Pregnancy and breastfeeding play equal important roles

Pregnancy and breastfeeding play equal important roles
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Pregnancy and breastfeeding play equal important roles

Highlights

Having a healthy baby is a two-step process where in pregnancy and breastfeeding, both play an equally important role

Having a healthy baby is a two-step process where in pregnancy and breastfeeding, both play an equally important role. Whilst pregnancy keeps the woman on the centre stage with lot of attention, love, good food, medicines and multiple health check ups, contrarily after giving birth when its time for her to move onto the very important role of breastfeeding - the persistently tired, fed-up, sleep deprived mother gets somewhat ignored or compromised. Now the new focus is on the baby and its well-being. It is not uncommon for many women to stop taking vitamin supplements once the pregnancy culminates. If a breast-feeding mother does not take calcium and iron supplements she will become easily tired and fatigued.

But if with lots of family support, good nutrition and supplements a new mother adopts complete breastfeeding - the advantages to both the mother and baby are endless. To the mother, losing weight and getting back into shape is easier with breastfeeding, given a lot of calories flow out in the breast milk. Breastfeeding also delays the resumption of periods hence less chance of any unwanted pregnancies whilst the previous baby is still very young. More importantly, long-term, women who breastfeed have 6% less risk of developing a breast cancer in future and 30% reduction in the future risk of ovarian cancer, one of most severe cancers in women.

Health benefits to a breast fed baby are multifold - 50% less risk of infections (lung, ear, intestinal), less chances of been overweight or obese, higher IQ for the rest of their lives (average 3.4 IQ points greater than formula fed babies). Breastfed babies are also shown to be having less risk of blood cancers.

Breast-feeding is about 90% determination and only 10% milk production. Many young mothers complain of low milk supply and this to be the reason for discontinuing breast feeding. To maintain plentiful milk supply 2 factors play a role - breast stimulation and completely emptying the breast. When the mothers are separated from their babies soon after birth, or do not initiate breast feeding immediately due to tiredness and so on, lack of breast stimulation is the reason for less milk supply. Ideally, for good milk supply breast feeding should commence with an hour of birth and to achieve the full benefits of it, should continue up to the age of 2 years.

Another reason for discontinuing breast-feeding is because mothers are not able to tell if the baby is getting enough milk. It is all about demand and supply; until a routine has been established, giving the baby as often as it is hungry and making sure the baby empties at least one breast completely in one feed is a good start. It is strongly advised not to give baby a formula when the intention is to breastfeed, unless medically indicated. The formula milk is richer in fat and will make the baby sleep better. -Baby not sucking and stimulating the breast for long hours will reduce the milk supply.

One good accessory to mothers' who are intent on long-term breastfeeding is a breast pump. Hand expression though is a good alternative to a breast pump, it does not help in completely emptying the breast; breast pump however helps in stimulating the breast, emptying the breast, thereby increases the milk supply, enables babies the novelty of drinking personalized milk from its mother in a bottle. Breast pump comes as a boon for mothers with flat or inverted nipples. Whether to choose a hand-held manual pump or an electric breast pump depends on the mother's situation. Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours, in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 5 days and in a freezer for much longer. The pumped milk should be brought to room temperature in bottle warmer or warm water.

As the saying goes,' a baby is born with a need to be loved, and never outgrows it'. Breastfeeding is a perfect concoction of warmth, nutrition and love, all rolled into one.

(The author is a consultant in Gynaecological Oncology, Apollo Cancer Institutes,Hyderabad)

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