Finish the First Breast First? Not Always!

Among breastfeeding moms, it tends to be common knowledge that you should “finish the first breast first”, meaning you should make sure that your baby is done on the first side before offering the second side. For most babies, this is a good approach. In some instances however, it is actually preferable to repeatedly switch sides.

Some newborns don’t nurse very effectively in the early days after birth. This can happen for a number of reasons – jaundice, sleepiness from medication used during birth, ineffective sucking due to birth interventions, structural issues like tongue-tie, or simply a poor latch. Many of these babies will go to breast and appear to be nursing just fine, but they’re not actually drinking. There is a big difference between a baby who is actively nursing and one who is just hanging out at mom’s breast. The baby who is just hanging out is getting comfort from being at breast, but isn’t getting enough to eat, which means that in turn, mom’s body isn’t getting the message to make more milk and milk production can suffer as a result (along with baby’s weight gain).

For a baby that is not transferring milk effectively, frequently switching sides along with using breast compression, is one of the best ways to keep your baby drinking, ensure that your baby is getting what they need to gain the appropriate amount of weight and protect your milk production. Babies respond to milk flow, so we want to keep the milk flowing as much as possible to make it easier for baby. By switching sides, you typically trigger your milk to let down again, which stimulates baby to keep drinking. As the flow starts to slow again, you can use breast compression to encourage baby to keep going.

With breast compression, depending on how you are holding your baby, you can use your hand around your breast, or use your flat hand on the top of your breast. If your baby is sucking but not swallowing, then compress your breast (firmly, but not hard enough to hurt yourself) and hold it. It may take a few seconds for your baby to respond. If your baby starts to actively drink again, then continue to hold the compression until the drinking stops, then release your hand and compress again. If your baby isn’t responding to the compressions, then switch sides. You may have do a little bit of compression to start with when you switch sides to get your baby to suck enough to trigger another let down. Some moms worry about the potential for foremilk/hindmilk imbalance when using switch nursing, however it is rarely a concern and using this approach ensures that your baby is taking in as much milk as possible. A baby that is not getting enough to eat is a much bigger concern.

You can switch sides as many times as you need to. By doing this, along with adding in the breast compression, you can increase the amount of milk that your baby is taking in as you work through whatever is causing the ineffective milk transfer. Keep in mind that switch nursing and breast compression are a temporary measure, not something that you will need to do the whole time you are breastfeeding. For some babies, they may simply need a little bit of time to recover from the birth process. For some babies however, other help may be needed and it is best to consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Switch nursing can also be an effective method of dealing with oversupply.

Breastfeeding Stories of Hope

After watching a video of good deeds caught on security cameras, it brought to mind something that I’ve often thought about. We see and hear so much negativity in the news, in print media and on-line, that it is bound to have an impact on our perceptions of our world. I wonder how different things would  be if we were exposed to more of the positive stories. They’re out there, but it’s easy to forget at times when we are surrounded by constant stories of hate, intolerance and tragedy. We need reminders that there is still a lot of good in the world.

I feel the same way when it comes to breastfeeding. A while ago I asked the following question on Twitter and Facebook: “When you were pregnant, what did you hear more of about breastfeeding – positive stories or horror stories?”. The answer was overwhelmingly that people had heard mainly horror stories from their friends, family and even complete strangers. I think we hear the horror stories because birth and breastfeeding have a big impact on how we perceive ourselves as mothers, and it is something that stays with us. For those who have had a bad experience, it is natural to have a need to talk about it as it is part of the healing process.

What kind of impact does this have though on us as women when it comes to our confidence in our bodies to nourish our children? I believe that it often causes women to doubt their abilities before their child even arrives. This doubt often sets into motion a series of events that can lead to premature weaning, which of course just reinforces the belief that breastfeeding is difficult and not possible for many women.

Breastfeeding is a natural event that our bodies are specially designed for, and the vast majority of women are capable of breastfeeding their babies without any problems.  The fact that there are so many horror stories out there is a very sad reflection on the state of today’s maternal and newborn care practices. Unfortunately, hospital policies and the curriculums for health care providers are very slow to catch up to what the evidence is telling us is best practice. Many of the current practices in hospital sabotage breastfeeding before it really even gets started. This is why it’s so important to be educated before your baby arrives.

There are lots of positive stories out there, but they can be much harder to find than the negative ones. Because of this, I’d like to collect breastfeeding stories to highlight on my website. Research tells us that the higher a woman’s confidence in breastfeeding is, the more likely she is to meet her breastfeeding goals. Stories from others mothers who have had positive breastfeeding experiences, or (perhaps more importantly), stories from mothers who faced difficulty with breastfeeding but overcame those difficulties and went on to breastfeed successfully, can be inspiring and a source of hope for other mothers who are currently struggling. Even if you didn’t end up exclusively feeding at breast, if you found a solution to your struggles that you were happy with and worked for your family, that’s still success!

Please share your story, or leave some encouraging words for other mothers, in the comments below or e-mail me at fleur(at)nurturedchild(dot)ca. Help other breastfeeding moms by getting the word out that it is possible to meet your breastfeeding goals, even if you’ve had a rough start!

To read the stories that have been submitted so far, see Breastfeeding – You Can Do It!


My Baby’s Latch is “Perfect” so Why Does Breastfeeding Hurt?

