7 Ways Allison Made Breastfeeding Work
By Allison Evans |
I originally wrote this blog in 2018 (time flies!!), and as it's Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I wanted to come back and give an update 5 whole years (and a lot more experience) later. Scroll to the end to see that update, but all these points still hold true today!
May 31st, 2018
Over the past 18 months of breastfeeding my daughter, there has been a huge learning curve. SO much of what I had heard from well-meaning friends and family came in handy, but some of that information also conflicted with what instinctively felt right to me.
I'm so thankful to say that I’ve been able to feed my baby the best food Mother Nature has to offer her. Being a mom can be hard, and breastfeeding is no exception; but when you know better, you do better. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
#1: Diet matters
Hormone-driven cravings, lack of sleep, and the constant hunger that comes from nourishing another human can lead to a diet full of nutrient-depleted, convenient and carb-heavy food.
When tempted to give in, it’s important to understand that what you eat has a direct impact on your little nursling. Chemicals known as excitotoxins include common food additives designed to enhance flavor, such as artificial flavors, MSG, carrageenan, natural flavorings, hydrolyzed proteins, and isolates of which many are found in health food brands.
Since a child’s brain is four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than an adult’s, these can cause overstimulation of the nervous system, leading to chronically fussy and unsettled babies in the short term and have potentially lasting effects on behavior and development in the long term.
The good news is that most babies are incredibly resilient and respond quickly to Mama’s dietary changes. We’ve seen where simply cutting out foods that contain processed ingredients and choosing those rich in vitamins, minerals like homemade bone broth, root and cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens (kale, collard, chard, bok choy, etc.), lightly cooked eggs, sauteed seaweed and wild-caught fish. These foods nourish Baby and can have an immediate effect on sleep, skin, and overall demeanor.
#2: Nursing is all about supply & demand
Not making enough milk for Baby is at the top of the list of concerns for new moms, but I have some good news: if you nurse on demand, chances are your baby is getting all that she needs. Even with just one breast producing and only getting drops of milk each time I pumped, my daughter’s size proved she was clearly getting everything she needed.
Where moms run into problems with supply is typically related to feeding schedules and not listening to their instincts. Babies nurse frequently for a variety of reasons; their little bodies are so smart, and if we ignore their nursing prompts, supply issues may soon follow. Exhausting as it may be, this process of cluster feeding is what prepares them for growth spurts and tells your body to produce more milk.
Don’t be tempted to supplement unless absolutely necessary and always consult with a lactation consultant before reaching for the formula. Supplementation is a true blessing for those who need it, but when baby skips a feed, she essentially tells your body to produce less milk, and your supply decreases to compensate.
As you increase the formula to compensate for that, the cycle continues, and many moms find their supply dries up as a result. Also, many moms believe that supplementing (solids or formula) will help Baby sleep longer, but studies have shown that this is actually not true. I’ve found Kellymom.com to be an incredible resource for information on topics like this and much more.
#3: Co-sleeping is a life (and milk) saver
Safe co-sleeping is the perfect way to facilitate the nursing relationship early on. When baby is cluster feeding in preparation for a growth spurt, getting up every 45 minutes and walking to the nursery is hardly sustainable.
World-renowned co-sleeping expert and anthropologist Dr. James McKenna argues that it is, in fact, biologically normal for the health of young infants to sleep with their mothers. It doesn’t just help your milk supply — physical contact and closeness to mothers stabilizes babies’ breathing, heart rates, and even affects their brains’ cortisol levels!
For me, co-sleeping was the answer to my being well-rested, getting ample skin-to-skin time, and developing an unforgettable bond with my daughter. Waking in the night to take in the site of my daughter curled up on her side nursing or hearing those soft little sleeping sounds – well, there is nothing more precious. Done safely, co-sleeping is a breastfeeding mother’s best friend.
#4: Hold onto your "why” when things get tough
From a poor latch and nipple cracks to mastitis and exhaustion, most moms face strong reasons to call it quits at some point in their breastfeeding journey, especially if returning to work. Had I not been solid in my knowledge and convictions about the benefits of breastfeeding, I could have never sacrificed the time and poured my all into continuing on.
For me, breastmilk was the only option, and I was determined to make it to at least 12 months.
