Why breastfeeding is as important for the mother as it is for the baby

By Prateeksha Nayak|6th Aug 2016
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Did you know it is World Breastfeeding Week?

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is an annual celebration that promotes breastfeeding and is held from 1 – 7 August in more than 120 countries. The WBW is being organised by The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), World Health Organisation (WHO), and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) who came up with the goal to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months in view of the tremendous health benefits breastfeeding provides. Along with fostering growth and development for infants, breast milk also provides critical nutrients and protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.

At HerStory, we know that new mothers are flooded with information and tips from multiple sources, leaving them confused and apprehensive; hence, we decided to address all your primary concerns in one go. Take a look.

breastfeeding yourstory

For how long should a child be breastfed?

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods for 12-24 months or as long as mother and baby desire.

Unlike the old days, when women mostly stayed home, the majority today are out at work and find it difficult to stay away from the workforce for long. The maternity break only lasts for about three-six months, making it difficult for new moms to continue the practice of breastfeeding. But, it is extremely important to make sure that the baby is breastfed exclusively for six months at least,

stresses doctor-turned-entrepreneur Anitha Arockiaswamy, founder, India Home Healthcare.

Dos and Don’ts

As a breastfeeding mother, you will need to take special care of your diet as what you eat is going to affect the quality of your milk. Most doctors recommend that breastfeeding mums take iron, folic, and calcium supplements. You may also be required to take supplements of vitamin A, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. However, it is best to consult your doctor before taking vitamin supplements.

It is best to stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and fish high in toxins such as mercury, nicotine, and medicine. As substances can pass from your blood into your breast milk and your baby, hindering overall development. If you think a particular food is affecting your baby, try keeping it off your diet for a few days to see if it makes a difference.

Breastfeeding mothers need to make sure that they are eating a calcium-rich diet and avoiding processed foods as much as possible
says Dr Anitha

Health benefits of breastfeeding

Various studies have looked at the possible health benefits for women who have breastfed. On an average, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and depression are less common in women who have breastfed one or more babies compared with those who have never breastfed. Some recent studies have also suggested that six months of breastfeeding lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure even much later in life.

Inspired by all those post-pregnancy weight loss pictures of celebrities doing the rounds on the internet? Fret not, for breastfeeding has also proven to aid in weight loss and prevent obesity.

For the baby

Studies from around the world have shown that stomach ailments, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and even when they do happen, they are less severe.

Your breast milk is tailored to your baby. Your body responds to virus and bacteria that are in your body and secretes Immunoglobulin A that’s specific to those viruses and bacteria (pathogens), creating protection for the baby based on whatever pathogen you’re exposed to.

In addition to protecting the baby from illnesses as an infant, breastfeeding also helps children avoid a host of diseases that strike later in life, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity.

One of the most important benefits of breastfeeding is that the main hormone that facilitates breastfeeding also helps in restoring the uterus to its pre-pregnancy state. It also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer along with preventing obesity and osteoporosis.

says Dr Anitha.

Awareness and external help

Even before I could deliver my baby, my gynaecologist called me and my husband for a counselling session wherein she advised my husband to co-operate with me as much as possible in the six months that I was going to be away from work. It was more about how it was his responsibility to take care of the baby and me during this crucial period so I could breastfeed my baby and recuperate well.

says V Rekha, 28, a staff nurse and a first-time mother, who gave birth to a daughter only two months ago.

If you are a young working mother like Rekha, family support is extremely important. Make sure your immediate support is aware of all the nitty-gritties that go into caring for a newborn. While the onus of counselling lies with the doctor, it is important for those around you to create a hygienic and stress-free setting for you to breastfeed and nurse the baby.

However, owing to the busy lives we lead today, you might not always have a family to help you. In such a case help from homecare startups can be helpful.

I am a healthcare professional myself and was hesitant in availing homecare services for my baby, but I had become extremely weak post delivery. With ailing parents and a working husband, I found it most convenient to rely on homecare. Also, being around these professionals has given me the confidence to leave my baby in their care when I rejoin the workforce

says Rekha.

In addition to external help, working mothers can also pump and store breast milk. But there are certain things you will need to take care of.

Stored breast milk if refrigerated can be administered within two days and up to seven days, if frozen. says Dr Anitha.

Becoming a mother is a joyous experience. Don’t let it restrict you in anyway. Most new mothers are hesitant to venture out because they are worried about breastfeeding in public. Various social experiments and protests around the world have now led to installation of private spaces for breastfeeding in most public spaces which you can make use of.

Women tend to use bathrooms and toilets in order to feed the baby in seclusion. This is an extremely unhygienic practice and should not happen.

says Dr Anitha, stressing on the importance of breastfeeding in the right way and place.

Studies have proven how breastfeeding helps develop a bond between the mother and child. Early skin contact is important from the moment of birth. The newborn needs to feel safe, secure, and warm.

Although I had complications during my delivery, and I spend sleepless nights almost everyday ever since, that moment when I see my baby smile after I feed her is surreal. I need it as much as she does

says Rekha.