World breastfeeding week is celebrated annually from the 1st to the 7th August. It was first started in 1992 by the WHO to promote the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby. According to UNICEF, “infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives to achieve optimal growth, development and health, and thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to be breastfed for up to two years or beyond”.
The benefits of breastfeeding for the child are innumerable. It is the best source of all nutritional needs of the baby and even changes as per their requirements. Breastfeeding also helps strengthen their immune system and prevents them from short to long-term illnesses such as allergies, bowel conditions, diabetes, respiratory infection etc. Furthermore, breastfeeding promotes child neurodevelopment and thus leads to better cognitive abilities. Physical intimacy such as skin-to-skin touch and eye contact involved during breastfeeding can also be linked to a better behavioural pattern seen among breastfed babies in their lives.
The list of advantages for breastfeeding mothers is also long. Breastfeeding mothers are seen to recover from childbirth better. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, not only facilitates the return of the uterus to its regular size faster but even reduces postpartum bleeding. Oxytocin further helps the mother bond with their child and thus reduces the risk of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding also provides protection against ovarian and breast cancer to nursing mothers along with several other diseases like type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It may also pause menstruation and ovulation in some women which can prevent iron deficiency after giving birth and thus safeguard against anaemia.
While we are discussing the merits of breastfeeding, there are a plethora of myths that surround it. Let’s dispel some of them.
Un-Latching The Truth
Myth 1 – Breast Size Is Proportional To The Amount Of Milk It Can Produce
First thing first, the size of the breast has nothing to do with its ability to produce milk. Breast size is determined by fatty tissues while the glandular tissues are responsible for milk production. Most mothers produce sufficient milk to feed their children. A hormone called prolactin stimulates the mammary glands in the breast to secrete milk. As the baby suckles, the body releases yet more prolactin and so on. The more a baby feeds, the more the mother produces.
With this in mind, a sudden increase in appetite does not mean a mother isn’t making enough milk but is a sign of the baby’s growth spurt. Many mothers begin to doubt their supply once their baby’s appetite suddenly spikes, but nursing on-demand will help adjust the mother’s milk supply to meet her baby’s growing needs.
Myth 2 – Breastfeeding Should Be Paused When The Mother Is Sick
This is one of the most common myths about breastfeeding. Keeping their child’s health at heart, most mothers temporarily stop breastfeeding when they are ill, especially in case of cold and flu and stomach infections. However, apart from extreme conditions like HIV or Ebola virus, health experts believe that being breastfed by a sick mother is not only safe but even beneficial for a baby. Breastmilk cannot transmit illness but the antibodies that the mother develops to fight foreign bodies can decrease the risk for the child to suffer from the same or even help them fight it.
Having said that, it is essential to maintain proper hygiene in case of communicable diseases like the common cold to prevent its spread.
If medicines are the reason one is unsure if they should breastfeed, then just let the doctor know that they are a nursing mother. While most medicines have no effect on breastmilk it’s better to be double sure when it comes to children.
Myth 3 – Breastfeeding Mothers Should Avoid Spicy Food
Given what a mother eats has an influence on her breastmilk, it is understandable that she avoids food that seems potentially harmful to her baby. Nursing mothers turn their back on various spices with strong flavours which they feel can unsettle their babies. However, this belief is only partially true.
What a mother consumes does affect her breastmilk but spicy food can actually benefit young humans. Children are born with an evolutionary predisposition to prefer sweet and avoid bitter foods in order to encourage consumption of energy-dense foods while dissuading toxin intake. While this taste preference may work in the initial years, we all know having a sweet tooth leads to numerous health complications in life ranging from diabetes to cardiovascular conditions. Thus, even though the flavour of breastmilk changes according to what the mother eats, it introduces the idea of different tastes to a baby and can encourage them to be more open to incorporating a variety of flavours into their own diet once they start eating solids. Furthermore, recent research points out that no food should be avoided during breastfeeding unless the child reacts negatively to it.
Myth 4 – Exercising Decreases Breastmilk Production
The answer to whether one can exercise while breastfeeding is yes. Exercising may increase the amount of lactic acid in breast milk which can alter its taste but this is just temporary and certainly doesn’t make the breastmilk unhealthy. To tackle this, you can keep a check on your workout intensity. It is recommended for nursing mothers to stick to low or moderate-intensity exercises. Being hydrated and having calorie-rich diets are of pivotal importance here. It is dehydration that affects milk production and not exercising. Furthermore, not getting enough calories may make you rapidly lose weight leading to less milk supply, vitamins, and nutrients in your system.
