The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months but what exactly are its benefits for both you and your bub?
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
Just as the mother’s body has an amazingly complex and beautiful system for feeding the baby in the uterus, it has one for feeding the baby after it is born. For thousands of years, the human species has nurtured its infants by breastfeeding. Scientists have discovered that breastfeeding has numerous medical and psychological advantages for the baby, and at the same time has positive effects on the mother as well.
What exactly is exclusive breastfeeding? It is when a baby is fully breastfed from birth and requires no other water or formula and food supplement for the first six months, explains Yasa Yong Nyuk Yin, senior lactation consultant from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
It is recommended to breastfeed your baby exclusively for a minimum of six months, advises Yong. Beyond which, the baby will need follow-ons, semi-solids and more. So other sources of nutrition would need to be included.
Preparing for your Breastfeeding Journey
The best way to learn is through the antenatal classes and listening to friends and relatives who have successfully gone through breastfeeding. Having a realistic expectation is key.
Talk to your obstetrician about your decision to breastfeed. Get your family on board so that they can help with household chores and support you. The secret to breastfeeding is to start early, preferably within minutes after birth, advises A/Prof Yong Tze Tein, senior consultant, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, SGH. Baby is most awake at this time and if left on the chest, many can make their way to the nipple. Breastfeeding is baby-led, so let nature take its course.
Recommended for the First Six Months
Breastmilk gives your baby all the nutrients and water she needs for mental and physical development in the first six months of life and beyond, explains Yong. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommend continuing breastfeeding up to two years for better protection.
Babies who are breastfed have a lesser chance of suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, chest infections, ear infections and constipation. The antibodies found in breast milk protects the baby against all sorts of infections as well as longer term illnesses. When mummy is sick at home, she immediately produces antibodies which will soon be found in her breast milk. So naturally, she is protecting her baby with a tailor-made illness prevention mechanism.
Your Breastfeeding Schedule
You must be physically and mentally prepared to feed your baby frequently of about eight to 10 feeds a day.
This is because breast milk is easily digested, explains A/Prof Yong. In the initial weeks, the baby would need regular and frequent feeding. Regular feeding also helps stimulate milk production. Feeding on demand is recommended if the baby is full term and of a good size. But not to worry, babies are well equipped to holler when they are hungry, so just listen to their needs.
So how long should a feeding take? As every baby is different, it really differs. As long as your baby is still suckling and she hasn’t fallen asleep, let the baby be. Even toddlers take different amounts of time to finish a meal, so there is no norm and it’s not helpful to compare. On the other hand, it is important to feed baby only when they are hungry and protesting as they will be likely to be keener about drinking and not using mummy as a pacifier!
Once the supply of breast milk is established and the milk flow is not blocked, most of the feeding should complete within 15 to 20 minutes, says A/Prof Yong.
The Best Option
Is breastfeeding really the best option for the mother? There are short term and long term benefits, explains Yong.
Let’s Talk About Supply
Most mothers will, in fact, be able to keep up with demand, clarifies Dr Chua Yang a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at A Clinic for Women. The trick is to let baby suckle very soon after birth to kick-start the response. Mothers who feel exhausted or not motivated to try the first few days after giving birth may find difficulty with supply. Latching should also be consistent every few hours to keep the supply going.
A lot of new mothers are insecure about their milk supply and would pump to check how much their babies are getting. This is really unnecessary, advises Dr Chua Yang. Baby suckling is much more efficient than any milk pump. Whatever the mother pumps out, their baby is likely to get more if they latch on directly.
There will inevitably be some mothers who just do not have enough milk, explains Dr Chua Yang. There is no need to feel inadequate or guilty or depressed about this. Mothers who get really stressed out and depressed about this milk might end up producing less milk. Sufficient rest, good nutrition, and hydration will help to improve milk supply, advises Dr Chua Yang.
Most mothers do not realise how demanding breastfeeding can be. Every breast is different! Even the production from the right breast may differ from the left! The constant demand and suckling can make the nipples sore, cracked and bloody. A lot of care needs to be given to the nipples.
Nipples which are flushed or inverted may need extra help before the baby can successfully latch on. All hospitals have dedicated lactation consultants to help in case you face any challenges.