Wednesday, August 08, 2007
A Mother’s Blessing for Life
We were "celebrating" Breast Feeding week from August 1 till yesterday....and India
“A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three." - Dr. Grantly Dick-Read
The word mammal is from the Latin “mammālis”, meaning “of the breast” and so a mammal – which includes us humans - is characterized by milk-producing mammary glands in the female for nourishing its young. You’re thinking – is this really the place for a piece on breastfeeding? I’m saying – in a country a baby is born almost every 2 seconds, everybody is either having a baby or knows someone who is about to. So, getting your breastfeeding primer updated is going to come handy, one way or another.
Now we all have a vague idea that breastfeeding is somehow good for the baby. But UNICEF is a tad more specific about it. “ If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth for 6 months, an estimated 1.5 million lives would be saved each year. Not just saved but enhanced, because breast milk is the perfect food for a baby"s first 6 months of life - no manufactured product can equal it.”
Really? Nothing but breast milk for the first six months of a baby’s life?
Mummy knows best…
This is how all other mammals rear their young and so why should we humans be any different. And to underscore that point, the experts recommend that breastfeeding should start within the first hour of the baby being born, preferably in the first 30 minutes. Mainly because in the first 2-3 days after birth, the mother’s breast produces colostrum, Nature’s most wonderful gift to the life that’s just begun. Colostrum is the perfect first food for the newborn, low in fat, and high in carbohydrates, protein and easy to digest. Besides, it has a laxative effect, helping the baby to pass early stools and excrete excess bilirubin which can cause jaundice. Colostrum is also the baby"s first immunization because it is loaded with leukocytes, disease fighting protective white cells and IgA, a major antibody. Finally, it protects the baby’s extremely fragile and vulnerable digestive tract, “painting” it with a barrier that seals it against infections.
No wonder then that doctors insist that nothing should be given before that all-important first breastfeed.
And till the baby is 6 months old, breast milk is the perfect and only food that the baby needs. For many reasons.
Nutritionally, breast milk is the perfect formula - the right kind of proteins, fats, lactose, vitamins, minerals, water and all other nutrients in the right mix.
Breast milk is Nature’s ready-to-eat food – available whenever the baby wants it. And you don’t even have to “heat and serve because the temperature is perfect for the baby’s delicate mouth. The IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) poster promoting breastfeeding in Canada shows a pair of beautiful breasts with the slogan “Fast food outlets”!
Breast milk is not just free; it’s also free from any kind of contamination.
Breastfeeding protects the child against several childhood infections, many of them life-threatening. In the first 2 months of life, an infant who is not exclusively breastfed is up to 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea and 4 times more likely to die from pneumonia than a breastfed baby.
Breastfeeding ensures a better immune system, making the baby respond better to vaccination
Most of all, breast milk is more than just baby food. It is also that other immeasurably wonderful nutrient – mother’s love. There is nothing more tender and loving than the act of a mother gently cuddling her baby to her warm, soft body. And the baby cannot but respond. So, a breastfed baby is not only a healthy baby but a blissfully happy one too!
“But what if Mummy doesn’t have enough?”
"Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don"t decide how much and how deeply to love--you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want." - Marni Jackson, columnist and author of The Mother Zone
This the most prevalent and unfortunate myth about breast feeding and the constant worry is that maybe the baby is not getting enough milk when it is breast fed. And even more unfortunately, one of the single biggest stumbling block to the adequate production of breast milk is the mother’s own anxiety that she is not producing enough milk for her baby. And that is the ultimate irony. Because, breast feeding itself promotes the production of breast milk. It is the sucking action of the baby’s mouth that causes the production of the hormone prolactin which in turn produces the milk. So, the more a baby suckles, the more milk is produced. Which is the other reason why experts insist that the baby should be breast fed within 30-60 minutes of being born. This is when the baby"s suckling reflex is strongest, and the baby is more alert.
Now about “enough”. Barring conditions like severe maternal malnutrition and anemia, too many pregnancies, almost every mother can exclusively breast feed. And there are 2 very simple and easy indicators to show that your baby is well fed. First, if it urinates at least 7-10 in 24 hrs. And second, if it is putting on weight - at the rate of an average of ½ kg per month in the first 6-7 months.
Oh, there is no other thing that inhibits the production of breast milk – the use of pacifiers or bottles. The sucking action required for these is very different from suckling at the breast. So, the baby gets confused, doesn’t suckle the breast properly causing the mother to produce less breastmilk.
