Separate fact from fiction on breastfeeding, plus the pros and cons of bottle sterilisation and being cautious with cows’ milk
There are many reasons to breastfeed your baby if you can, including health benefits for you both. The trouble is, there are so many stories and myths, it’s hard to know what to believe. Here we’ve separated fact from fiction for you.
Unfortunately, the damage has already been done in pregnancy, with the breast shape altering because of hormones, weight gain and preparation for breastfeeding.
Avoiding major changes in breast size or shape is mainly down to luck and genes. But a good fitting bra and avoiding yo-yoing weight before and after pregnancy helps.
Breastfeeding your newborn helps the womb contract quicker and can help post-birth bleeding stop sooner. It’s been estimated that breastfeeding burns around 500 extra calories per day. It should come from the extra fat most women put on in pregnancy.
A lot of mums also report feeling very thirsty and hungry while breastfeeding and eat accordingly. For every woman who reckons the weight ‘just fell off’ while feeding, there’s another who says she gained a stone. Either way, doctors strongly advise against dieting while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, particularly in the early months, stops your period returning for some time. But this tends only to be true in mums who are breastfeeding full-time. Also, you can never be quite sure when you’ll have your first post-baby period until it happens – which means that you ovulated at least two weeks before. Your doctor can prescribe a contraceptive while you’re feeding. Or use other forms of contraception until you stop feeding your baby – or you want to make another!
There are lower levels of breast cancer in countries where more women breastfeed. Although it’s not a cure, scientists have also made a link between breastfeeding and lower levels of cancer of the uterus and ovaries. It may also reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
One of the disadvantages of bottlefeeding is that it involves washing, boiling, sterilising and refrigerating – whether you’re using formula or expressed breastmilk. You should sterilise all milk-feeding equipment (including breast pumps) until your baby is 12 months old. Luckily, there‘s a range of equipment to choose from that can make life a lot easier.
Sterilising tablets or liquid can be bought from most chemists and supermarkets. Put all the washed equipment in a container with a lid, making sure everything is covered by the solution. Leave for as long as the manufacturer recommends. Don’t rinse.
Some mums claim that using tablets caused thrush in their babies’ mouths. This is debatable, as the solution is also used to clear feeding equipment of the infection when it does arise. If you feel uncomfortable using chemicals, opt for one of the water-based methods below.
Electronic steam units are quite an investment (around £50) but they usually come with a selection of bottles, teats and other equipment. Their main advantage is that they’re quick, taking a maximum of 10 minutes, and do a number of bottles all at once. Once the unit is opened however, the bottles stop being sterile, so steam them just before making up a feed. One way to get around using a steamer every time is to sterilise a few bottles, make up feeds in all of them and then store in the fridge until needed. These must be kept at the back of the fridge and not the door, as it isn’t not cold enough. And all feeds must be used within a 24-hour period.
Some bottles can be sterilised in the microwave, while others need to be placed in a special unit, so you’ll need to check with the bottle manufacturer if you’re uncertain about the type you have. It takes only 90 seconds to microwave a bottle.
Putting your equipment in a pan on the hob requires no more equipment than what’s already in your kitchen. This is handy if you’re visiting and don’t want to takes lots of stuff with you. Make sure that all bottles are cleaned, and then completely covered by the boiling water. Leave for 15 minutes. The major drawback with the hot steam/water methods is that the equipment is scaldingly hot for a while after – not ideal if your baby’s suddenly screaming for a drink! Running bottles under water to cool them isn’t a good idea, as it stops them being sterile. Your best piece of equipment in this case is a good 10-minute distraction technique!
Once you introduce cows’ milk at 12 months, sterilising will become a thing of the past. You can load everything into the dishwasher, keeping clean bottles in the cupboard until you need them. But teats should still be given a good scrub before you put them into the machine. It’s tempting to use cows’ milk for everything, as it’s hassle free. But you shouldn’t use it all the time just because it’s accessible. .
Otherwise known as ‘baby bottle’ tooth decay’, it’s the result of a baby constantly sipping a bottle throughout the day – milk taken this way is just as damaging as juice.
Because milk is so soothing, it can be tempting to hand a bottle to a grumpy child and let him suck on it at will. But it contains quite a lot of sugar and acid, and constant feeding may result in a trip to the dentist well before your child’s third birthday.
By all means give milk to calm a fractious baby, but supervise him if he wants to hold the bottle himself and make sure it’s taken away afterwards.
As there’s no longer any need to sterilise, and cows’ milk seems to last relatively well out of the fridge (in a milk jug, for example) there’s a temptation to carry a milk drink around on an outing without any special preparations. But germs breed as easily in cows’ milk as they do in formula. Just because an adult can get away with a splash of spoiling milk in their tea doesn’t mean a toddler can too. If taking milk out with you, always keep it cool in a vacuum flask or cool bag, and dish it out little by little. Be careful if you leave milky products such as drinks, cakes and yogurts in the car, as it can become an oven and dairy products will go off.
If the sight of the medicine spoon approaching sends your toddler into a screaming fit, resist the temptation to ‘hide’ his dose in his milk. Even if he religiously finishes his bottle, there’s no guarantee he will this time and you’ll have no idea how much of the medicine went down. Most could have sunk to the bottom or maybe he got all of it in the first few sucks. It’s dangerous to estimate how much and then try to top it up with more, as this can lead to an overdose. It may seem cruel to pin down a wriggling, shrieking baby, but he’ll thank you for it when the toothache or flu goes and, unlike elephants, babies always forget!
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