Unable to breastfeed? Read this

For all those mothers who are unable to breastfeed their babies. Here are our top tips for ensuring your baby thrives without breast milk. 

4 August 2016
4 minute read

woman holding baby

There’s no denying that when feeding a baby, breast is best. However, there are times, for any number of reasons, a mother is unable to breastfeed her child. This often causes a great deal of sadness and guilt, but in truth, according to Dr Deon Smith, a Cape Town paediatrician, most babies do perfectly well without breast milk. If you are in this situation, there are a few things that you should be aware of to ensure that your baby thrives.
We spoke to Dr Deon Smith, a Cape Town paediatrician, about the concerns that mothers have about feeding not breastfeeding, and how they can make the most out of giving babies formula. This is what he had to say.

It really helps if you can give your baby colostrum Colostrum is the yellow liquid that a woman’s breasts produce in the days immediately after birth, before her milk comes in on day three. It has antibodies to help babies to fight infection and contains prebiotics that help prime the gut. Even if you are unable to breastfeed, you can give your baby a boost by expressing small amounts of colostrum.

Practice skin-to-skin contact to encourage bonding There’s no denying that breastfeeding is a powerful way to bond with your baby. But if this is not possible, there’s no reason why you can’t still bond through close physical contact. This is known as skin on skin or kangaroo care, and involves placing your naked baby against your naked body. The baby regulates its body temperature through the contact with you and the closeness reduces both your and your baby’s stress and pain.

Be confident that you have the right formula Most of the different standard formula brands are all fairly similar to one another. This means that as long as you are preparing them correctly according to the package instructions, and properly sterilising the equipment you use, your baby should do just fine.

If your baby isn’t thriving on your choice of formula, seek the advice of a healthcare professional – either a paediatrician or your clinic sister – to try to work out what the problem might be, rather than asking friends and family what worked for them. Every baby is different, and your baby’s reaction could be caused by lactose intolerance, reflux or another condition that requires a condition-specific formula or other treatment.

Look out for dehydration and constipation Mother’s milk contains foremilk, which is very watery and thirst quenching, and hind milk, which is fattier and nutrient rich. Formula only comes in one state, which means that bottle-fed babies are more likely to get dehydrated and constipated. If you are bottle feeding, you can supplement with a little boiled, cooled water to keep your baby hydrated on hotter days. But do not dilute formula because you will reduce the nutrients that your baby needs.

Watch your baby’s exposure to germs Babies are born with some of their mother’s antibodies, which subside after about six months of life and it takes until about 18 months for your baby to start to build up their own immunity. Breastfeeding helps to increase baby’s antibodies, so if you are not breastfeeding, try to limit exposure to sick adults or other children during this time.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that babies don’t need the social interaction of playgroup until they are three, so if you can keep them at home in a controlled, safe, stimulating environment until then, you will reduce their exposure to germs, and prevent their immune systems from getting overwhelmed.

Don’t worry or feel guilty You obviously want what’s best for your baby, but if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, don’t let it make you miserable. A study in the UK that looked at more than 10 000 babies showed that there was no measurable difference in outcomes between breastfed and formula-fed babies. What did influence their IQ and happiness was the environment that they were raised in – so instead of feeling guilty, focus on providing your child with a happy and stimulating home environment.

But if you desperately want to breastfeed… While the focus of this blog post has been to provide help for mothers who are unable to breastfeed, it is worth mentioning that there is a lot of support out there for mothers to whom it doesn’t come naturally.

If you would like to breastfeed but are struggling, consult with your nursing sister or a lactation consultant. The solution could be as simple as adjusting your baby’s latch, get the support you need through a difficult patch, or diagnosing a tongue tie (when the frenulum under the tongue prevents the tongue from protruding sufficiently to ensure a good latch).

If you feel that you have to stop breastfeeding because you are going back to work, make sure that you have explored all your options. Just because you aren’t around all day, doesn’t mean you can’t express milk at the office. Speak to your employer about providing a quiet, private space to express. Remember that babies start solids between four and six months, after which their need for frequent milk feeds diminishes rapidly, so the period of intense demand is relatively short.

If you would prefer not to express, your baby can still get the benefits of breastmilk from one or two feeds a day, so don’t feel that you have to stop entirely just because you are working.

Good luck and happy feeding! However you are feeding your baby, be confident and happy that you are doing the best job that you can – and that’s all that matters. Enjoy your time with your baby – they grow up so fast.

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