Thursday, November 17, 2011

Breastfeeding....Is It Really Worth It?

In short....absolutely yes!
Breast milk is the perfect food for human babies and provides unmatched immunity .

Benefits of Breastfeeding:
  1. Breastmilk is the "Gold" standard, living food for human babies, packed with nutrients and vital immunity again foreign organism.
  2. Breastmilk composition changes to suit baby's growing needs (breast milk when baby is 3months is nutritionally different to when baby is 6 or 9 months), and also varies throughout the day (think breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, snack etc)
  3. Ideal for family history of allergies and lactose intolerance. 
  4. Breastmilk is easily digested and therefore well tolerated by baby's immature digestive system.
  5. Fosters good healthy oral development - breastfeeding naturally promotes the use of the baby's   correct oral muscles during suckling, unlike teats on bottles.
  6. Helps mother and baby sleep - sleep hormones are released in both mum and baby during breastfeeding to aid in sleep.
  7. Reduces allergies associated with formula ingredients (which is ultimately refined and man-made).
  8. Saves money - cost of formula, bottles, teats, sterilisers etc.
  9. Saves time - no preparing feeds, cleaning.
  10. Portable - no preparation required except a breastfeeding cover/muslin cloth etc for modesty.
  11. Helps mum burn those extra calories much faster - speeds up mums metabolism and terrific for getting back  to your pre-baby weight.
(Note that I have not included bonding time to be a benefit exclusive to breastfeeding, as I believe this can be achieved through any means of contact and feeding time, be it breast or bottle, breastmilk or formula)

Disadvantages of Breastfeeding (& Remedies):
  1. Nipples may become cracked or sore - this may occur when breastfeeding begins in the first few weeks until the nipples toughen a little for this purpose, and baby learns to latch on properly.  To remedy this, simply express a few drops of breastmik and rub over affected nipple area and allow to air dry, and repeat at least after each feed.  Breastmilk has a natural healing action and is also antibacterial.  Avoid using creams and lotions on this area (even if they are labelled specifically for this purpose) as attempts to clean these products off the nipple before breastfeeding will not only further aggravate the nipple area, but also will not remove the residue left behind, posing an unnecessary risk to the baby.
  2. Getting the perfect attachment from your baby is often very difficult in the first few weeks, and this can cause some mums a bit of pain until baby learns to latch on properly for effective feeding.  This simply takes lots of practice, and persistence to perfect, especially with the aid of a breastfeeding consultant.
  3. Mastitis (inflammation of the breast glands) can occasionally occur if baby refuses several feeds due to illness etc and mum forgets or neglects to express, or if the bra worn fits too tight or incorrectly.  Simply express any excess milk or express to compensate for any missed feeds.  Getting into the habit of massaging the breasts gently in a warm/hot shower each day will prevent this issue as it will great eliminate or reduce the possibility of any blocked milk ducts.  And of course, ensure your bra fits firmly and comfortably, not tight and restrictive.
  4. Increased frequency of breastfeeding ie duration between feeds may shorten for a couple days whenever baby has a growth spurt, until mums body increases milk production.  Remember, the more often baby latches on and breastfeeds, the more quickly mum's body will respond to produce more milk.

To put it simply, breastmilk is evolved by nature to nourish human babies for optimum health.  Nature ensures that the composition is perfectly suited to the human infants digestive system.  There is nothing that can compare with that.  Formula is predominately derived from cow's milk.  Cow's milk is intended for baby cows (calves), and therefore the composition of cow's milk is completely different to breastmilk.  The proteins in cow's milk is larger, and the nutritional content is lacking for human babies.  This is the reason why fresh cow's milk must not be given to children under 12 months of age, and preferably not under 2 yrs of age.  Manufacturer's of Infant Formula must modify cow's milk in an attempt to replicate breastmilk so that human babies can drink and absorb it.  They do this by breaking down the cow's milk proteins and modifying/adding fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals.
Yes, cows milk is a source of calcium (but calcium can found in many other foods), so drinking cows milk becomes more of a flavour treat.

I always recommend that new mothers try to breastfeed their newborns for at least the first 4-6 months.
My main reason for this, is to ensure that the baby gains extra protection from antibodies, other proteins and immune cells in human breastmilk. This helps babies avoid disease and illness which is particularly beneficial during the first few months of life, when infants often cannot mount an effective immune response against foreign organisms. 

Why do I suggest breastfeeding for at least 4-6 months? As any mother knows, the first 3-4 months of life is already a the most difficult for a new baby and this is the "settling in" period which we often term "The Fourth Trimester". Ideally this Fourth Trimester would be completed in the womb, however, as nature would have it, the size of the baby by the end of this fourth trimester would be both dangerous and impossible to deliver the way nature had intended. So, this leaves us with newborns who are not quite ready for life outside the womb, with an immature immune system and digestive system, among a host of other things.  So anything that can be done to help protect baby throughout this sensitive and vulnerable period is worth pursuing.  Should baby become ill after 5-6 months of age, there are a very small number of products and medicines available that have been safely administered to babies after the 4th trimester, and preferably after the 6 months. This is simply due to the fact that by 6 months, the majority of organs and body systems have developed beyond that initial immature newborn stage, to cope better with any treatments that may be administered.