Pro tip- Feeding the baby or pumping just before exercising will help avoid the uncomfortable feeling of engorgement or fullness during your workout.
With these myths off the table, it’s safe to say we understand the dynamics of breastfeeding a little better. Nevertheless, through these myths, we realise how mothers go an extra mile like giving up their favourite food or compromising their body shape to ensure the best for their baby. Breastfeeding demands dedication and effort on a mothers’ part and it can be difficult to fully master the art. Every child is unique and so is the experience of a mother nurturing them. However, we’ve listed a couple of tips that may come in handy while nursing babies.
Tips For Nursing Mothers
1. Understand Hunger Cues
Babies cry when they get hungry. That said, observing your babies can help you anticipate when they start to get hungry so that you don’t have to wait for them to cry for attention. Repeatedly raising their head, opening and closing their mouths or sticking their tongue out are common signs that a baby is starting to feel hungry. If you see your child doing these gestures, offer to feed them. This will further deepen your level of intimacy with your baby as they will gradually realise that they don’t have to struggle for your attention.
2. Let The Baby Have An Upper Hand
Let’s admit that babies are quite iffy. The person that knows them the best is themself. (Sorry moms and dads!) With that being said, it is best to let your baby decide when to feed and for how long. Don’t deny a baby their food because they just had it or wake them up to feed because it’s been long since their last meal. The time intervals you determine for your baby are sadly not going to work for them. Let them be the judge here. The same goes for breastfeeding duration. Some babies are fast eaters, while some like to take their time.
3. The Right Positioning
As aforementioned, babies know themselves the best. They know the most comfortable position while they nurse. Pay attention to these positions so that breastfeeding gets easier over time. While it may differ from one baby to the other, a few general rules may help both of you get comfortable. Position your baby in such a way that their head is tilted slightly backwards and they don’t have to move it much. Their chin should be right up against your breast so that their nose is clear and they can breathe normally while suckling. Finally, their mouth should be at level with your nipple. Try to make them latch onto the entire areola, not just the nipple for pain-free feeding.
4. Your Comfort Matters
You being in a comfortable position is as important as that of the baby while breastfeeding. Being in an uncomfortable position for long can lead to back, shoulder, and neck pain. Repetitive squirming on your part can even disrupt your baby’s breastfeeding, making them irritable.
Read more about different breastfeeding positions and choose the ones that suit you the best.
In addition to this, ascertain that you’re calm while breastfeeding. Babies can sense if you’re not relaxed which can demotivate them to latch properly and then you know the drill!
We learned above that being relaxed is important while breastfeeding. But what to do when you’re in an unfavourable environment? How are you going to feed your baby if you’re not ok to do it in public? It is also recommended that an infant must be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. What does that mean for a working mother? There is one answer to all these questions – Pumping and storing breastmilk. While the ifs, buts and hows around pumping and storage of breast milk are plenty, we’ve here to help you.
Pump-ed Up For Later
Wash your hands with soap and water before expressing your breast milk. Store the expressed milk in a clean, capped food-grade glass container or hard plastic container made from BPA-free materials. You can also use special plastic bags designed for milk collection and storage. It’s advisable to label the date and time when the breast milk was expressed on containers and store them at room temperature, in the fridge, or in the freezer, depending on when you want to use them. Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature for up to six hours, in the fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
You may observe your stored breastmilk separate into layers, with the fat (cream) rising to the top. It’s nothing to worry about. Just gently swirl the container to mix the layers before feeding your baby. Remember not to vigorously stir or shake the container as it can damage some of the milk’s nutritional and protective components.
When your baby feeds on expressed breast milk from a cup or bottle, bacteria from his mouth can end up in the milk and thus the leftover milk should be thrown away within one to two hours of their initial feeding. To avoid wasting expressed milk, it’s better to store it in small amounts.
While we do encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies we also understand the mental pressure that accompanies it and thus respect the decision of a woman who decides against it. Because at the end of the day, a mother knows what’s best for her child.