The moment a woman decides to be a mother, a lot of other matters are taken into consideration. There is the cost of pregnancy, or the cost of raising a child, which happens to be at the top of expectant parents’ list of concerns. While there are other apprehensions to go through, the mother makes a pivotal choice of opting to breastfeed or not.
Ob-Gyne specialists and pediatricians cannot stress enough the benefits of breastfeeding, but the decision is still up to the mother. Once decided upon, one must fully commit to the decision and here, starts a journey of learning the ABC’s of breastfeeding.
Just like the process of breastfeeding orientation, one must first know what breastfeeding is and how it works.
What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is the natural process of feeding an infant directly from the breasts of a female. It is also known as lactation. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are just a few of the recognized, international, organizations which promote breastfeeding as the best way of feeding babies.
Breastfeeding: before, during, and after
Before the birth of the child, there are a lot of ways to prepare for breastfeeding. Doctors might recommend advising them as early as possible if breastfeeding is a go, as this enables them to guide the expectant mother as early as possible. From recommending a diet to ensuring you get good prenatal care is key to be able to breastfeed successfully.
Meanwhile, during the process of pregnancy, breasts start to become fuller and extremely sensitive, and mothers recognize its tenderness. This indicates that the alveoli – tissues responsible for the secretion of milk – are already producing milk. There are also times wherein the breasts start leaking a yellowish substance, which is called colostrum. This is again perfectly normal, as this is just a consequence of pregnancy.
Immediately after conception, doctors encourage breastfeeding within the first hour for this helps the baby be less susceptible to infections by slowly building up its resistance, and reduces its mortality. Hormones like prolactin and oxytocin rises when the baby suckles. These hormones trigger the milk to move from the ducts and into the nipple. Babies also have the tendency to have a sucking reflex, which makes sucking and swallowing breast milk easier.
Likewise, the colostrum gradually changes into the mature white milk within 3-5 days after conception. Within the period, the feeding time also increases along with the child’s growing instinct of sucking.
Breastfeeding also continues at home. It is highly suggested to be done exclusively for 6 months, and can remain this way for as long as the baby wants. However, doctors recommend breastfeeding until the age of 2, with the help of supplementary foods.
For Mary Ann Mercado, a working mother of two, breastfeeding was always the first option. She notes that more or less, breastfeeding was a challenge yet something that she is proud of doing.
“[Breastfeeding] is truly one of the more crucial stages of being a mother. For me, it starts right from the beginning, from pregnancy, and my initial thought was for both of my kids to be born and healthy and grow up healthy. Breastfeeding is no joke. There are times wherein lactation was just too much to bear, and you feel like you’re going to be sick. Like your breasts are going to explode anytime. But I withstood everything and it was all worth it in the end. Something I take pride in.”
Common breastfeeding challenges
According to Mayo Clinic (2012), breast milk is the gold standard for infant nutrition. Indeed, it contains the basic nutrients an infant needs in order to stabilize its immune system.
Although for some women, the interest to breastfeed their child is present, yet certain challenges occur. Someone might be experiencing one or two specific struggles, but a mother must remember she is not alone and these are easily dealt with.
Some breastfeeding struggles may range from sore nipples to low milk supply to breast infection or mastitis. All of which are presented with ways on how to handle it.
Sore nipples are when the nipples are too tender to be suckled on by the baby. Experts recommend that finding a good position for the baby to latch on, and avoiding harsh soaps or ointments. If these still persist, then consulting a lactation expert would be best.
Another breastfeeding challenge is when supply of milk is low. When faced with the situation, experts say that mothers need not worry for this is completely normal. This just means that you and the baby are getting used to breastfeeding. Making sure that the baby is positioned correctly when breastfeeding is key on handling the circumstance, as well as offering both breasts. You can also check with your doctor if the matter at hand is a hormonal issue or primary breast insufficiency.
Comparing breast milk with formula milk
Although some mothers are really unable to produce milk, it is important that she knows that it is not her fault and is beyond her mending. The bond between a mother and her child is not lost, but breastfeeding can further enrich it.
With all the aforementioned challenges and other concerns such as lifestyle and medical conditions, this might lead a mother to resort to another method of feeding. Here, formula milk is an option.
In terms of nutrients, breastfeeding ultimately has the leg up. There are certain components of breastfeeding that are not present, if not deficient, in formula milk. One example is lactose. Lactose is vital for a newborn’s brain development. With it lacking in formula milk, this might affect the process of growth.
Unlike formula milk, breast milk is also rich in white blood cells, which are known for being immune system boosters. Once the mother is exposed to a germ, antibodies are formed and these antibodies can be passed on to the infant through the milk.
Both breast milk and infant formula have advantageous points. Since breast milk contains antibodies, it has the ability to fight off infections such as diarrhea, meningitis, ear and intestinal infections. Ease of digestion is also notable in breast milk, as most of its components are easily digested by an infant’s still-developing system. Breastfeeding also does not cost a thing, as this is a natural process.
Not only is breastfeeding beneficial for the baby, but the mother takes away a few benefits as well. It is said that breastfeeding can help lose calories, and get a mother back to her pre-pregnancy weight. It also helps lower the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, uterine or ovarian cancer and etc (Kids Health, n.d.).
Other mothers opt for formula milk for reasons like convenience of feeding the baby by either parent, and flexibility in a sense that no other preparations (pumping, etc.) are needed and someone else could attend to the feeding of the child.
While to some these may be more advantageous, feeding using infant formula poses challenges too. The most common is preparation of the milk. A mother would still have to go out of her way and mix the formula with the right amount and temperature of water. Not only does this consume time, but ensuring that the temperature is appropriate for the baby is crucial.
The cost of formula milk should also be considered, and just like what was aforementioned, this kind lacks antibodies to protect the infant.
Significance of breastfeeding and making the right decision
Now that all the facts are laid out, it is time that a mother weigh her options carefully and make the right choice. As formula milk makes a close second and is indeed a viable alternative, nothing compares to breastfeeding’s advantages.
“Breastfeeding is the first step into building a close bond with your child”, as mentioned by Mercado. It’s a private time between you as a mother and your child. The bond you form early on is the foundation of strong relationships.
Can the society also benefit from your breastfeeding? The answer is yes. Death among infants can be reduced when one opts to breastfeed. Carbon footprints are reduced when less cans/containers are produced for infant formula. Breastfed infants take lesser trips to the hospitals, which as a parent, could be a huge sigh of relief.
Somehow, you’re securing your child’s future when you choose to breastfeed. A healthy start can equate to a healthy lifetime.