Stating “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt” always draws a lot of comment from mothers who unfortunately did have a lot of pain with breastfeeding. Many mothers who are having pain find that the pain suddenly disappears after a few weeks or months. Why does this happen? Is it simply a case of it being  normal for some women to have pain? As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think it is. Pain, especially “toe-curling pain” while nursing is NOT normal, but I do know that it is sometimes hard to find an answer as to what is causing the pain.

The most common reason for pain when nursing is that your baby is not latched on properly, but what if your baby’s latch seems to be OK? I work with a lot of moms who are having pain with breastfeeding, and they often tell me that they were told by another care provider that their baby’s latch looks “perfect” so there shouldn’t be any pain. This leaves moms feeling confused, frustrated and feeling like they are doing something wrong. How a baby’s latch feels, is far more important than what it looks like from the outside. Some latches do look “perfect” from the outside and yet something is going on inside the baby’s mouth that is causing problems (and some latches look “wrong” from the outside, yet mom isn’t having any pain and baby is nursing effectively, so everything is good!).  If a baby is truly latching on well but mom is still in pain, the two main reasons for it that I see in my practice are tongue and/or lip-tie and structural restrictions caused by delivery or position in the womb.

Tongue and lip-tie: Many years ago, tongue-tie was routinely checked for, and clipped at birth. As society turned more towards bottle feeding, this practice fell out of favour because tongue-tie doesn’t usually cause any problems with bottle feeding (although it certainly can!). Because of this, the knowledge about tongue-tie has been lost and many health care providers know very little about it, or don’t see it as a problem. Today, as more and more women are breastfeeding, we are struggling to regain that knowledge because tongue and lip-tie certainly have an impact on breastfeeding.  Posterior tongue-ties in particular, (where the frenulum, or membrane under the tongue is attached towards the base of the tongue rather than the tip of the tongue) are sneaky, and easily missed by many health care providers. If you are having pain with breastfeeding and your baby’s latch looks good then it’s important to have your baby checked for tongue and lip-tie by someone knowledgeable.

Structural restrictions due to birth interventions or baby’s position in utero: This one is largely overlooked, and is probably the biggest cause of pain in those situations where everything “looks” ok, tongue and lip-tie have been ruled out,  but breastfeeding is still painful. Birth and breastfeeding are closely linked, and there are many things during labour and delivery that can have a direct impact on breastfeeding. Birth interventions such as vacuum, forceps or c-section tend to be the most common causes of structural issues, but sometimes even in an intervention free birth there can be structural issues due to the baby’s position in utero.

Forceps and vacuum extraction can cause bruising and swelling of the head and face, and due to the pressure exerted, they can cause distortion of the cranial bones. Although a baby’s cranial bones are designed to move over one another as baby descends through the birth canal, the forces exerted by vacuum or forceps can often cause shifts in the cranial bones that are not easily self-corrected by the baby after birth. All of these things can cause irritation to the baby’s cranial nerves, and it is the cranial nerves that control everything through the mouth and jaw. This irritation can lead to alterations in sucking patterns that result in pain for mom, and/or ineffective milk transfer. These babies may also be generally fussy due to discomfort. Imagine how you would feel if you were pulled or vacuumed out of a tight space by your head!

Babies are meant to pushed out by mom’s uterine contractions, so when a baby is delivered by C-section, or even when a well-meaning doctor tries to speed up a vaginal delivery by pulling on the baby, it can cause structural issues within the baby’s spinal cord that can affect sucking. It can also result in a strong preference for nursing on one side over the other, pain on one side but not the other, or even an inability to latch at all on one side. Even when there are no interventions during delivery, sometimes the position that a baby is in while in utero can have an impact on breastfeeding. If a baby is stuck in a certain position it can cause tightening of the neck muscles on one side, or even torticollis. I’ve also seen jaw distortions in babies who spent a lot of time in utero with their hand pressed against the side of their face. Again, these things can cause sucking issues or issues with baby being unable to achieve a comfortable latch/position.

Many of these structural issues do work themselves out eventually, or the baby learns to compensate for the restrictions and is eventually able to nurse effectively. This is why many moms find that the pain eventually goes away. In the mean time though, mothers struggle with unnecessary pain and often a very frustrating breastfeeding relationship. There are however ways to help. Many parents find that in these situations, complementary therapies such as chiropractic care and or craniosacral therapy can make a big difference for breastfeeding. There are other complementary therapies as well such as osteopathy or Bowen therapy that can also be very effective. The important thing to keep in mind that when choosing a care provider is that you want to find someone who is trained to work with babies and has experience doing so. If complementary therapies are not a possibility, or not something you are comfortable with, infant massage may also be beneficial (and is a wonderful way to connect with your baby). If you’re wondering whether your baby may have structural issues that are contributing to your struggles with breastfeeding, this article by Dee Kassing provides great information about some of the things to look for. This post from Renee Beebe is a great example of the difference that skilled bodywork can make.

10 Tips for Getting Breastfeeding off to a Good Start

1: Educate yourself and establish a network of support before your baby arrives

You’re preparing for the birth of your baby by reading and researching, and it’s important to prepare for breastfeeding the same way. Now is the time to find good sources of information, and determine where you can go for help and support after your baby is born. If you’ve had issues in the past with breastfeeding you may want to schedule a prenatal consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to determine what the problems were and how to avoid or minimize them. Breastfeeding is a learned skill and we are meant to learn about it by seeing other women breastfeeding their babies.  Many of us however, grow up never having seen another woman breastfeed. Because of this, La Leche League or other peer support meetings during pregnancy are a great idea. You can see normal breastfeeding in action, gather information and add to your network of support.


