Breastfeeding – The Best Feeding

Breast milk is nature’s gift to the newborn and is beneficial to the mother too. Breastfeeding though a natural process, has acquired a new dimension in the present day context. Women working full time, pre-term deliveries, lack of nutrition, lack of proper understanding of the process of breastfeeding, physiological and psychological causes stand as a barrier towards mothers breastfeeding their breastfeed.

The main barriers towards breastfeeding are:

Anxiety – Lack of knowledge of the breastfeeding process leads to anxiety and misapprehension in many mothers. They expect breastfeeding to be smooth and without any issue right from the moment the baby is born.  If this does not happen, anxiety sets in. This anxiety is compounded by the extended family that encourages the mother to resort to other means of feeding the baby.

Lack of proper support system- with the emerging nuclear family system there is no proper support for the nursing mother. If the mother is working, inadequate support system at workplace also discourages breastfeeding.

Peer Influence – With women in peer groups not resorting to breastfeeding, the new mother feels that she may be missing  something important for the baby and resorts to other means of feeding.

Inappropriate information – With access to multiple sources of information, there is a possibility of getting wrong and inappropriate information.

Impatience – The instant two minute generation has lost patience and perseverance.

All this can be corrected if there is proper understanding.

Exclusive breastfeeding is the best feeding for the baby during the first six months. As soon as the baby is born, the mother’s milk that is secreted is called the colostrum and this is the ideal food for the baby’s developing stomach. It is concentrated in carbohydrates and proteins and low in fat and is easily digested. This colostrum helps excrete excess bilirubin, which prevents jaundice in newborns.

Other benefits of Breastmilk are:

Breastfed babies have less infections and diseases. Breastmilk is a ‘dynamic’ fluid that is constantly changing to meet the challenges a baby faces. For example, soon after birth, the baby receives its IgA – an immunoglobin that helps the baby to fight infections.  As a result, it has been shown that even if these babies should get a cold or upper respiratory infection, breastmilk will help them overcome it quickly when they are breastfeeding or help them in surmounting these infections from the immunological boost they received through mothers’ milk, as they grow up into adulthood.

  • Breastfeeding has been shown to cut down risks of diabetes, certain cancers, otitis media, Necrotizing enterocolitis among other infections in the baby.
  • Dentists have also reported that a breast fed baby’s mouth is well exercised for development of teeth. Also these baby’s have lesser dental problems.
  • Breastmilk is tailor-made (species-specific) for the baby to suit its particular needs. For example, the milk that a preemie baby’s mother makes will be very different from the milk from a term baby’s mother and one of the reasons for this is to help easier digestion of milk for the immature baby’s gut.
  • The skin-to-skin contact that a baby gets while breastfeeding helps in the emotional and psychological contentment of the baby.
  • The breastfed baby leads the process of feeding and is not ‘fed’ by a clock or by external determinants. This means that the baby learns to control food intake from the birth stage and this has been shown to cut down the risks of obesity at a later stage in life.
  • A recent study has shown that the longer a baby breastfeeds, the better the brain development.
  • Better IQ than non breastfed babies.
  • Readily available no need for any preparation.

For the mom:

  • A health baby means less anxiety, and if you are working less number of off from work and focus on career.
  • Decreased postpartum bleeding.
  • Earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight.
  • Delayed resumption of ovulation.
  • Reduced risk of ovarian cancer and reduced premenopausal breast cancer.

Woman must learn about breastfeeding even before the baby’s born.  Pregnant woman must consider taking a breastfeeding class (offered by many centers) some time during last trimester.

The hormonal changes pregnancy brings to the breasts are sufficient preparation for most women. Also breast size has nothing to do with ability to nurse successfully. For example, it’s not true that smaller-breasted women make less breast milk.  It’s not uncommon for a woman to have flat or inverted nipples and not realize it. Neither of these circumstances will prevent the woman from breastfeeding, but they may present some additional challenges in the beginning. If a woman has any question about nipple shape, they should specifically ask their doctor.

Mothers must start feeding the baby as soon as possible after delivery.

Is baby getting enough to eat? The following will help :

  • Baby feeds frequently
  • 10-15 on each breast per feeding
  • Adequate wet diapers
  • Adequate stools
  • Baby is gaining weight

Complementary Foods

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, with the addition of complementary foods and continued breastfeeding until 2 years of age and beyond. Woman must  not feed complementary foods before 6 months as it can displace breast milk, and there is no growth advantage over exclusive breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of age is sufficient for the health and growth of infants. Infants will continue to breastfeed at least 4-6 times a day beyond 6 months of age until they are on a full adult diet by 1 year of age. After 1 year, breastfeeding depends on maternal and toddler’s preferences.

Nursing Mothers

  • Must stay Well Nourished
  • Must  follow same healthy diet followed during pregnancy
  • Breast feeding burns 300-400 additional  calories per day
  • If the mother is not well nourished, supply of breast milk may decrease

Reasons to Suspend or Avoid Breastfeeding

  • Treatment with a medication that transfers into the breast milk
  • Level of risk to environmental exposures at work or in the field
  • Solvents
  • Chemicals
  • Fuels

For the working mom:

  • During the last trimester of your pregnancy, enrol for prenatal class that counsels on breastfeeding. During the first few weeks after delivery, get your baby to feed from your breast. Depending upon your work life and the number of holidays you get post pregnancy, work out a feeding plan. Invest in a good breast pump and learn to express and store the milk. Feed your baby the expressed milk and from your breasts alternatively. Initially it may be trying for both you and your baby, but things will settle down quickly. Make your baby comfortable with the feeding plan before you resume work. Take the right amount of nutrition and nutritional supplements. If you have issues with breastfeeding, you always have the guidance of professional lactation consultants who will help you resolve your issues.

REMEMBER: Making the right start is crucial to successful breastfeeding. If you have issues, with breastfeeding, talk to your doctor and get professional help. But never give up. Breast milk is nature’s gift to the newborn and the mom. Make the best use of it and give a smart start to your baby’s life. GO ahead YOU CAN DO IT MOM!

Dr.Subramanian M.D