Breastfeeding is the healthiest and most natural way to feed our babies, a fact even printed on the side of formula packaging, yet the best way in which to breastfeed seems to be an area of some debate. When, for how long, and in what manner you feed has become a confusing bundle of mixed advice, leaving new mothers struggling to feel like they are doing the right thing.

But why does it have to be so complicated? Surely other mammals are not following a carefully thought out formula, taught to them by others, to feed their babies. Their little ones are hungry, so they feed them; end of story.

Here are some of the breastfeeding “rules” I’ve heard of and why I DON’T listen to them:

“Your baby should feed every X hours.” Have you ever heard the expression “don’t wake a sleeping baby”? Babies don’t like being woken up, so why force them?  Your Baby knows when they are hungry and they will tell you when they are. As long as they look and act like a healthy, growing child, than that should be enough to let you know they are getting enough nourishment.

“It’s bad to let your baby feed for comfort.” I believe this instinct is there for a reason. Perhaps to make sure mom is there in times of danger, or perhaps to help keep mom’s milk supply at the right level. Either way, I trust evolution. As long as you’re eating healthy, your baby is too. So relax, your baby will regulate their amount of intake to what’s best for them.

“Baby should feed for X minutes each feed.” When I first heard this rule I heard something like 30 to 40 minutes is what should be expected, and with a newborn baby who took about that long, everything seemed grand. Then as time went on, suddenly my daughter started feeding for only 5 minutes at a time. I would try to coax her back on, but this would only upset her. I was worried she wasn’t getting enough! So I asked an adviser at the local breastfeeding group about it, and she cleared things up. Apparently some babies just get really efficient at it, and only need to feed 5 minutes at a time. I stopped pressuring Jade to eat more, she was happy, so I was happy. This was yet another reminder in baby knows best!

“You should try to get baby to drain both breasts at each feed.” Different babies feed differently. Some will want to go on to the next breast as soon as they’ve drained the first, some will be full off of one. It’s best to listen to your individual baby’s needs. For my Jade, she’s happy with just the one at most feeds.

“Switch which breast you use each time you feed.” This rule is to prevent you from losing the ability to feed from one breast or the other from lack of use, which can happen. However, don’t panic! Yes, you should make sure you are not forming habits that leave you only feeding from one breast all the time, but at the same time, think of this more like the ‘don’t always carry your bag on the same shoulder’ rule. If it makes sense to feed twice from the same side for whatever reason, that’s ok. You don’t need a mobile phone app or a bracelet or anything fancy like that to track what side you last fed on and rule your life. Let yourself relax and feel free to wing it a bit! Also, if you need an idea which breast you haven’t been using the last feed or two, just give them a squeeze!

Real Concerns of Breastfeeding

Sore nipples. Ok, so sore nipples are not fun. I’ve been there. When Jade was a newborn she was what my baby book called a “barracuda baby”, meaning when she fed she meant business. Blisters plagued my new-to-breastfeeding nipples, and I got to the point where I wasn’t sure I could take much more.

Some use shields to fix the problem, but these are controversial and I would mark them as a last resort, because feeding too much with nipple shields can inhibit your baby’s ability to feed straight off of the nipple. So what is a good solution? A midwife I talked to suggested Lanolin.

Lanolin is the oily wax in sheep’s wool which protects their coat from water. It’s all natural, and is fine to go through baby’s digestive system, making it a perfect soother for abused nipples. It made all the difference for me, and I would recommend buying a tube before baby arrives just in case.

For peace of mind though know that sore nipples, if you get them, are temporary! As long as your baby is latching on correctly (baby’s top lip right above the nipple, their lower lip a good mouthful below), the soreness will only be from your nipples adjusting to the new situation and will pass. Hang in there; any breastfeeding mom will tell you it’s worth it!

Milk Leakage. This problem is pretty much gone for me now but it was quite an annoying issue when Jade was a newborn. So, how to best solve it? For me, I purchased several pairs of organic cotton and hemp breast pads which work great during the day and are quite comfortable. They can also be easily thrown in the wash. You just have to make sure to switch them out for new ones whenever one starts to get damp, which I found usually happened on the breast that wasn’t being used during a feed.

As for night time, since I don’t wear a bra while I’m sleeping, I found having a small muslin against my breast and one to exchange it with within reaching distance was the best solution, especially for night time feeds while bed sharing.

Diet. You’ve probably heard there are things you should consume, and things you shouldn’t, while breastfeeding. However, there are some varying opinions in terms of do’s and don’ts. Here’s my take on it:

Do’s – Eat as much of a natural diet as possible to give baby the best energy possible.

Don’ts – Junk food, processed sugar, caffeine, alcohol. If you shouldn’t be eating it, neither should baby!

I think a lot of women don’t realise how much of what they eat actually gets into their breast milk, but let me assure you, it does. I made all natural lemon squares the other day and the next day Jade’s poo smelled like lemons!

Finally, note that I did not put raw meat or eggs on my “don’ts” list. As long as ingredients are carefully sourced from healthy, naturally raised stock and are eaten fresh, I consider these ingredients to be more of a gain rather than a loss. There are, after all, added nutrients to raw foods that are cooked away otherwise.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Why breastfeed? Because the list of benefits is beyond anything else!

Breastfed babies have better immunity, less allergies, are less prone to obesity, often grow to be more intelligent, and have a lesser chance of SIDS.

Moms who breastfeed are less vulnerable to postpartum depression, more relaxed, naturally lose weight, have a lower chance of breast cancer, and are able to form a tight bond with their baby through breastfeeding.

And to top it all off, breast milk is available free and on-demand! No heating or mixing up formula with a crying baby in the background, no worrying about transporting milk and keeping it refrigerated, less mess while baby eats, no sterilising bottles, and no worrying about baby getting too much or not enough.

Why breastfeed? Because breast milk is nature’s (w)hole-in-one!