2: Minimize interventions as much as possible during labour and delivery

Any kind of intervention during birth such as an epidural, induction, vacuum, forceps or C-section, can have a negative impact on breastfeeding. That’s not to say that breastfeeding is doomed if you do have interventions during birth, but it can certainly make breastfeeding more complicated, and it often leads to a cascade of interventions that can lead to premature weaning. Your birth has a direct impact on breastfeeding, so a  good prenatal class is not only helpful for learning how to cope during labour and delivery, but it is also helpful for getting breastfeeding off to a good start. Look for a class that will teach you and your partner how to actively manage your labour, not how to be a good patient! A doula is another wonderful way to ensure you have the support you need during labour and delivery and the postpartum period.


3: Keep your baby skin-to-skin after birth as much as possible

Providing there are no medical complications, your baby should be put skin-to-skin with you immediately after birth, and stay there undisturbed until after he has breastfed (or attempted to breastfeed) for the first time. Things such as weighing, vitamin K, eye ointment, etc. can all wait until after the first feed. If you’re not able to have your baby skin-to-skin immediately, and you are handed your baby all bundled up, take those blankets (and hat and mittens) off! For skin-to-skin contact your baby should be dressed in only a diaper and your chest should be bare. Among other things, skin-to-skin contact keeps your baby’s heart rate, breathing, temperature, oxygen saturation and blood sugar stable, it’s good for milk production and it also ensures that your baby is colonized with your bacteria (to which you have antibodies in your milk) rather than hospital bacteria. Keeping your baby skin-to-skin as much as possible during the early days/weeks allows you and your baby to get to know one another, helps both of you recover from birth, helps with breastfeeding and it is healing for your baby if there have been interventions during birth. Skin-to-skin contact is a great way for Dad and baby to bond too!


4: Remember your baby knows how to latch on

A good latch is important for both your comfort, and your baby’s ability to transfer milk. Thoughts on latching have changed in recent years, and the more we learn, the more we are reminded that babies know what to do as long as they have easy access to mom’s breast! Any help with latching should be mostly hands off. Forceful attempts at latching can actually cause problems such as breast aversion and make breastfeeding more difficult. The most important thing to remember about latching is that babies find your breast by feel, not sight. Their face has to be in contact with your breast so that they can figure out where they are and latch on.


5: If things are not going well, keep baby skin-to-skin, hand express and spoon feed your colostrum

If your baby is not latching or not nursing well, then keep your baby skin-to-skin and hand express and spoon feed. Hand expression works better than pumping  until your milk increases in volume around day three, because the small volumes of colostrum tend to get lost in the pump parts. The small volumes of colostrum in the early days are perfect for your baby’s small stomach. Frequent hand expression and spoon feeding ensures that your baby is getting what he needs, and stimulates your milk production at the same time. Along with skin-to-skin contact, hand expressing and spoon feeding, input from a skilled IBCLC is helpful to get breastfeeding back on track.


6: Be familiar with normal weight loss and gain

It is normal for babies to lose some weight in the first few days after delivery. Peak weight loss tends to be on day 3, around the same time that mom’s milk is just starting to increase in volume. From then on, we expect to see an average weight gain of about 1 oz (30g) per day in a baby who is nursing well, and we expect that baby will be back to birth weight by about 7-10 days. One thing to keep in mind in hospital is that new research tells us that if a mother has had IV fluids during labour and delivery, her baby’s weight loss tends to be greater. If weight loss is a concern and you are getting pressured to supplement with formula, ask for more time and get help from an IBCLC to assess breastfeeding. While you are waiting to see an IBCLC, keep your baby skin-to-skin and you can start hand expressing and spoon feeding if your baby doesn’t seem to be feeding well.


7: Be familiar with normal newborn behaviour

While in utero, your baby has been fed 24 hrs a day through the umbilical cord. Once your baby is born, he has to make the adjustment to intermittent feedings. He also has a tiny tummy and breastmilk is digested quickly, so frequent feedings (every 1.5-2 hrs) are perfectly normal. It is also perfectly normal for your baby to want to be held all the time and to cry when you put him down. Your baby is familiar with your scent, the sound of your voice and heartbeat and he feels safest in your arms. Many moms worry about having enough milk for their baby, but the vast majority of moms are capable of producing more than enough milk. The frequent feedings in the early weeks can be intense but they help to establish good milk production. Signs that feeding is going well include visible/audible swallowing during nursing, baby waking to feed and is feeding 8-12 times in 24hrs, baby is having 3-4 dirty diapers a day by day 4, baby is content after feeding and is gaining weight appropriately.


8: Get help sooner rather than later, and keep your supply up!

If things are not going well – you’re having pain, your baby isn’t gaining weight or is gaining slowly etc, then get help from an IBCLC as soon as possible. The sooner problems are identified, the easier they are to fix. If your baby is not nursing or not nursing well, then while you are waiting to be seen by an IBCLC, hand express or (once your milk “comes in”) pump every 2-3 hours to protect your supply. Breastfeeding problems are much more difficult to correct if milk production is also an issue. Red flags that indicate a need for help with breastfeeding include: pain during nursing, cracked/bleeding nipples, no visible/audible swallowing during nursing, a baby who quickly falls asleep at breast and isn’t waking to feed every 2-3 hours by day 2, a baby who isn’t having 3-4 dirty diapers/24hrs by day 4, or a baby who is still passing meconium on day 4.


