Breast milk and present-day challenges

Breast milk and present-day challenges

Breast milk and present-day challenges


On the occasion of International Breast Feeding Week (1 August- 7 August), Dr Suvarna Rai, MS (OBS&Gyn), FMAS, consultant - Obstetrics & Gynecology, shares a few insights into the importance of breast milk, and how and when it must be administered and how to deal with issues like improving breast milk, and dealing with infections like Covid - 19

On the occasion of International Breast Feeding Week (1 August- 7 August), Dr Suvarna Rai, MS (OBS&Gyn), FMAS, consultant - Obstetrics & Gynecology, shares a few insights into the importance of breast milk, and how and when it must be administered and how to deal with issues like improving breast milk, and dealing with infections like Covid - 19

Which milk is a good alternative for breast milk?

No, there is no alternative for mother's milk. It is a boon given by nature that is best suited for the baby. It is far more superior than any formula, cow milk or buffalo milk.

You say formula milk is not a good alternative? There are many mothers, who depend on it for baby feeds.

Yes. There are many mother's who depend on them because of several reasons like not being able to produce enough milk, need to get back to work early, need to send the baby to grandparents home to rear and most commonly because of lack of awareness about the solutions to the problems that arise in breast feeding. This week is dedicated to the sole purpose of creating awareness about breast feeding so that many more mothers achieve successful breast feeding.

What makes breast milk more superior to formula milk for the baby?

Breast milk has a composition that is very easy to digest by the tender tummies of babies including premature ones. It gets digested quickly making babies active ones so they attain their physical milestones like sitting, walking at the right age.

It improves the lifelong immunity and decreases the chances of allergy in the future.

Obesity is a prevalent health problem in today's world. Breast milk gives baby the advantage of staying in ideal weight thereby reducing the chances of having obesity, diabetes and hypertension in adult life.

Breast milk improves the cognitive development and improves the intelligence levels of the baby.

Breast feeding helps good oral and jaw development in the baby.

It is also completely sterile thereby reducing the possibility of infections that come with bottles, spoons to the baby.

There are several advantages. The list goes on.

Does it give any advantage to the mother?

Yes definitely. Many! To begin with it is a great way to bond with the baby. It's a lovely close association, an enjoyable experience for both mother and baby. And once they are bonded there is more milk production in the mother. A very amusing cycle of bonding, milk production and feeding takes off from there.

Breast milk is rich in energy. Loads of calories are transferred from the mother to the baby. So, it helps the mother to return quickly to her pre pregnancy weight by doing the work equivalent to a strenuous work out.

Women also do not menstruate while dedicated breast feeding is on. So it is a natural form of contraception. There is no need to depend on external and problematic contraceptive methods during that time.

Also the costs associated with breast feeding are zero. Where as it is quite high for formula fed babies which include costs of formula milk, bottles and paladays and disinfection of the gear and solutions for it.

It is definitely less cumbersome and time taking as compared to the time and energy they need to invest in preparing the milk , washing, boiling and sterilizing the bottles. So the mother can utilize this time and energy in other chores, jobs or just relaxing.

Finally, of a special mention is the fact that a woman who has breast fed her babies has less chances of getting breast cancer in the future as compared to one who hasn't..

There are many mothers who have adjusted well to giving formula milk to the baby. Is there any problem with it?

Yes, there are many problems associated with formula milk. That milk is a commercial preparation that is formulated in such a way that it is hard to digest by the baby. So the baby sleeps longer, is physically less active and only puts on weight. Chances of childhood obesity rise.

Bottles, spoons and paladays increase the chances of stomach infections in the babies if not properly sterilized and disinfected. Every year several babies require hospital admissions and suffer significant morbidity and hospitalizations due to these infections.

Also, bottles particularly increase the air intake by the baby while feeding causing more colicy tummy pain in them. Ear infections are another problem that these babies are more prone to due to bottles.

Several babies especially premature ones struggle with digestion issues, constipation and colic due to formulas.

How long should a mother breast feed her baby?

World Health Organisation says it should be exclusive breast feeding for the first six months of baby's life. There is no need to give water, honey, cow milk, buffalo milk or formula. After that, along with other soft foods breast feeding can be continued upto 2 yrs of age.

What advice would you give for working mothers?

Government of India strongly advocates breast feeding. The new maternity leave benefit is for 6 months. So the mother and child can stay happily bonded till then. From then on and for those working mothers who for any reason can't avail this benefit can still give breast milk by expressing it with the help of breast pumps, storing it and giving to the baby by the caretaker . This is a very convenient method of giving mother's milk and can be continued till the baby is two years old.

Who can help us learn more about breastfeeding and help us with it after delivery?

Most hospitals have lactation consultants who guide and support during all minor and major problems encountered during breast feeding along with your obstetrician .You can take their help.

What is colostrum and how different is it from the regular breast milk?

Colostrum is the breast milk that is produced during the first three days. It is yellowish in colour and thinner in consistency. It very precious for baby because it is loaded with immune factors that give a strong immune system to the baby along with other nutrients like vitamin A and growth factors.

Every mother should give start breastfeeding at the earliest after her delivery so that the baby gets plenty of colostrum.

What diet can be taken by the mother to improve the quantity of breast milk?

Foods that improve the breast milk are called galactogogues. Oats, Fenugreek ( methi) and garlic are good dietary galactogogues. Satavari is a herb that is also an excellent galactogogue and is added to most commercial preparations that are prescribed to the mother to increase the breast milk.

During this corona pandemic where social distancing is to be followed can mother's still continue breast feeding?

Yes definitely. All mother's who are unaffected by corona should breast feed the babies in order to keep their immune system highly active.

And those mothers who are suffering from corona virus infection should also give breast milk because as of today evidence says the virus hasn't been observed in breast milk. So she should be in isolation, express out breast milk and give it to a healthy care taker to give to the baby.

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