I think it’s safe to say that most mothers find having a newborn overwhelming at some point.
Amongst breastfeeding mothers I think there is sometimes a misconception that bottle feeding mothers find this stage easier.
When breastfeeding it is true that your baby is dependent on you being there at all times and in the early days this can absolutely feel overwhelming, but trying to think longer term may help.
Once your partner is back at work and all the initial offers of help die down, you are still left doing most (if not all) the feeds. When bottle feeding this then includes washing, sterilising, making up powdered milk, buying milk powder and all the other hard work that goes with bottle feeding.
I’m also pretty sure that if you were to generalise that all bottle feeding mothers must be getting more sleep that there would be rather an uproar! It is a very common misconception that a bottle fed baby sleeps more. Yet research shows us that breastfeeding mothers actually get MORE sleep!
When it comes to having a settled sleeper, I truly believe that is luck of the draw. Many breastfed babies sleep well in fact, especially if we adapt our expectations and find ways to keep them close and reassured. It is actually far more common for a bottle fed baby to experience stomach problems due to the nature of the milk and therefore experience ‘colic’ symptoms and long nights of being unsettled.
Lets not forget that bottle feeding, when doing this in a responsive manner (eg. paced feeding) takes up two hands (Please note to never bottle feed a baby by propping a bottle up, this is incredibly dangerous). Once you are a bit more practised, breastfeeding can often be carried out one handed and as such is much easier on the go, or whilst trying to entertain another child. In a nutshell, breastfeeding can be the easiest option.
When I am helping women I have found it useful to point these things out to new mums, especially when they are battling a hurdle and finding things difficult and in their minds the myth (the one that the formula companies want us to believe!) that bottle feeding would be easier is making them question what they are doing.
There is one thing in particular that seems to strike a cord with most women; Breastfeeding is a Tool.
We (mostly) all know that breastfeeding has many benefits, namely that of the health of mother and baby, but taking that as a given, what else can we do with this tool?
When babies feed from the breast they self regulate their intake of milk. This means you could breastfeed your baby all the live long day should they wish. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby.
Now think about the baby who is screaming all night for reasons that no one knows, it could be a tummy pain, earache, teething, who knows? If only they could tell us.
Let your baby breastfeed and they calm, lay still and often fall asleep with those wonderful sleep inducing hormones they receive. Okay, if it’s a rough night, they may want to stay there for a long while or feed often, but they are calm, still and NOT screaming. In a safe position you may be able to fall asleep with them at the breast. Peace at last. It’s about so much more than milk. Here is your built in baby comfort system.
When a baby is bottle fed you sadly lose this tool. You cannot simply feed bottle after bottle in an attempt to settle them, if they didn’t have tummy ache before they certainly would if you did this! You are left with a screaming baby and have lost the simplest and easiest ready to go tool to sooth them.
A tired baby will often fall asleep at the breast. Despite many unqualified baby ‘experts’ having an issue about ‘allowing’ this, it’s absolutely normal, natural and above all useful to encourage babies to sleep in this way, regardless of what the ‘baby expert’ books says (please always question the credentials of the authors of these books and their evidence base, which is usually non-existent!). In fact UNICEF and other evidence based organisations and practitioners encourage women to embrace their ability to calm their babies with this wonderful natural tool that we have been given. The hormones produce a drowsy effect and the closeness and suckling relaxes the baby. An overtired baby can often be put into a lovely milk induced sleep at the breast.
If your baby gets hurt, or perhaps is clingy after some time away from mum, often a breastfeed can calm and relax them and generally make the world good again.
Breastfeeding should absolutely be used as a tool.
Next time you are awake, perhaps for the umpteenth time that night, look at how peaceful your baby is whilst feeding.
Yes, you’re awake again, but it’s quiet. It would be so much harder if they were screaming and you had lost your toolbox.
If you are feeling close to losing your toolbox, please get in touch with someone who is trained to help you. Get some support to see you over this hurdle so you can experience the enjoyment of breastfeeding and this wonderful tool you have.