9: Ignore the housework and accept all offers of help

Once you’re home, it’s important to remember that you are recovering from the birthing process and you and your baby need time to get to know one another and establish your milk production. Now is the time to accept any and all offers of help so that you can focus on your baby. Make a list of all the things that need to be done, and put it on your fridge. When visitors ask how they can help, you can refer them to the list and let them choose what they would like to do.


10: Keep in mind that breastfeeding is not just about food!

Babies nurse for all kinds of reasons and hunger is only one of them. They nurse because they’re hungry, thirsty, tired, over stimulated, too hot or cold, in pain or not feeling well, or just because they need some cuddles with mom. All are equally valid reasons to nurse and one of the wonderful things about breastfeeding is that it solves just about everything.  You can never go wrong with putting your baby to breast, even if they just ate. It’s not possible to spoil a baby with too much love, holding or breastfeeding, and the early years go by fast so enjoy those cuddles!

The Best and Worst Places in the Industrialized World for Breastfeeding Support

Every year, the non-profit organization and registered charity Save the Children looks at the health status, nutrition, education, economic well-being and political participation of women around the world to come up with their annual  State of the World’s Mothers report. Along with providing rankings for 165 countries around the world, each report has a different theme. This year, the report focuses on the critical impact of nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, starting with pregnancy. The report also contains an Infant and Toddler Early Feeding Score for 73 developing countries and a Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard which looks at breastfeeding practices, support and policies for 36 industrialized countries. You can read more about the best and worst places in the world to be a mother and the Infant and Toddler Early Feeding Score in this companion blog post.

The Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard for Developed Countries is new this year, and it provides an interesting look at support for breastfeeding in the industrialized world. Rankings are based on maternity leave laws, right to daily nursing breaks, percentage of hospitals that are baby friendly, state of policy support for the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and breastfeeding practices. Of the 36 countries listed, Norway ranks first with a score of 9.2 and the USA ranks last with a score of 4.2. Canada ranks 31st with a score of 5.4.

From the report, we see that Norway is doing a wonderful job of supporting breastfeeding mothers:

“Norway tops the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard ranking. Norwegian mothers enjoy one of the most generous parental leave policies in the developed world. After giving birth, mothers can take up to 36 weeks off work with 100 percent of their pay, or they may opt for 46 weeks with 80 percent pay (or less if the leave period is shared with the father). In addition, Norwegian law provides for up to 12 months of additional child care leave, which can be taken by both fathers and mothers. When they return to work, mothers have the right to nursing breaks as they need them. Nearly 80 percent of hospitals have been certified as baby-friendly and many provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes have been enacted into law. Breastfeeding practices in Norway reflect this supportive environment: 99 percent of babies there are breastfed initially and 70 percent are breastfed exclusively at 3 months.”

Compare this to the USA:

“The United States ranks last on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. It is the only economically advanced country and one of just a handful of countries worldwide where employers are not required to provide any paid maternity leave after a woman gives birth. There is also no paid parental leave required by U.S. law. Mothers may take breaks from work to nurse, but employers are not required to pay them for this time. Only 2 percent of hospitals in the United States have been certified as baby-friendly and none of the provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes has been enacted into law. While 75 percent of American babies are initially breastfed, only 35 percent are being breastfed exclusively at 3 months.”

The differences between Norway and the United States is staggering (and Canada isn’t doing much better than the United States). For all the talk about “Breast is best” North America is doing a very poor job of providing parents with the support they need to actually give their babies the “best”. Most mothers want to breastfeed. Breastfeeding initiation rates are high, but breastfeeding drops off rapidly in the early weeks after birth. This happens not because mothers don’t want to breastfeed anymore, but because they haven’t received the support they need to continue. Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also something that requires community support. Conditions during birth and the first 72hrs after birth are critical for establishing breastfeeding (hence the importance of hospitals being Baby Friendly) and it is important that mothers have sufficient time off of work to establish their breastfeeding relationship which encourages a longer duration of breastfeeding.

Although not specifically about breastfeeding, below are some other key points about the United States from the report that should really be cause for alarm:

In the United States, mothers face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death the highest of any industrialized nation. In fact, only three developed countries Albania, Moldova and the Russian Federation perform worse than the United States on this indicator. A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Ireland or Italy to die from a pregnancy-related cause and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece

The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is 8 per 1,000 births. This is on par with rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovakia and Qatar. Forty countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. This means that a child in the U.S. is four times as likely as a child in Iceland to die before his or her 5th birthday.

The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation. It is the only developed country and one of only a handful of countries in the world that does not guarantee working mothers paid leave.

The United States is also lagging behind with regard to preschool enrollment and the political status of women. Performance in both areas places it among the bottom 10 in the developed world.

An interesting (and again alarming!) point about Canada from the Save the Children Canada website:

“Norway’s under 5 mortality rate is half that of Canada (3 deaths per 1000 live births vs 6 deaths per 1000 live births)

The risks of not breastfeeding are well documented, and there is plenty of research on the best ways to encourage breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. The statistics from this report for the countries at the top of the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard show that interventions such as requiring hospitals to be Baby Friendly, providing adequate paid maternity leave and supporting the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes DO work.  This report should be a wake-up call for the countries at the bottom of the scorecard!

