Although I have been working in breastfeeding for 12 years now there is a phrase that continues to always bring home the importance of breast milk and breastfeeding which is: ‘human milk is for human babies!’
Breast milk is a complex, live and specifically designed food by which babies are given exactly what they need for optimum growth. I sometimes wonder how many people know that when a woman is breastfeeding and she walks into a space where another individual has a cold or a virus, within 20 minutes she will be producing the antibodies in her milk for that virus so her baby receives protection against the illness. Do people know that breastmilk contains an amino acid called taurine that is essential for the development of the human brain and which cannot be replicated in a laboratory? Every time a baby feeds, he or she is immunised. When a woman breastfeeds, she significantly reduces her chances of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer, cervical and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and urinary tract infections. Babies who receive breastmilk are protected against gastrointestinal infections, meningitis, respiratory infections, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and some childhood lymphomas amongst others.
We can learn about the health benefits of breastfeeding but alongside that we need to provide the crucial support to the women who want to breastfeed. I read an article recently and the title was ‘Don’t infantilise women, tell them how tough breastfeeding can be.’ There can be challenges at the start of feeding and during but with knowledge and support difficulties can be worked through.
We know that if a baby is breastfed within the first hour of birth, it impacts in a big way on the success of breastfeeding. We need to remind ourselves that we can trust in our bodies. Skin to skin is beneficial for everything and continues to be as the baby grows. It’s good to know that if on day 2 your baby is feeding for almost 24 hours straight it is because the baby is feeding to bring the milk in. Frequent feeding is normal and actually essential for a newborn and into the first few months of life. A breastfed baby should be followed because the majority of the time they know exactly what they need. Women need to know that if they are engorged, massage and hand expression can be very helpful in relieving engorgement. Not all babies latch on to the breast perfectly after birth but given time and patience they will, they are hard wired to breastfeed and the instinct to do so is present for months, not hours or days. If there is ongoing discomfort for a woman breastfeeding she needs support and help to find out why.
In my work I get to see families in the early days of their baby’s lives. The most frequent thing I find myself saying to women is ‘you are doing brilliantly, just give it some time.’
Contact the Birth Studio for further information on antenatal and postnatal classes and support.
Free breastfeeding support is provided at the Birth Studio every other Tuesday.