One time you are walking like a duck because your tummy is quite big, you can never imagine you will ever touch your toes again; next moment, you have this little, most beautiful littlest human being in your arms and somewhere in your subconscious, you hear a nurse tell you, “mama, you need to breastfeed your baby”. And breastfeed you must, not because there is a manual on how to breastfeed, but because somehow, deep in your soul, you know how it is done, and you bring your baby to your breast, and they begin to nurse, and there begins your six month journey of you and baby and being the only sole provider of its first fastest food.
Deep in my heart, I knew I always wanted to be someone’s mum. Deep in my heart, I always knew, I would exclusively breastfeed, not because I knew the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding but because I knew it’s one of the best bonding moments between a mother and child. It was a special thing that only my child and I could experience. When you look into those innocent eyes and discover the true meaning of ultimate trust. When you know that, when they sit on your lap and lay their head in the crook of your arms, it’s the most comfortable position they know and in their minds they can stay there forever, and the clingy ones actually do try that forever, when the only world they know is the brightness in your eyes and the smell of your clothing, and for them that is enough. That is the magic of breastfeeding!
WHO and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child’s first six months (26 weeks) to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.
Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness. Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal infection and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection). According to Baby Center the main immune factor at work here is a substance called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) that’s present in large amounts in colostrum, the first milk your body produces for your baby. (Secretory IgA is present in lower concentrations in mature breast milk.) The substance guards against invading germs by forming a protective layer on the mucous membranes in your baby’s intestines, nose, and throat. Breastfeeding our little ones also allows for development of a protective layer along their intestinal tract preventing food allergies caused by inflammations. This layer’s growth cannot be facilitated by even formula; the substance, whatever scientists call it is only found in colostrums. Breastfeeding protects a child from obesity. This can be attributed to the following; Breastfed babies have more leptin in their system, a hormone that researchers believe plays a role in regulating appetite and fat; Breast milk contains less insulin than formula. (Insulin stimulates the creation of fat.) Breastfed babies are better at eating until their hunger is satisfied, leading to healthier eating patterns as they grow; and finally, just like breast milk of a specific mother is specific to their child in terms of nutrient constitution, they say a mother’s body can respond to its child when it is full (debatable), so it stops producing more milk . It implies that, a child can latch for an hour but breast milk stops flowing when the child is satisfied, the other part of latching is solely for bonding.
For mothers, breastfeeding leads more rapid maternal weight loss after birth, lowers stress levels hence lower risks of post partum depression (many women report feeling relaxed while breastfeeding. That’s because nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation), reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, and delayed return of menstrual periods. Other obvious benefits are It’s free; It’s available whenever and wherever your baby needs a feed; It’s the right temperature; It builds a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and baby. Finally, Breast milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby’s changing needs.
Breastfeeding is natural – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. In fact, most mothers will tell you it is not easy. From little or no milk, to sore breasts, to outright fatigue for those whose babies are great feeders like my boy. Being a working mother doubles the challenge. Complications at birth that make it hard for a mother to breastfeed the first few hours post partum which contributes immensely to breast milk flow messes things up further, making mothers have little milk, hence opting for formula or early weaning. However, amidst all these challenges, many women have risen to the challenge and managed to feed their children for six months exclusively on breast milk and avoid giving their babies packet/cow milk for up to one year. Mad respect to women ha! Yes, mad respect to the women who have to content with expressing, stocking, pouring out when power fails and milk thaws, rushing home at much to just do this noble curse, eat very funny tasting foods and drinks in the name of boosting this one substance very necessary for their babies, the wars they will fight for privacy in the office to express, and even amid all the hustles is the realization that stored milk cannot equal the directly suckled milk, there is loss of nutrients in freezing, thawing and of course in warming; a toast to all of us for the selflessness.
For those who did not make it, and will not make it, due to factors beyond their control, well, children are beyond us. They have a creator who watches over them. We are just His custodians. They are with us on a temporary custody, before they go to fulfill the mission they were created to; all we can ever do is our best for them. And one thing I am sure is, we do our best as mothers, always…
In as much as there is no manual on how to breastfeed, when that child land on our hands, lets breastfeed breastfeed, breastfeed. I remember the nurses who kept telling me to keep breastfeeding a few minutes after delivery, yes, a few minutes, and I thank them because my flow, in as much as it was not “fresian”, it was sufficient for my boy for those first crucial months.
Finally, there is a difference between exclusive breastfeeding, and exclusive feeding on breast milk. When I started out, I wanted to achieve the former but then again, I am a working mom so, most of us end up doing the latter. Meaning, we express, then feed from a bottle, or cup and spoon. I pen off…