Below is the full list of where the 36 countries placed on the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard. For the full details, and to see the score for each country, please refer to section 1:43 of the full report:

1. Norway
2. Slovenia
3. Sweden
4. Luxembourg
5. Austria
6. Lithuania
7. Latvia
8. Czech Republic
9. Netherlands
10. Germany
11. Estonia
12. Poland
13. Portugal
14. France
15. Belgium
16. Ireland
17. Italy
18. Switzerland
19. New Zealand
20. Cyprus
21. Denmark
22. Greece
23. Slovak Republic
24. Spain
25. United Kingdom
26. Finland
27. Israel
28. Japan
29. Hungary
30. Liechtenstein
31. Canada
32. Iceland
33. Monaco
34. Australia
35. Malta
36. United States



The Best and Worst Places in the World to be a Mother

Every year, the non-profit organization and registered charity Save the Children looks at the health status, nutrition, education, economic well-being and political participation of women around the world to come up with their annual  State of the World’s Mothers report. Along with providing rankings for 165 countries around the world, each report has a different theme. This year, the report focuses on the critical impact of nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, starting with pregnancy. The report also contains an Infant and Toddler Early Feeding Score for 73 developing countries and a Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard which looks at breastfeeding practices, support and policies for 36 industrialized countries. You can read more about the Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard in this companion blog post.

So what are the best and worst places in the world to be a mother?

Top 10 best places in the world to be a mother :

1. Norway
2. Iceland
3. Sweden
4. New Zealand
5. Denmark
6. Finland
7. Australia
8. Belgium
9. Ireland
10. Netherlands

Top 10 Worst places to be a mother:

1. Niger
2. Afghanistan
6. Eritrea
9. South Sudan
10. Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the report:

“The gap in availability of maternal and child health services is especially dramatic when comparing Norway and Niger. Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only a third of births are attended in Niger. A typical Norwegian girl can expect to receive 18 years of formal education and to live to be over 83 years old. Eighty-two percent of women are using some modern method of contraception, and only 1 in 175 is likely to lose a child before his or her fifth birthday. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Niger, a typical girl receives only 4 years of education and lives to be only 56. Only 5 percent of women are using modern contraception, and 1 child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday. At this rate, every mother in Niger is likely to suffer the loss of a child.”

“Conditions for mothers and their children in the bottom countries are grim. On average, 1 in 30 women will die from pregnancy-related causes. One child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday, and more than 1 child in 3 suffers from malnutrition. Nearly half the population lacks access to safe water and fewer than 4 girls for every 5 boys are enrolled in primary school.”

Malnutrition is a global crisis and it affects millions of children. Save the Children’s 13th annual report highlights the impact of this crisis and makes suggestions for improving conditions for mothers and children worldwide.

From the report, in answer to the question “Why focus on the first 1,000 days?”:

“Malnutrition is an underlying cause of 2.6 million child deaths each year.1 Million more children survive, but suffer lifelong physical and cognitive impairments because they did not get the nutrients they needed early in their lives when their growing bodies and minds were most vulnerable. When children start their lives malnourished, the negative effects are largely irreversible.”

Save the Children has identified six key nutrition solutions that have the greatest potential to save children’s  lives in the first 1,000 days and beyond. These solutions are ones that could be easily implemented at minimal cost if only there was the political will to do so:

“Three of the six solutions iron, vitamin A and zinc are typically packaged as capsules costing pennies per dose, or about $1 to $2 per person, per year. The other three solutions breastfeeding, complementary feeding and good hygiene  are behavior-change solutions, which are implemented through outreach, education and community support…… All combined, the entire lifesaving package costs less than $20 per child for the first 1,000 days.”

Save the Children has estimated that nearly 1.3 million children’s lives could be saved each year if the six interventions they identify were  fully implemented in the 12 countries most heavily burdened by child malnutrition and under-5 mortality.

One of the things that I really like about the report is that it highlights breastfeeding as an important way to combat child malnutrition, and in their section on barriers to breastfeeding, they address the aggressive marketing of infant formula. For more information about the devastation that is caused in developing countries by this unethical marketing, please read the article Milking it.

This year’s report from Save the Children includes an Infant and Toddler Early Feeding Score for 73 developing countries. The score is based on the percentage of children who are put to breast within one hour of birth, exclusively breastfed for the first six months, breastfed with complementary foods from ages 6-9 months and breastfed at age 2. The scorecard also looks at each countries progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 and the degree to which they have implemented the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (although these last two indicators are not included in the calculation of the overall score). Only 4 countries out of 73 score “very good” on these indicators, and more than two-thirds fall into the “fair” or “poor” category. The top 4 countries are Malawi, Madagascar, Peru and Soloman Islands. The bottom 4 are Equatorial Guinea, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire and Somalia. The top 4 countries on the Infant and Toddler Early Feeding Scorecard have made an effort to address child malnutrition, and their efforts are paying off. Change is possible!

