Breastfeeding is defined as feeding babies and young children with milk from a woman’s breast. It is also known as nursing. Breast feeding is recommended from the first hour of a baby’s life up to 2 years or more.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding (which is feeding the baby with no other foods other than the breast milk) for six months. After which, introduction of other foods can begin.
Hormones in early pregnancy prepare the breast for lactation. Lactation is the secretion of milk from the mammary glands.
Midway through pregnancy, the breast begins to produce colostrum; a thick yellowish fluid rich in protein. It is continued to be produced after the first few days of delivery. Colostrum contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease.
Around 30 to 40 hours after delivery, the composition of milk changes to mature milk and the volume becomes copious, an event known as the milk ‘coming in’.
CONTENT OF BREAST MILK
Breast milk is made from nutrients in the mother’s bloodstream and bodily stores. It has an optimal balance of fat, sugar, water and protein needed for a baby’s growth and development.
Biochemical reactions take place during breastfeeding, allowing for enzymes, hormones, growth factors and immunologic substances to defend the baby against infectious diseases. Breast milk also has long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids which help with normal retinal and neural development.
The colostrum that is produced within the first few days is easy to digest and has a laxative effect which helps the baby to pass early stools and also helps in the excretion of excess bilirubin. The excretion of excess bilirubin helps to prevent jaundice. Colostrum also helps to seal the baby’s gastrointestinal tract which may sensitize the baby to foods the mother has eaten. As said earlier, it contains antibodies such as immunoglobulin A which works to attack germs in the mucous membranes of the throat, lungs and intestines which are likely to come under attack by germs.
Towards the third and fourth day after birth, mature milk is produced. Early in breastfeeding, a thinner milk which contains more proteins and vitamins is produced by the breasts and this is known as the foremilk. As the baby continues to breastfeed, hindmilk is produced. This has a creamier color and texture as it contains more fat.
PROCESS OF BREASTFEEDING
- Commencement – breastfeeding is started right after delivery. The baby is placed on the mother and feeding starts as soon as the baby shows interest.
- Timing and Duration – a newborn demands feeds every 1 to 3 hours for the first 2 to 4 weeks. Breastfeeding usually takes between 20 to 45 mins and when one breast is empty, the mother may offer the other breast.
- Position – correct positioning for breastfeeding allows the baby to get enough milk and to prevent nipple soreness.
- Weaning – this is the process of replacing breastmilk with other foods.
METHODS OF BREASTFEEDING
- Expression – A mother can express her milk for storage or later use. Expression is usually done by massage or a breast pump. Breast milk may be kept at room temperature for up to six hours, refrigerated for up to eight days and frozen for up to twelve months.
- Shared nursing – Here, it is not only the mother who breastfeeds her child, she may hire another woman known as a wet nurse to do so or share child care with another mother (cross- nursing). However, it is a risk factor for HIV infection.
- Induced lactation – This is the process of starting a process of breastfeeding in a woman who did not give birth. It is usually done by giving the adoptive mother hormones and other drugs that stimulate breastfeeding.
- Re-lactation – This is the process of restarting breastfeeding.
- Extended – Extended breastfeeding means breastfeeding after the age of 12 or 24 months.
BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING FOR THE CHILD
Below are a few of the benefits of breastfeeding a child:
- Deaths of children under the age of five can be prevented by increased breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding decreases the risk of infections.
- It improves cognitive development and growth of the child.
- It decreases the risk of obesity in adulthood.
BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING FOR THE MOTHER
Below are a few benefits a breastfeeding mother will have:
- Breastfeeding strengthens the maternal bond through the release of certain hormones.
- It delays the return of fertility through lactational amenorrhea, however, it is not a reliable birth control.
- Suckling will cause oxytocin to be released which will help with uterine contraction and reduce blood loss after delivery.
- There is also decreased risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Breastfeeding is also cost efficient as compared to formula.