Dr Sujata Datta, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital, Kolkata, has authored about the importance of breastfeeding for the new mothers.
According to her, a common problem faced by new mothers is their inability to breastfeed their newborn babies. This stems from a lack of knowledge of what to expect and is reinforced by incorrect and misleading information from surrounding family members and untrained health personnel. Very often the frustrated new mothers abandon breastfeeding completely and instead switch to bottle-feeding their newborn with formula milk. Although this provides sufficient nutrition, it cannot give the baby immunity against diseases through the antibodies that breastmilk carries from the mother.
Additionally, breastfeeding protects the baby against asthma, obesity, diabetes and other allergies. The mother can produce breast milk anytime the baby is hungry without the need to make up milk from artificial formulations; this makes travelling simple.
Moreover, breastmilk is secreted at the right temperature while bottle formulations need to be warmed up or cooled down before feeding the baby. It is free of germs, unlike bottles which need to be washed and sterilised each time. This means breastfed babies have less diarrhoea and ear infections.
Breastfeeding protects the mother against breast and ovarian cancer and helps her return more quickly to her pre-pregnancy weight.
Breastfeeding is the best way to bond with the newborn. A common reason for believing that a mother is not making enough milk is that the breast milk suckled by the baby cannot be seen by the mother unless she knows how to check for it.
Look out for a ripple under the baby’s jaw after several sucks to understand if the baby is swallowing. The baby’s mouth should fit well over the nipple and areola like the open mouth of a goldfish. On looking down only a thin sliver of the brown areola should be visible above the baby’s mouth, the rest being inside the mouth, with the nipple touching the baby’s upper palate.
To make this “latching on” easier, make sure there is skin to skin contact with the baby by unwrapping the layers of swaddles and putting them like a quilt over the baby. The baby should be lying on its side facing the mother’s breast. Its nose and not the mouth should be in line with the nipple. This allows the baby to open its mouth when it smells the milk. The nipple and areola are then introduced into the mouth of the baby, taking care to lift it off the baby’s nose with a finger guard.
For the first three days, the mother produces a straw-coloured fluid called colostrum which is rich in nutrients and antibodies. This is very important for the baby’s health and immunity. From the third or fourth day, the white milk comes in. Although, initially the amount of milk produced is small in keeping with the baby’s needs, the amount increases with time as the baby’s demands grow. The breast then gets heavy with milk before feeding time.
Feeding the baby formula milk from a bottle causes nipple confusion in the baby and it then refuses to latch on to the breast. As a result, breast milk production decreases creating a vicious cycle. If the baby produces six wet nappies a day and puts on weight, we know that enough milk is being consumed by the baby. The initial learning curve takes 4-6 weeks till breastfeeding is well established and the mother should be supported and encouraged during this time by her family and health personnel. In conclusion breastfeeding has short- and long-term health benefits for both the baby and the mother and exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by WHO for the first six months of life.