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Breastfeeding Questions Answered by Sara Chana

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby

I recently had the opportunity to do an interview with Sara Chana, IBCLC. She is a a New York based, international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), classical homeopath, herbalist, lecturer, author, wife and mother of seven children. She is a wealth of helpful information and advice. Enjoy!

1. What are some of the most prominent breastfeeding myths that you encounter?

It is amazing how many myths seem to circulate among new moms. One of the most common is that moms need to “drain” their breasts. It is true that some women will feel very full, nurse their babies, and then feel “empty” afterwards, but that is not necessarily true for most women. Some women never feel full, and never feel “drained”, yet their babies are satisfied after they have been fed. The truth is that a breast is never really “drained” because when milk is drawn out of a breast the brain receives the message to refill the breast again with milk. Therefore, rather than worrying about feeling empty or drained, a woman should give her baby the amount of milk the baby needs to feel satisfied and to produce six to eight wet diapers within a twenty-four hour period. If this basic guideline is followed, then the healthy mother’s breast and brain will learn how to adjust to the baby’s needs, regardless of the mother’s own sensations.

2. What tips do you think will help women overcome most breastfeeding obstacles they come across?

Some women give birth, plop their baby on the breast, and the mom and baby breastfeed happily for years without any problems. Unfortunately, that is not the typical scenario and most women and babies take a while to learn the art of breastfeeding. There are women who get sore nipples, while others have babies who do not seem satisfied, and some moms get engorged breasts. In general, the remedy to most of these problems is twofold. First, make sure that the baby has a good deep latch onto the breast, and then see to it that the baby is swallowing milk and not just hanging out. If this simple but essential advice does not produce the desired results, the good news is that most breastfeeding problems can be overcome with a competent lactation consultant, patience, and a good sense of humor.

3. Can childbirth affect the breastfeeding experience?

After twenty years of working with mothers and babies I can safely say that the birth experience does have an impact on the breastfeeding experience. Medication used during labor does seem to affect most babies, often making it more difficult for them to coordinate the suck-swallow-breath pattern that is necessary for a baby to master breastfeeding. This is not to say that some women who have fabulous labors and deliveries won’t have babies that don’t nurse well, or in the reverse, that women who have horrible labors and deliveries can have the best nursing babies. However, a woman should know that a baby usually needs to be very alert in order to learn how the breast works, and that both the medications given during labor, as well as the position of the woman during childbirth can impact upon that learning process, making it easier or more difficult for the newborn to breastfeed.

4. Does diet have an effect on breastfeeding?

It is fascinating to know that breast milk stays consistent in its vitamin and mineral content across the world, no matter what a woman eats. This means that if you were to test the breast milk of two moms whose babies are the same age, the vitamin and mineral content of their breast milk will be practically the same, even when the mothers’ diets are completely different. This is true because the body produces breast milk to match the needs of the growing child. Therefore, it is safe to say that it doesn’t really matter what the mother eats because the breast milk will be consistent and healthy according to the developmental needs of the infant. That said, many babies are, nevertheless, affected by what their mothers eat due to individual health issues. Some babies will get blood in their stools if the mother consumes dairy, while others will cry horribly if their mother drinks orange juice. Although each mother-baby dyad is different, as a general rule-of-thumb, it is best for moms to stick to a high protein and vegetable diet, with fruits and whole grains mixed in. (And please try to limit the dairy products. You don’t need to consume milk in order to produce milk.)

5. What advice would you offer to busy moms you have to juggle breastfeeding and an outside job?

Juggling breastfeeding and an outside job is definitely challenging. Some women are advised to rent a hospital-grade pump to leave at their work place, in order to pump while being away from the baby. This may work for some women, but not for most. Although there are women who are fabulous pumpers and can mechanically express ounces of milk while at work, there are others who cannot manage to pump at all, which leaves them majorly depressed. However, it should be known that the success of pumping depends on several factors. One of the factors has to do with the location of the milk producing ducts which are within the breast. Some women’s ducts are so far back into the breast that they are never properly compressed while pumping. Another factor to consider is how well the flange of the pump part fits the particular woman. The majority of flanges available fit only a very small percentage of the population, resulting in only a small number of woman who can properly pump. Finally, one must take into consideration the power of the pump itself. And there’s no way around this one, it’s just that same old story, the more expensive pumps do work better. So, my general advice to women is this: if you pump well, then pump when you are at work, but if you do not pump well, then just give your baby formula while you are at work and don’t stress yourself over it. But, still the most important advice is breastfeed and talk with your precious baby as much as you can when you are not working.

Many thanks to Sara Chana for taking the time to answer some questions!

  • Danielle

    This is a great post, but I have to strongly disagree with Point 4.  Exclusively breast-fed babies have died of malnutrition (even though mom was getting plenty of calories), because of mom not having adequate B12, usable Vitamins A and D, or DHA in her own diet.  Just as it is crucial for mom to eat well during pregnancy, when she is breastfeeding, it is equally important.  

    The idea that “you can eat whatever you want and still have perfect milk” has been widely circulated (with noble intentions, I think), by breastfeeding advocates who want to help mothers feel confident and competent, with one less thing to worry about.  But perpetuating such a simplistic mindset does a disservice to babies who suffer from their mothers’ poor diets.

  • I also disagree with point 4. Studies have shown that one component that is affected by diet is fat. When a mom eats low quality trans fats, the fat in her milk is lower quality. Also, I think it’s far more helpful for us to talk about how diet affects MOM. Your milk may be fine, but if you want to be well and keep your teeth, eat well during lactation. There is a reason the old timers said that a woman lost a tooth for each baby she nursed. MOM’s stores get depleted because nature favors the baby.

    • I do not agree with the 4th either. If you are not consuming the nutrients then they will be pulled from your stores which means that the milk will be the same quality only until those stores run out. You can’t “make” the nutrients. You have to eat them or have them stored. Also agree that can be damaging to mom’s health. I think that is a HUGE part of why I got cancer while pregnant… I was nourishing a growing baby AND breastfeeding a toddler. My body prioritized my two kids and my health suffered for it.

      • Sarachanas

        This is Sara Chana…Let me clarify.  Of course I want moms to eat a healthy and complete diet filled with tons of vegetables,  proteins and whole grains.  But, I often get moms who have a few days of not eating well and they are afraid that they shouldn’t breastfeed.  Yes, the body will begin to break down the mothers body in order to get the proper nutrients for the baby and over a long time that will NOT be good for the nursing mother.  My main point is that if a mom has a few days of just snacking and eating foods that are not perfect her milk with not be compromised.  I hope this will clarify this answer a bit : )

  • Amy Jackson

    I wouldn’t immediately suggest formula if a mother cannot sucessfully pump at work. Donor milk would be a much better (more nutritional) option.