Protecting breastfeeding is a shared responsibility and is also this year's World Breastfeeding theme. Why does breastfeeding need to be protected? Our experience of working with mothers that are breastfeeding shows that they need extra support. Breastfeeding has so many benefits for the mom, baby, and family while being the most natural way to feed a baby. Why then do we need to protect breastfeeding? Why are so few babies being breastfed exclusively until 6 months never mind the 2 years and longer recommendation from WHO?
The interesting thing is that when you talk to pregnant mothers about their intention to feed their baby, they generally want to breastfeed and look forward to breastfeeding. However, many are not sure that they will be able to, despite the evidence that over 90% of mothers are able to breastfeed their infants. How can a mother have so much doubt about breastfeeding? This doubt is why we need to protect breastfeeding at every opportunity that we have. Scary stories of breastfeeding can have an impact on a mother’s confidence. I think that the lack of correct information for parents, communities, and some health care workers are key issues that need to be addressed to protect breastfeeding.
Incorrect information or breastfeeding myths are so common but the role that they play in undoing breastfeeding is real. Mothers are bombarded with conflicting information, and this really can undo our South African breastfeeding gains.
This article is going to highlight two areas that I feel are key places where we need to work harder at protecting breastfeeding.
Let’s look at the top-up trap. This is commonplace as a standard help for mothers that are struggling with breastfeeding in hospital. Mothers are offered a top-up of formula for different reasons they can be:
- Your milk is not in yet or you do not have milk
- Your milk is weak
- Your baby has low blood sugar.
By offering a mother formula and giving the explanations as above, health care workers are undermining breastfeeding and not providing up-to-date information on breastfeeding. The health care workers' intention may be good but it has extenuating repercussions.
All due to inadequate emptying of the breast because the infant is full and does not suckle at the breast. Once a mother starts to have problems like this it can cause them to stop breastfeeding. This is not because she does not have breast milk but rather that she was not helped correctly.
The correct information and assistance would be rather to educate her on what colostrum is and that it is your first breast milk and how important it is for you. Mothers need to know that colostrum is meant to be a small amount and that is why your breasts, initially do not feel full or leak lots of milk. It is not easy to see colostrum if your breast is squeezed or pinched, there will be no milk coming out in a case like this. Sadly, this is often how mothers are checked to see if they have milk and then told they do not have enough milk. If a mom knows this method of checking for milk is not true and does not reflect how much milk she has, she can relax and focus on breastfeeding.
Facts about colostrum are;
1) High in energy, nutrients, and immune factors,
2) Thick, sticky, and only needed in small amounts. 5ml of colostrum is similar to 30 ml mature milk,
3) Will become mature milk within the first week (3-5 days),
4) Helps to mature the baby’s gut for better absorption of breast milk
5) Helps to get rid of the meconium, the dark first poo.
If there is worry about a baby’s blood glucose, the plan of action would be the following:
1) Practice skin to skin as this promotes; stabilization of the blood sugar levels, allows baby to absorb food better, helps to increase milk production, helps to keep baby warm, and to keep baby relaxed.
2) Encourage demand feeding to allow babies to have access to milk and to help increase the mother's milk supply.
3) Encouraging mom and showing her how to breastfeed while focusing on a deep latch.
If a mother receives advice and help as explained above, she is being empowered and her breastfeeding experience is being protected.
Another place where breastfeeding is not being protected is when a breastfeeding mother needs to return to work. Not all work paces have HR policies around protecting breastfeeding for the working mother. Many mothers stop feeding, pump in the car or a toilet. All of which is not acceptable for the mothers and their babies. It would help companies to have an HR policy that protects breastfeeding. By supporting women with a fundamental right to feed their baby with breast milk, would build loyalty from the mother as well as the mother needing to take less time off to care for her child.
So yes, as a community and country we need to do better. Mothers need our support and help to protect breastfeeding at every opportunity. From the moment a woman thinks about having a baby through to when she holds her baby in her arms for the first time and then finally when she decides to stop breastfeeding, she needs our support. This can be given in many ways. Health care workers can stay up to date about breastfeeding information, employers can support breastfeeding-friendly HR policies, retailers can promote breastfeeding and society can be more accepting of a mother’s breastfeeding needs.
As My Breastpump we would like to challenge every South African citizen to strive to better protect breastfeeding and, in this way, we will be better protecting mothers and their infants. If you would like more information on breastfeeding and expression, please follow us on our social media pages.
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