sleep training consultancy and parenting coaching firm, that helps families around the world get a good night sleep and a peaceful, smooth and happy family life. Diana has an impressive track record of helping families teach their babies to sleep. Her approach to sleep training and parenting is gentle, progressive, effective, holds the wellbeing of the child first, and follows the guidelines provided by the American Association of Pediatrics.

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Baby Sleep Confusion: Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Sleep is, without a doubt, the number one topic of conversation among new parents. ‘Does your baby sleep through the nigh?’, ‘Did you let him cry?’, ‘Does he still feed at night?’, ‘How do you get your baby to sleep?’… and many more are the frequently asked questions.

There is so much conflicting information out there, that many new parents feel completely overwhelmed by it, to the point where it paralyzes them. That coupled with the constant external and self-imposed guilt that many new parents (especially new moms) are surrounded by, is a recipe for disaster.

Kelly Mathews, sleepless mom 9 month old Willow, was in that situation a few weeks ago. She didn’t know what to do, she had heard it all: ‘You should respond to her every movement’, ‘You should let her cry it out’, ‘You should breastfeed her until she falls asleep’, ‘You shouldn’t breastfeed at night’, ‘You shouldn’t take her out of your room’, ‘You shouldn’t co-sleep’

‘You should…. You shouldn’t…..’

 

Everyone was telling her something different and contradictory, and the panorama didn’t improve when she resorted to books. Every book gave her a different advice, and criticized the other ones. Not even the medicine professionals would agree on what the best approach to teach children to sleep is.

Do you want to know why?

Because there is not one single method/ approach that works for every kid and/or for every family!

Every child is different, and so are his/her parents. When it comes to sleep coaching, you have to follow a plan that fits your child’s unique personality, your family situation, your values and your parenting approach; otherwise it won’t work. Having said that, I do believe that some methods shouldn’t be followed by any family, such as the popular ‘cry-it-out’. Under any circumstances, family conditions, child personality… would I recommend a parent to let his/her child to cry indiscriminately.

STOP! Stop following one advice each day, following a different method every night. Think of what your goals are in terms of baby sleep and make sure they are realistic. Forget about what worked for your neighbor, your brother, your sister-in-law, that mom on your support group… forget about what others are doing and what they tell you to do; and start looking inwards. Look at your family, at yourself, your spouse and your child; and then (and only then) decide what plan you will follow. Be consistent with your decision (don’t quit after the second night), but also be open to adjust your plan as you go along.

That’s what I do with the families I work with… I admit it! I don’t have a magical strategy that works with everyone! I do, however, design unique and personalized plans for every family I work with, that is aligned with their personalities, lifestyles, values and parenting style; and that helps them reach their sleep and parenting goals. And that’s exactly what I did with Kelly and her husband Sean. Within just a few days, they were getting the sleep they needed and deserved, they were happier, more adjusted and empowered.

When it comes to sleep training, do what feels right to you and your family. Trust your intuition! If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If it doesn’t resonate with you and your family, don’t do it! Trust yourself! Even if it’s your pediatrician giving you the advice; even if your mom is the one telling you;… even if a sleep consultant suggested it. If she/he is good at what she does, she will work with you to find the best plan for your family. I Do! 🙂

Top 3 Myths around On-Demand Feeding and Baby Sleep

I often come across moms and dads who think that choosing to feed their babies on-demand means that they won’t be able to have any kind of structure in their day, and that it is not possible for their babies to sleep through the night. I disagree with both ideas, and I would like to clarify some of the most common myths around on-demand breastfeeding (or bottle feeding) and baby sleep.

Myth #1 | Constant Feeding: Feeding on-demand means feeding every time my baby fusses or cries

Breastfeeding on demand—-also known as ‘feeding on cue’ and ‘baby-led feeding’ doesn’t mean that you have to feed your baby around the clock and every time he/she cries. Feeding on demand means responding with flexibility to your baby’s hunger cues. You feed your baby when he/she shows signs of hunger for as long as he/she desires to be fed.

Therefore, one of the first things you should do as a mom is to learn your baby’s cues. The only way your baby can communicate with you is crying, so you should listen to the different cries that your baby has and respond accordingly. Your baby will cry when he/she’s hungry, tired, overtired, bored, sad, gassy, uncomfortable, wet… and paying close attention you will learn the difference among those cries.

Common baby’s cues:
– Hunger: mouth movement, sucking, rooting, crying, fussing, and frantic head movements.
– Sleep: rubbing eyes, yawning, staring, crying, fussing, alertness, and whining.

My recommendation is to feed your baby on demand for the first weeks (1-6 weeks), while he/she is still a newborn; while you learn your baby’s cues. Once you know the difference, limit your feedings to when he/she is hungry and make sure you don’t use nursing as a soothing mechanism. If your baby is crying, but not showing signs of hunger then it is likely that something else is the problem.


Follow your baby’s cues and respond accordingly and make sure that you do not nurse every time your baby fusses, and he/she will develop healthy eating habits on his/her own. The same applies to your baby’s sleep patterns.


Myth #2 | Unpredictable and Unstructured Day: Feeding on-demand means ‘waiting for my baby to demand food’

As I suggested above, you should be ‘learning your baby’, tracking his natural feeding and sleeping patterns, so you know when to offer food and when not to. After the first few weeks of life, it is perfectly realistic to establish a feeding routine based on your baby’s cues.

Note that I said ‘routine’ (a regular order to the day) not ‘schedule’ (set times for set activities). The secret is to have a routine (a regular order to the day). Feeding on demand does not mean that you wait for your baby to ‘demand’ food. Once you learn your baby’s natural cycles and his/her cues, you can predict a certain routine for you and your baby.

Myth #3 | No Sleep: On-demand fed babies cannot sleep through the night until much later and wake up constantly

This one is right up my alley! Generally speaking, breastfed babies need to feed more often than bottle-fed babies. Breast milk is very rich in enzymes that aid digestion, requiring little digestive effort on the part of the infant, and therefore it is digested faster than formula or cow milk.

However, this doesn’t mean that an on-demand breastfed baby can’t sleep through the night or take proper naps. If you learn and follow your baby’s cues as I suggested before, your baby will get the right sleep consolidation. You will notice that your baby will nurse more right before bedtime, and that he/she will naturally consolidate his nighttime sleep before his/her 6th month of age. During the day, you will notice that the shorter catnaps consolidate into two long naps.

The best way to help him/her do this is by not offering food when you know your baby is not hungry. Don’t use nursing as a soothing mechanism, or your baby will learn exactly that and demand exactly that.

Believe that babies are made to sleep and eat naturally. We, as parents, only have to understand how they express their needs to avoid creating poor eating and sleep habits.