Since my daughter was eight weeks old, a clogged duct halted almost all production from my left breast, cutting a just-barely-enough supply in half. Despite hiring lactation consultants, attending La Leche League meetings, eating galactagogue foods, massaging daily, taking herbs and switching to a medical-grade pump, I still had to nurse my daughter at least every three hours for the first six months.
In between feedings, I’d slowly unwrap myself from a sleeping babe in order to pump. I cried many tears as I watched milk drip slowly into the bottles. Well-meaning friends and family suggested I supplement, but as long as my daughter was flying through growth charts, developing beautifully and willing to patiently suckle and wait for a letdown, I was all hers.
She had her first meal at nine months, and breastmilk was her main source of nutrients well into her first year. Despite a now virtually non-existent supply due to my recent pregnancy, I still nurse on demand, and those quiet moments with my very active toddler are the absolute best parts of my day.
I don’t share these things for praise and certainly not for pity, but to emphasize the importance of knowing your “why”. I knew that this was bigger than just a bond with my baby — breastfeeding was going to give her the most perfect form of nourishment in the world.
- Custom nutrition — Breastmilk is truly incredible, and despite years of research and meticulous manufacturing, no human-made formula comes close to replicating it. Our bodies don’t just put together one formula and continue to produce that for the duration of lactation. From colostrum to weaning, the formula of our breastmilk continues to change and evolve as our child grows, adjusting nutrients and fat content to suit their development absolutely perfectly.
- Nature’s antibiotic — When your baby is sick, there’s no better cure than snuggles and breastfeeding. The probiotics naturally present in breastmilk help to strengthen her immune system. What’s more, as your own body is exposed to your baby’s illness, your advanced immune system creates antibodies to that virus, which are passed to your baby through your breastmilk, effectively inoculating her.
- Unparalleled comfort — Nursing facilitates a bond unlike any other with your baby. When you nurse on demand, you tell your child time and time again that when they have a need, you will always meet it. Attachment parenting, whether or not you breastfeed, has been proven to build more confident children. We are fairly certain that our daughter’s fearless, bold, outgoing, secure demeanor has a great deal to do with our instinctive decision to meet her basic needs since day one.
With these things in mind, my daughter’s first year was just that – hers. I prioritized breastfeeding over sleep training, travel without her, many social events, and convenience. because, for me, it was that important. And I look forward to doing it all again soon with Baby #2!
#5: Breastfeed for as long as possible
Breastfeeding is recommended for at least the first six months of life, but much of the world breastfeeds well past two years old (in many cultures, as old as six). Breastmilk provides incredible nutrition and immune system health so if you’re able to breastfeed, go for as long as everyone’s happy with the arrangement.
Quit if your health is suffering. Quit if your child naturally weans himself. (Learn more about true signs of weaning here.) But don’t quit because you feel pressure from other people to do so or – dare I say – convenience. Your body is AMAZING, and your milk is doing more for your child’s health than any round of antibiotics or “healthy” formula can hope to.
#6: When breastfeeding isn’t an option
We’re all pretty familiar with the benefits of breastfeeding, but what happens when you can’t? Donor milk is the next best thing, and if that’s not an option, look into making your own formula.
The following are powerful things you can do to boost your baby’s immune system, which is especially important if breastfeeding isn’t possible:
Have lots of skin-to-skin time. Nursing gives moms plenty of physical contact with their babies, which has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of SIDS and help them bond.
Create a safe haven. Remove all toxic pesticides, synthetic fragrances, cleaners, conventional detergents, dryer sheets, etc. These products create a low-level chemical soup in your home, undermining you and your baby’s health. Also, investing in an organic crib mattress is one of the most important things you can do. SIDS has been directly linked to chemicals in baby mattresses.
- Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals. Stripping your home of every germ isn’t just impossible, it’s unhealthy. Use non-toxic cleaners like Branch Basics that remove germs versus sanitize.
- Limit bathing. Your skin has a microbiome all on its own, and we want to keep that good bacteria in place by bathing only when necessary with a mild cleanser (if any at all).
- Use natural fibers and materials. One study discovered as many as 60% of BPA-free plastics still had these hormone-disrupting chemicals present. Avoid autoimmune dysfunction and use things like glass bottles and organic cotton clothes to avoid exposing baby to toxins.
