Choosing to breastfeed

This info sheet is to give women and their families an idea of what to think about when deciding to breastfeed their babies. We thank all of the grandmothers, Elders, and traditional teachers who shared their knowledge with us about this issue.

Breastfeeding is also called nursing. It is when you feed your baby with milk from your breasts. You can do this either by placing the baby at the breast to nurse, or by pumping the milk from your breasts and feeding it to your baby from a bottle. You can get help with breastfeeding from your midwives, nurses in the hospital, or lactation consultants.  Other healthcare providers such as doctors, naturopaths, and doulas can also sometimes help.

If you would like to learn more teachings about breastfeeding, ask an Elder, traditional teacher or your midwives.

Why does everyone ask me if I’m going to breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is very good for you and your baby. It helps to strengthen babies’ immune systems, prevent diabetes, fight off infections, and provides many other benefits. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies. It is all they need for the first six months of their life. Breastmilk is free and does not need any preparation.

Does it hurt to breastfeed?
When it’s done correctly, it shouldn’t hurt. The key to comfortable breastfeeding is ensuring that your baby has a good “latch.” The latch is how your baby sucks from your breast. Some babies latch easily and for others it takes some practice. If you have pain from breastfeeding, talk to your midwives.

I was sexually abused. How can I deal with the emotions that may come with breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can bring up issues for those of us that have been sexually abused. Please consider telling your midwives if you have been abused. They can help you find ways to address your concerns.

We’re all different, and not all women who have been abused have concerns or difficulty with breastfeeding. If you do, or are worried that you will, there can be creative ways to address the issues that you might have. For example, you might want to pump your milk and feed your baby from a bottle if you don’t want your baby nursing at the breast.

What are some traditional teachings about breastfeeding?
Mohawk people believed that the baby suckled both for her own survival and to save the mother by preventing her uterus from hemorrhaging.

Chippewa women nursed their babies almost immediately after birth and whenever they cried—not at set intervals. Babies were nursed for two years and sometimes for as long as four or five years. Smaller babies would nurse in their mother’s arms or in the cradleboard, while older babies would nurse standing up.

To keep their nipples in good condition for nursing, Chinook women rubbed their breasts with bear grease, while Salish women treated sore breasts by covering them with heated pine needles.

Is formula just as good for babies as breast milk?
No. Breast milk is the ideal food for babies because your body makes it to meet your baby’s needs. However, for moms who don’t breastfeed, formula is the next best food.

Choosing to give your baby formula is a very personal decision. Some issues to consider when making your choice include:

  1. Health benefits: Formula doesn’t have the antibodies that your breast milk has to protect your baby. Breastfed babies have less ear infections and other illnesses than babies who drink formula. Breastfed babies also have less allergies when they grow up.
  2. Bonding: Breastfeeding helps moms bond with their babies. It can help babies to feel safe and secure.
  3. Cost: Breast milk is free! Formula costs money and has to be carried home from the store.
  4. Gas and poop: Babies who drink formula have more gas and firmer, more smelly poop than breastfed babies.
  5. Changing needs: Breast milk changes as your baby’s needs change. Formula cannot match this built-in process.

How long should I breastfeed my baby?
It is up to you and your baby. Breastfeeding is recommended as the only food for the first six months, and as an important thing to continue for the first year or more. Many mothers breastfeed beyond the first year, while others choose only to nurse for a short while. Any amount of breastfeeding benefits your baby. The longer you nurse, the greater the health benefit for you and your baby.

What are some resources I can use for more information?
You can find more information in many different books and websites. Some that may be helpful include:

This info sheet is funded in part by the Urban Aboriginal Strategy through the Government of Canada.