Malnutrition in developing countries may seem like a distant problem and one that doesn’t affect us, but the children of the world not just our own neighbourhoods, are our future. The malnutrition crisis in the developing world is not new. It is an ongoing problem, and what is so frustrating is that the means exist to address the issue! Despite this fact, children in these countries have been suffering for years and will continue to do so unless the governments of the world decide to stop their posturing on these important issues and take action. Imagine how much good could be accomplished if some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent every at the G8 and G20 summits were actually spent on taking action on some of the issues they are discussing. We don’t need more research or discussion, we need for people, governments and individuals alike, to step up and say “We’re going to do something about this“.


Breastfeeding, Weight Gain and Growth Charts

A baby’s weight can be a big source of stress for breastfeeding mothers. Is my baby gaining too little or too much? Are they on the right percentile? Am I making enough milk? Often, these concerns stem from parents, and even health care providers, not having a good understanding of what is normal when it comes to babies and weight.

So what is normal? Well, to start with, it is normal for babies to lose some weight after birth. Peak weight loss usually happens on day three (just before mom’s milk “comes in”). Weight loss in hospital is often a big concern, and unfortunately, often a reason for breastfed babies being unnecessarily supplemented with formula. Most hospitals use the measurement of 7% loss from birth weight as an indicator of a problem. The latest research however is giving us new insight into normal newborn weight loss. Dr. Joy Noel-Weiss recently completed a research study looking at newborn weight loss and how that weight loss is affected by IV fluids given to mom during labour. Her findings confirmed what many in the lactation community have thought for some time. IV fluids can artificially inflate a baby’s birth weight. Her study found that IV fluids given to mom during labour and delivery, particularly in the two hours immediately prior to birth, have an impact on how much weight a baby loses after birth. All of that extra fluid has to go somewhere, and some of it goes to baby. After a baby is born and gets rid of the extra fluid, it can look like that baby has lost too much weight. One of the recommendations of the study is that all babies be weighed at 24hrs to allow babies to get rid of any extra fluids they may have in their system, and to use the 24hr weight to calculate weight loss/gain rather than birth weight.

In terms, of weight gain, a healthy term newborn should regain their birth weight by about 7-10 days. A healthy newborn baby who is transferring milk well, is a baby who is growing and gaining weight (after about day 3). If your baby isn’t gaining, or is gaining very slowly, it’s a red flag that something isn’t quite right and breastfeeding needs to be assessed. The first course of action should always be to figure out what is causing the slow weight gain. Whether it’s an issue with mom’s milk production or a problem with baby’s ability to transfer milk effectively, the cause of the problem needs to be determined by someone knowledgeable about breastfeeding. In the first few days in hospital, if your baby is not nursing well and weight gain is a concern, then constant skin-to-skin contact and frequent hand expression and spoon feeding of colostrum are the best approach. If you are being pressured to give formula, you can ask for more time and then get help from an IBCLC.

Once breastfeeding is established, we expect babies to gain at a rate of about 5-7 oz per week (close to an ounce per day), for about the first 3 months. Between months 3-12, weight gain tends to slow down. It is normal for the rate of weight gain to slow down, but it is not normal for weight gain to stop completely or for babies to lose weight. The average breastfed baby doubles their birth weight by about 5-6 months, and at 1 year, they typically weigh 2.5 times their birth weight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) both recommend that children’s growth be plotted on the new World Health Organization (WHO) growth charts. The WHO charts, unlike the old CDC charts, are based on the growth of babies under biologically normal conditions (breastfeeding, mothers who don’t smoke etc). When looking at a child’s growth, it is important to be comparing their growth with the biological norm.

For many parents (and health care providers!) growth charts can be a source of great confusion and misunderstanding. When you visit your child’s doctor, their weight is usually plotted on a weight for age growth chart. These charts are used to compare your child to others of the same gender and age. If (for example) your baby’s weight falls on the 25th percentile, it means that statistically speaking, 25% of all babies are that weight or below. Or, to look at it the other way, that 75% of all babies are above that weight. It is very important to understand that the percentile itself is NOT an indicator of health. A baby on the 97th percentile is not healthier than a baby on the 3rd percentile, they just weigh more. Someone has to fall in the 97th percentile, and someone has to fall in the third. What is important is whether or not your child is following their own curve. It is also very important to understand that the 50th percentile does not equal normal or healthiest weight.  The 50th percentile simply means that 50% of all babies are that weight or below. Parents should never be instructed to supplement with formula simply because their breastfed baby is following the 3rd percentile or reduce feedings because their baby is on the 97th percentile. That is NOT how growth charts are meant to be used.

Growth charts are screening tools, not diagnostic tools. This means that if a child is not following the expected pattern according to where they are on the chart, then the doctor needs to look closer to see if something else might be going on. It does not automatically mean that there is a problem.  If a doctor has concerns about a child’s growth then that doctor needs to be looking closely at all aspects of that child’s growth and development. There are several different types of charts available from the World Health Organization, and the weight for length charts or BMI for age charts provide a more accurate picture of an individual child’s growth than the the weight for age ones do.

Weight is only one indicator of growth and should never be looked at in isolation. It is necessary to look at the big picture. The most important thing for parents (and health care providers) to remember is  look at your baby, not just the scale. If your baby is alert and happy, content after feeding, pooping, peeing, meeting developmental milestones, feeling heavier, and outgrowing clothes and diapers, then everything is good (look how many other factors besides weight can tell you that your baby is thriving on your milk!).

It’s thrush – or is it?