My Practical Points For Breastfeeding:
  1. Make an informed decision before baby arrives if breastfeeding something that you want to pursue.   Do not romanticise that breastfeeding is an easy and natural skill, that will simply happen!  As most new mums can contest, this is definately not the case!  Success in any undertaking is when preparation meets opportunity.  Breastfeeding is a new skill and so it's essential that you are well prepared by reading up on breastfeeding and researching before the birth, when you can focus and concentrate better and gain the most detailed information.  If you only rely on learning after you've had the baby, while you recover from childbirth and while you are in the thick of sleep deprivation, the likelihood of breastfeeding success is much reduced, and so is your motivation to learn any new skill.
  2. Once the decision to pursue breastfeeding is made, ensure you commit to this for at least 3-4 months (if possible until past the first 12 months).  And remember that it takes this period of time to iron out all difficulties and breastfeed successfully. Ensure that your baby fully empties the 1st breast of milk before beginning on the second breast by allowing your baby suckles for a significant amount of time (this time will increase from 5 mins as a newborn, to 10-20 minutes as your baby grows, depending on how hard and fast your baby suckles). Adequate suckling time ensures that your baby receive the hind milk which is rich and fatty, and satisfies him/her for longer. The foremilk is thinner and thirst quenching, but too much of this (caused by switching breasts too quickly after feeding commences) may result in your baby becoming windy or bloated, which can, in turn, encourage or compound colic.
  3. Drink plenty of water - this is necessay throughout the day and absolutely vital before feeds.
  4. Eat well - eat well balanced nutritionally packed meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and always have plenty of healthy snacks on hand for in-between meals. If your meals are not nutritionally well balanced, your body will be the first to suffer to ensure that your breastmilk quality is the best that it can be.
  5. Exercise sensibly and in moderation. Breastfeeding is a continual process and your body is in a state of high metabolism as it continually produces breastmilk, so exercising excessively can burn off those extra calories that is required to make your breastmilk more filling, fatty and nutritional for your baby.
  6. The more feeds your baby has (frequency and quantity), the more your body will make. Your body is designed to produce more milk the more frequently your baby breastfeeds, so ensure that you freely and frequently offer the breast to stimulate this production. Your baby is growing rapidly every day, and the first few months will be the fastest rate that he/she will ever grow, so you may sometimes lag behind a couple of days in breastmilk production.
  7. Expressing breastmilk is another skill that all breastfeeding mums should undertake. This is important for periods of time where you are require someone else to look after and feed your baby, as well as allowing you to quarantine yourself briefly from your baby when you are unexpectly ill. Just ensure that you continue to express, during the times when your baby is being bottle-fed your expressed milk. Keeping up the expressing is essential to maintaining adequate breastmilk production.
  8. Avoid complementary feeding with formula as it will almost always result in diminished breastmilk supply, because your baby will naturally reduce his/her breast suckling time and frequency. Be prepared for your breastmilk supply to diminish over time. Expressing breastmilk does offer some stimulation for breastmilk production but does not offer the same level of stimulation to increase breastmilk production. Formula is harder to digest and will generally satisfy your baby for longer.
  9. Supportive chairs, pillows and cushions are vital for comfortable and effective breastfeeding.  Back pain and other problems may occur as a result of incorrect posture during breastfeeding.  A physiotherapist can offer terrific advice to help manage and prevent any postural issues you may have.
Summary: Although breastfeeding is a natural process, in which the female body is prepared and equipped to undertake after birth,  this does not mean that it is always an easy process for new mothers. In most cases it requires determination, persistance and patience to successfully breastfeed.  Generally, the good news is, if you can persist solely breastfeeding your baby past the first 2 months of life, it does get easier, and once sole breastfeeding exceeds the first 3 months of life, the both mother and baby will tend to stay with this process until weaning is required. Breastfeeding requires that mum is reasonably well rested and eating a healthy well balanced diet, as well as eating frequently, as this greatly influences the quality of milk in terms of nutrition and quantity. The key to breastfeeding success is knowledge and determination. Do your homework before the birth so that you are prepared for any difficulties when you proceed after the birth. This way, you can best process and utilise the information, advice and coaching of the mid-wives, nurses and lactation consultants made available to you immediately after your baby is born. Formula definitely has a role to play, and has it has it's own set of benefits. It can play a huge role in the nourishment of infants who's mother's breastmilk quality is lacking due to long-term illness, and formula is also often additional option for new mums who don't have the adequate support (emotionally or physically) to persist with primary breastfeeding (eg working mums, mums with other infants or toddlers who already lack sleep etc) but personally and professionally, it's very difficult to overlook the digestive and protective benefits of breastmilk.  And should breastfeeding prove to be too physically challenging for mother and baby, I would always recommend that mum try to express as often as possible so that baby can benefit from having breastmilk.  So, bottle-fed breastmilk is an excellent option to complement any formula-fed infant.

I hope this has been helpful :)

Uyen Dinh
Consultant Pharmacist

For more information check out these links: