Every year, World Breastfeeding Week is commemorated from the 1st to the 7th of August, to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. The theme for this year is “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding”. The WHO is working with organisations worldwide to promote family-friendly feeding policies to enable breastfeeding and help both the parents nurture the bond with their children in early life when it matters the most. Breastfeeding is in the mother’s domain and when fathers, families and workplaces support her, breastfeeding improves. Nowadays we see more and more dads gearing up to be “Hands-on” with their babies; this move looks promising in ensuring successful breastfeeding and bonding with the new-borns.
Breastfeeding promotes better health for mothers and babies alike. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of pneumonia, diarrhoea, and ear infections in babies, apart from the long-term effects of protecting from allergies and increasing baby’s IQ! Not just babies, but moms are benefitted by decreased risks of breast, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is estimated that increased breastfeeding could avert 20,000 maternal deaths each year due to breast cancer!
COLOSTRUM “baby’s first Natural Immunisation” is the first sticky yellowish milk produced at the end of pregnancy and is loaded with nutrients and antibodies. Hence, we insist on every baby getting that “liquid gold” in the first hour of life. Even if baby or mother is sick / not in a condition to directly breastfeed due to medical issues, it should be ensured that the colostrum is expressed and fed to the baby within the first few hours of life.
Milk Ejection is caused by the hormone Oxytocin, which is stimulated by the touch, sight, and sound of baby, and by keeping one’s self-confidence up; which would also include blocking out negative emotions and comments by relatives who insist that “milk is not sufficient”. Self-doubt, anxiety and worry definitely do play a role in hindering milk ejection. Keeping baby in skin to skin contact soon after delivery and in the following days is a great boost to successful lactation. The baby needs to be fed 8-12 times a day, every 2-3 hours, even at night. Frequent sucking helps to boost the levels of the hormone Prolactin which is responsible for milk production. Hold off on the pacifiers and formula feeds, as the baby’s vigour to suck will decrease, and that will tell your body to produce less milk. You may experience that babies cry mostly at night, which is absolutely normal. Frequent night feeds are recommended prolactin levels surge during night feeds, leading to more successful lactation.
Causes of “Inadequate Milk” are mostly due to the inadequate duration of feeds, stopping or decreasing night feeds, or anxiety/lack of confidence. When breasts are engorged, the milk may not flow optimally and will need extra measures like pumping. Smoking, alcohol and caffeine can decrease milk supply. You can boost your supply by eating foods like green leafy vegetables, adding fenugreek, garlic, oatmeal and almonds to your diet, apart from hydrating yourself with loads of fluids. These aside, there are certain medications called galactagogues that your doctor may prescribe in case there is a felt need to boost milk supply.
Maintain a healthy diet; there are no foods in particular that one should avoid, except for limiting caffeine and alcohol intake; all fruits, vegetables, and animal protein are recommended. The so-called “gassy vegetables”, “hot” and “cold” foods are myths to be done away with.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months after which nutritious homemade complementary feeds should be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years. Start with 2- 3 feeds a day, with a snack in between. Boiled water also to be added at this stage. Food should be thick porridge in consistency, and well mashed, start with either cereal or fruit/cooked vegetable puree, gradually add pulses and mashed family food. If mom needs to go back to work early, breastfeeding can still be sustained by frequent pumping and cold storing of milk rather than starting formula feeds.
In conclusion, do not allow fear and insecurity undermine your confidence to successfully breastfeed. All mammals in the animal kingdom produce enough and more milk for their offspring, there’s no reason why humans cannot too! Let nature take its course and believe in yourself!
This article has been contributed by Dr. Shalini Chico, Consultant Neonatologist, Fortis La Femme Hospital, Richmond Road, Bangalore