Are breastfeeding classes worth it? Can breastfeeding stop pregnancy? The experts answer your most Googled questions about breastfeeding

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  • Are breastfeeding classes worth it? Can breastfeeding stop pregnancy? We asked breastfeeding expert Clare Byam-Cook to share her knowledge and answer your burning questions about breastfeeding…

    When it comes to having a baby, breastfeeding is a hot topic among mothers.

    From which breastfeeding positions work best to postnatal depression and breastfeeding, there is much to learn both before and after you have a baby.

    While it’s not necessary for mums-to-be to make a firm decision as to whether they’ll give breastfeeding a try before their little one arrives, feeling clued-up before you first try breastfeeding is important.

    To help provide some clarity on breastfeeding, we’ve asked expert Clare Byam-Cook, a trained nurse and midwife with 30 years’ experience of helping women who are experiencing feeding problems, to answer your most Googled questions about breastfeeding and decode a number of breastfeeding myths.

    Are breastfeeding classes worth it?

    ‘The rather controversial answer is no’ Clare kicks us off by answering. ‘The feedback I get from all my clients is that when they attend the breastfeeding class as part of their anti-natal classes, almost the whole class is devoted to telling them why they should breastfeed rather than how to breastfeed.’

    ‘Mums don’t get taught how they can tell the difference between a baby sucking properly or badly’ Clare continued. ‘Nor do they get told how they can tell when the baby’s had enough milk or when to swap breasts. They don’t get taught about breast pumps, nipple shields, any of the useful equipment.’

    In Clare’s personal opinion, such sessions fail to provide a lot of important information, instead focussing on the negatives of choosing infant formula.

    Are breastfeeding pillows worth it?

    For Clare, splashing out on a breastfeeding pillow is an unnecessary expense and will only add clutter to the home of expectant mothers.

    ‘I honestly think just an ordinary pillow from the bed does the job as well if not better,’ she states.

    Are breastfeeding benefits exaggerated?

    ‘I think the benefits of breastfeeding are exaggerated, and I say that as someone who promotes it!’ confesses Clare.

    After stating that she thinks there’s far too much pressure on mothers to breastfeed their babies, Clare went on to suggest theories that, for example, suggest breastfeeding makes a child smarter are warped.

    ‘Does it make your baby 50 times more intelligent? No, I think it’s the type of mother who breastfeeds or tries to breastfeed – she speaks more to her baby perhaps than other mothers,’ she says.

    ‘Of course I encourage breastfeeding, but it’s not the miracle answer to healthy, happy, thin, intelligent children. By the time your daughter or son applies to university, nobody will be wondering whether they were breastfed. It’s not going to be on their CV.’

    Are breastfeeding and pumping the same?

    Although different methods of feeding a baby, in terms of the benefits of breastfeeding vs. pumping, Clare can’t see any real difference between the two. The breastfeeding expert argues that mums should just go with whatever feeds their baby successfully.

    ‘Mothers nowadays get told that the baby will get more milk out than the pump, some of them are told specific amounts, like a baby will get 50% more, 80% more than the pump – but I don’t see that at all. I really think the pump does as good a job as a baby if not better in the majority of cases,’ she says.

    ‘If the baby can feed calmly and happily from the breast, fantastic. If the baby is struggling to breastfeed for whatever reason, but can feed calmly and happily from a bottle – whether that bottle’s got breast milk or formula, I think that’s the better way to feed the baby.’

    Are breastfeeding mums more tired?

    While Clare reckons those who breastfeed their children do tend to be more exhausted, she’s keen to raise the point that others find preparing bottles more of a chore.

    ‘I think breastfeeding mothers are more tired because they have to do all the feeds. They can’t just hand the baby over,’ she tells us.

    ‘Other mothers sail through it and find it far less draining, because they’re not having to waste time sterilising and making up feeds. So I think it affects some mothers negatively and others positively.’

    Can breastfeeding stop pregnancy?

    Although there is some truth in the suggestion that breastfeeding can act as a method of contraception, Clare would not advise relying on it as a meaning of stopping pregnancy.

    ‘Well in theory yes, but you only have to see all the people appearing on television, talking about tandem feeding – where they’re feeding three children from the age of nine months up to six years – to say it hasn’t stopped their pregnancies. So definitely don’t use it as contraception.’

    Even Mummy Diaries star Sam Faiers recently revealed that her second child, a daughter named Rosie, was a ‘surprise’ because she thought breastfeeding would stop her from falling pregnant.

    The NHS advises that breastfeeding women should use another form of protection if: Their baby is older than six months, the baby consumes anything other than breast milk (such as solid foods) or the mum has started menstruating again.

    Can breastfeeding lower blood pressure?

    While there is some speculation around the notion that breastfeeding can lower blood pressure, it’s unfortunately not something Clare is able to provide a definitive answer to.

    However Sioned Hilton, Medela UK’s Education Manager and in-house Lactation Consultant, explained how breastfeeding can have an impact on blood pressure.

    ‘There is scientific evidence that proves that the hormones responsible for milk production and ejection can influence blood pressure. Oxytocin is the hormone of well-being and can buffer stress, thus having a positive influence on blood pressure,’ Sioned commented.

    ‘There is also evidence to support that the benefits of breastfeeding and feeding a baby breast milk for longer than 6 months, helps to reduce metabolic disease and cardiovascular disease in both mum and infant long term’ she added.

    Can breastfeeding cause breast cancer?

    We’re sure prospective parents will be relieved to learn that breastfeeding is not linked to the onset of breast cancer.

    ‘I’ve never heard of it being a cause of breast cancer,’ Clare comments.

    ‘It’s one of the reasons we encourage breastfeeding because the longer women breastfeed for, the lower the risk of cancer.’

    Do breastfeeding babies get colic?

    For Clare, the answer to this question is very simple – tots that are breastfeeding are just as likely to get colic (the term used to describe frequent and excessive crying) as those who are not.

    She tells us: ‘Breastfed babies are just like bottle-fed babies, they can have wind, they can have colic, they can have reflux, the full works.’

    Can breastfeeding cause anaemia?

    Anaemia is a condition that is diagnosed when an individual has fewer red blood cells than normal.

    The symptoms may vary from person to person but include fatigue, an unusually rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and insomnia.

    ‘I wouldn’t have thought so no,’ concludes Clare.

    ‘But I think if the mother is not eating a healthy diet and her body is struggling to produce milk, then that can sort of lower her systems generally, but not as such, no.’

    Got more questions about breastfeeding? If you need more advice, or have any concerns at all, ask your midwife or health visitor. You can also go to your local drop-in baby clinic to see a health visitor face to face if you are between midwife or health visitor appointments.