If that hasn’t already answered that often asked question of why not combine breast feeding with bottle feeding, let me elaborate…..
Hitting the bottle
We humans are a strange bunch. We throw away what is natural and free and healthy and pay money for unhealthy substitutes. The global annual sales baby food amounts to 16.5 billion dollars. (Coke and associated brands sell 15 billion dollars annually) The negative effects of bottle feeding and/or feeding a baby anything other than breast milk (including malnutrition and exposure to life-threatening infections) for the first 6 months of its life are so many and so serious that the World Health Assembly passed the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981. The attempt was to stop the damage to breastfeeding through the promotion of substitute products. The Indian government passed the Infant Milk Substitute Act in 1992 and further amended it in 2003 so that it prohibits the marketing of all kinds of foods for babies younger than 2 years of age.
Now you know why I said, “hitting the bottle…”
Blessed for life
The blessings that we always seek and crave for is that of our mother’s – unconditional, pure, complete and lifelong. Like breast milk. Because its effects are life long. Research now shows that children who have been breastfed grow up to be adults that:
Are Smarter – The longer you breast feed, the more it increases your child’s IQ, reading comprehension, mathematical ability, and scholastic ability – a result of the special “fatty acids" in breast milk. Remember, by age 6, which is when children generally start school, most of the brain"s neural connections are already made
Can see better – again, it’s those special “fatty acids" that make the eyes bright, the eyesight sharp.
Are healthier - Children who are breastfed for 1 year or longer have 50% less risk of being diabetic compared to children fed less than one year. Breast fed children also have significantly lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers in adult life
Are thinner Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of adult obesity.
We are politely called a “developing” country. Put in harsher language, many of us are poor, some barely managing two proper meals in a day and never you mind what they are saying about our GDP being the 3rd largest in the world. With poverty comes disease and deprivation. And the most cruelly affected are little children - 50% of Indian children under the age of 3 are malnourished and of the 27 million children born every year, 16 % will die before they are 5. But, as long as a mother can breast feed, developing country or not, she can never be poor, capable of showering her feed her child the wealth of love and health that will last a lifetime. (Valued at the cost of fresh animal milk (Rs. 15 per liter), annual market value of realistic production of breastmilk in India would be about Rs 5916 crores or roughly the 2005-2006 budget allocation for Agriculture!)
But sadly, today, 54.2% of Indian mothers exclusively breast feed their babies till the age of 3 months and that figure drops to 19.4 % for babies aged 4-6 months.
Breastfeeding is an ancient tradition in our land. It’s time we went back to it. To protect our greatest, most precious and yet most vulnerable national treasure – our children.
(Grateful thanks to Dr. Shobha Banapurmath who not only sugge0sted the idea for this article and provided support and material. She is a pediatrician, representing BPNI or the Breast Promotion Network of India, “a national network of organizations and individuals dedicated to promote mother and child health through protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.”
Breast feeding primer
* Till your baby is 6 months old, ONLY breast feed. No other food or drink, not even water, is usually needed during this period
* Breastfeed immediately after birth preferably within 30-60 of birth to give your baby the all-important colostrum. Nothing should be given before the first breastfeed
* Breastfeed unrestrictedly and on demand.
* There is no substitute to breast milk
* Bottle-feeding is unnecessary and even harmful, being the leading cause of loose stools in babies
* Pacifiers and bottle confuse the baby’s sucking action and reduce the production of breastmilk.
* Continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond, introducing solid foods only after 6 months of age.
* Homemade, family food is the best solid food for your baby.
And Mummy is happier and healthier too….
If breastfeeding makes healthy, happy babies, it isn’t too bad for the mummies either. It
* Reduces post-delivery bleeding and chances of maternal anemia.
* Obesity is less common among breastfeeding mothers.
* Has a contraceptive effect.
* Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
* Builds bone strength and protects against osteoporosis
Did you know?
* That malnutrition amongst children happens in the first two years of life and is virtually IRREVERSIBLE after that?
* That a baby’s crying can make breast milk flow? A hormone called oxytocin causes the "let-down" reflex – when the mother hears the baby cry, milk is “let down” or ejected.
* That anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler estimates that if culture did not tell us to do otherwise, we would breast feed our children somewhere till between 2.5 and 7 years of age