Beware of Ducks! Photo credit: “Kicki” on Flickr Creative Commons

This article of mine was originally posted on the Best for Babes blog, and is re-posted here with permission.

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck right? Not necessarily if that duck is thrush in a breastfeeding mom. Thrush (a yeast infection most commonly caused by the fungus Candida albicans) is a common diagnosis whenever a mother presents herself to a doctor with nipple or breast pain. Unfortunately, thrush is not as common as many health care providers seem to think, and many women suffer needlessly due to misdiagnosis. There are countless stories of mothers being treated repeatedly for recurrent thrush. These women struggle, sometimes for weeks or even months, with painful breastfeeding. They usually try numerous different treatments but never find complete relief from the discomfort.

Here’s a common scenario: Your nipples are sore and cracked and you have shooting pain through your breast while nursing . You go to the doctor and he diagnoses thrush, gives you a prescription for Nystatin (an antifungal) and sends you on your way. After a week, the Nystatin doesn’t seem to be helping so you try Gentian violet on the advice of a friend, and things seem to improve. Two weeks later however, the pain is back, so you go back to the doctor and he prescribes Diflucan (fluconazole), assuring you that this will get rid of the yeast. There’s minimal change after a week, and you find yourself on and off Diflucan for weeks, diagnosed with resistant thrush and desperately looking for answers. What’s going on and why can’t you get rid of the pain?

The symptoms attributed to thrush include burning nipple pain, itching, shiny, flaky skin on the nipples/areola, and deep or shooting pain in the breast. The problem with these symptoms, is that there are many other possibilities besides thrush. These include (but are not limited to):

  • poor latch
  • sucking issues in baby
  • tongue tie
  • vasospasm
  • Reynaud’s phenomenon
  • eczema on the nipple
  • allergic dermatitis
  • psoriasis on the nipple
  • damage from pumping
  • bacterial infection

By far, the most common cause of nipple and deep breast pain is poor latch. Any time a mom has nipple or breast pain, the first thing that needs to be looked at is baby’s latch and sucking ability. This needs to be done by someone skilled at breastfeeding assessment. Sometimes a baby’s latch can look “perfect” from the outside, but something is going on inside their mouth that is causing problems. If your nipple looks compressed or pinched when it comes out of your baby’s mouth (like a new tube of lipstick), then something is not right and it needs to be addressed (no matter how good it looks from the outside!).

Issues such as tongue-ties and sucking issues caused by birth interventions (such as vacuum, forceps, or C-section), or even muscle tightness due to your baby’s birth or position in the womb, can also cause a lot of pain. Issues such as these are unfortunately often missed however because most health care providers are not trained to look for, or properly assess them. Because of this, finding skilled help is important. If you have been told that your baby’s latch is fine but you are in pain and your instincts are telling you that something isn’t right, then keep looking until you find someone with the experience to help you.

If your baby’s latch and suck truly are not the problem, then current research tells us that bacterial infection is a more likely cause of breast/nipple pain then thrush. It had been believed that deep breast pain was caused by yeast within the ducts of the breast (ductal yeast). Current research however calls into question the existence of ductal yeast and tells us that bacterial infection (usually Staphylococcus aureus) is actually a far more common cause of nipple and/or deep breast pain. Despite all the fear that exists over using antibiotics because they might cause thrush, some cases of resistant thrush actually need antibiotics!

I’m not suggesting that thrush doesn’t exist, certainly it does. However, it is no where near as common as it would seem from the number of women who are diagnosed as having it. The most important point here is this: If it looks and walks like a duck but doesn’t quack or behave like a duck, then it’s time to start looking at who’s pretending to be a duck. In other words: If appropriate thrush treatments don’t solve the problem in a timely manner, it most likely isn’t thrush, and it’s time to look at what else could be causing the pain!



Nighttime bottle usually doesn’t mean more sleep

I often talk to moms who want to have their partner give their baby a bottle through the night so that they can get some more sleep (or dads who want to give a bottle at night to help their partner). Unfortunately, this idea rarely works, or if it does, it can have negative (and usually unintended) consequences.

Breastmilk production works according to supply and demand. When milk is removed from your breasts, it tells your body that it needs to make more. If milk is not being removed, then milk production slows down because your body gets the message that the milk is not needed.

In order to make sure that your body continues to produce the amount of milk your baby needs, it is important that milk removal continues. This means that if someone else is giving your baby a bottle, you should ideally be pumping at the same time to make sure that your body gets the message that milk is still needed. It is important to your overall milk production, and obviously if you are up pumping, then you are not getting any extra sleep! If you decide to skip pumping, you’re likely to find that you’re not able to sleep anyway. Your breasts know it’s time to nurse your baby, so there’s a good chance that you’re going to be leaking and feeling full (and possibly uncomfortable). Also, if your baby starts crying while waiting for your partner to warm up a bottle, you’re likely going to be awake thanks to those wonderful mama hormones that make you so aware of your baby.

If you do manage to regularly sleep through a feeding while your partner gives a bottle, you run the risk of having issues with your milk production. Although some moms may be able to skip nighttime feedings without a negative impact, for many moms and babies, those night feedings are extremely important to maintain overall milk production. Prolactin, which is the hormone responsible for milk production, is highest at night, and the surge in prolactin that happens in response to your baby nursing is also higher at night than during the day.  If milk is not being removed at night through nursing or pumping then you are missing out on those higher levels of milk making hormone. If you unintentionally cause a decrease in your milk production due to skipping those night feedings, then you’re looking at needing to increase feedings or pumping sessions through the night to rebuild your supply, and again, you’re not getting that extra sleep that you were hoping to get! If you really feel like you need to have someone else give a bottle while you sleep, having them give it during the evening, would be preferable to through the night so that you can still take advantage of those higher prolactin levels.