#7: Self care is critical
You can’t nourish someone else unless you nourish yourself, both physically and mentally. Stay hydrated, treat yourself to yoga (or even just a solo grocery store trip!), go on walks, watch something that will make you laugh…!
You’re a mommy, and offering your highest level of care means offering it to yourself.
Update -- August 15th, 2023:
5 years and 2 babies later, I have quite a bit more breastfeeding experience under my belt, and wanted to underscore some of the things I wrote above.
I feel so blessed to have been able to nurse all three of my girls, and while I do believe that it comes more easily for some moms than others, I know a lot of what contributed to my breastfeeding success can be found in the above advice.
Diet (still) matters!
For instance, I saw firsthand with my second child that my eating ANY processed foods that contained excitotoxins was directly affecting her behavior and sleep. As in, between 2-6 months of her life, if I would consume a bar with citric acid or natural flavorings, she would be kicking and screaming, in obvious discomfort and gas... and sleep for just 10 minute spurts.
When I made this connection and got back to basics around her 8-week mark, she literally became a new child. She was calm, her naps much longer and she was finally pooping regularly! If I had to give a nursing mom ANY advice when it comes to breastfeeding, I would say to please not fall for the common misconception that what you eat doesn't matter/affect your milk, and therefore baby.
When I cut out gluten, dairy and caffeine...and focused on plain meats, glut-free grains, veggies, fruit and lots of filtered water, everything changed. I know it sounds hard, believe me.
I'll never forget the morning I'm holding my newborn after a fitful, sleepless night and I was sobbing on the phone with Marilee as my toddler made messes around me... and she told me I needed to cut out my caffeinated (and maple syruped!) morning coffee. I thought, I can't do it. She explained that my daughter's gut, for whatever reason, was very sensitive and needed time to strengthen before I added complex foods, and that my consuming chemical additives like excitotoxins was actually keeping her gut and brain from reaching their full potential.
I was in a season where I needed my coffee, favorite foods and convenient, processed snacks. But what I needed even more was to sleep and have peace in my home. I desperately wanted to have my precious baby heal.
Something rose up in me as Marilee encouraged me: I alone - through my dietary choices - had the power to establish and strengthen my baby's gut for life, since breastmilk plays a crucial role in developing our microbiomes and has long-term implications for overall health, including our ability to fight disease as adults. Sure enough, in just a day, we saw my daughter completely shift.
The whole family benefited, and when I'd be tempted to reach for something quick and convenient, my husband would beg me not to "because we need to sleep tonight"! The connection between my diet and Frances' behavior was that obvious.
I want to add that there is absolutely NO judgment for those who choose formula - it is a life-saving, and many times, only option for so many moms - but I want to empower those who desire to breastfeed, but are told that their baby is allergic/sensitive to their milk. We have seen again and again that it is something in the mom's diet that needs to be removed, rather than an allergy on the baby's part.
I also want to mention fragrance. The synthetic chemicals and solvents used to manufacture fragrance oils are known neurotoxins, and can directly affect our baby's mood, sleep and behavior.
I highly encourage parents to create an environment completely free of fragrance, as babies are highly sensitive to these chemicals, much more than adults.
In fact, if we already use fragrance in our homes (think detergent, candles, fragrance sticks, deodorant, scented trash bags, kids items like stickers and playdough, perfumes, lotions, shampoo, etc.), we usually can't smell them. However, once they're removed, our bodies are "unmasked" and able to pick up on these strong smells.
We're doing our babies such service when they can breathe and develop in a home free of all fragrances (even most essential oils contain harsh solvents and have been shown to disrupt the delicate endocrine system).
Toss the toxins!
Overall, I want to encourage anyone out there who is breastfeeding and having trouble, to take a look at what you're putting in your body and using in your home.
Our babies are sensitive and deserve the very best! And fortunately, they respond SO quickly to removal - whether it's dietary or environmental. Many of these chemicals are transient - not persistent - and will leave their bodies quickly.
I have been so amazed by how my babies have turned around symptomatically, once certain chemicals are removed.
You're doing an INCREDIBLE job, mama!! There's not a more challenging and rewarding job than raising and nourishing these little ones.
Allison has dedicated herself to helping others reap the benefits of clean living. She, along with her husband and two daughters left Houston for the country life as she heals from a recent mold exposure and diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease. Follow her story on our Instagram and read more about her Journey to Fertility.