Current research shows that breastfeeding moms actually get more sleep than those who don’t breastfeed. That doesn’t however, change the fact that parenting a new baby is exhausting and leaves many moms looking for ways to get more rest.  So how can partners help and how can moms get more rest? First of all, keep your baby close to you at night so that you’re not having to get up (and therefore fully wake up) each time your baby wants to nurse.  Having your baby in bed with you, while following the guidelines for safe co-bedding, can be a great way to minimize disruptions to your sleep. If you’re not comfortable having your baby in bed with you, or if medications etc create an unsafe environment for co-bedding, then have your baby next to your bed in either a crib or bassinet. Your partner can always help by getting up to put baby in bed with you and help you get him positioned to nurse, and then taking him after he’s done nursing and settling him back to sleep.

Along with keeping your baby close at night, try to maximize your rest during the day. We’ve all heard the saying “sleep when your baby sleeps” and although it can be very hard to do, it really is a good way to get more sleep. It can be temping to use the time that your baby naps to do chores around the house, but (unfortunately!) the housework isn’t going anywhere, so leave it and go to sleep! In the early weeks of having a new baby, it can feel like all you do is nurse and sleep, and that’s OK. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Many of us have unrealistic expectations about being home with a baby, and the reality is that if you make it to the end of the day with both of you fed, you’re doing really well!

Photo credit:



Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt

In my post about The Truth Behind Common Breastfeeding Myths, the following myth received a lot of comments on both my blog and on my Facebook page:

Myth: It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt. Truth: If breastfeeding  hurts something is wrong. Nursing may be a little uncomfortable during the early days as your body adjusts to a new sensation, but it should never be painful. Poor latch is the most common cause of pain in the early weeks, but there are other possibilities including sucking issues with baby from birth interventions or physical characteristics such as tongue-tie. If nursing hurts, get help as soon as possible. The earlier breastfeeding problems are addressed, the easier they are to fix. If you go to someone for help and the problem isn’t solved, keep trying until you find someone with the knowledge and experience to help.

A number of people have responded to say that they disagree with this, and that breastfeeding for them hurt for the first few weeks even though they had been told that nothing was wrong. A couple of comments on my blog pointed out that pain with breastfeeding is common with hormonal changes during pregnancy and ovulation, and asked why would this be different in the postpartum period? It’s an interesting question, and I don’t have a good answer. It’s certainly a possibility, and obviously everyone has a different pain threshold. The hormonal makeup of a mother after birth is different however than that of a mother who is pregnant or ovulating. It doesn’t make sense biologically for breastfeeding to be painful. Breastfeeding is supposed to be a pleasurable experience so that we’ll keep doing it to ensure that our species survives.

From my perspective as an RN and IBCLC, pain when breastfeeding indicates a problem. Breastfeeding can certainly be uncomfortable in the early days, but I strongly feel that it shouldn’t hurt. When assessing latch, it is really important to remember that a good latch is defined by how it feels, not by how it looks. Sometimes a baby’s latch can look perfect from the outside, but something is going on inside the baby’s mouth that is causing the pain.

Latch is very important, but so is a baby’s ability to suck effectively. I frequently see moms and babies where mom is experiencing pain and yet she has been told by someone else that her latch “looks perfect” and “nothing is wrong, your nipples just need to toughen up”. Usually in these cases something is going on in baby’s mouth that is causing the pain for mom. Tongue and/or lip-tie are a common cause, but another cause that is far less obvious is a sucking issue related to the birth process and/or baby’s position in utero. Birth interventions can have a huge impact on a baby’s ability to suck effectively. Vacuum and forceps in particular almost always result in sucking issues. Think about how you would feel if you were stuck in a small space and someone stuck a vacuum on your head, or grabbed your head in a pair of vice grips and pulled! Your head would hurt! Vacuum and forceps can cause irritation to a baby’s cranial nerves, and those nerves control the jaw and tongue, so it’s not surprising that those interventions tend to cause some issues with sucking. I also see sucking issues with C-sections, very quick deliveries, deliveries where there has been a very long pushing phase and sometimes the issues seem to be related to muscle tension in the baby that has likely been caused by their position in utero.

Sucking issues are not always obvious, and they usually require someone knowledgeable to identify them. Even issues such as tongue-tie are often missed by health care providers. Thankfully, sucking issues caused by birth interventions can usually be resolved with time spent breastfeeding and/or body work such as craniosacral therapy. They can however, cause a lot of pain for mom in the mean time even though everything looks “right” from the outside. So what do we do? Some people feel that telling women that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt is doing them a disservice because it causes them to think that they’re doing something wrong if it does hurt. For most women however, pain indicates that something is wrong, although it may be something that baby is doing rather than anything the mom is or isn’t doing. It’s hard to know what is the best approach – do we tell moms that breastfeeding might hurt and encourage them to persevere through it, despite the fact that we then run the risk of moms not seeking help soon enough when there really is a problem, or do we say that it shouldn’t hurt so women know to seek help?

What do you think?