Motherhood is an exhilarating journey that is filled with as many challenges and difficult choices as moments of pure joy. Soon after you welcome your child into this world, the first challenge to manage is breastfeeding. We say challenge because even though it is the most natural way of feeding and nourishing a baby, it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of women.
The choice of whether or not to breastfeed is always a personal one. To help you make an informed decision, here are some vital facts to consider:
Breast Milk is the source of essential nutrients
Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. With the perfect composition of fat, vitamins, protein and a host of essential micronutrients, breast milk has everything a baby needs to grow. Some of the key benefits of breastfeeding for babies include:
- Breast Milk is easy to digest, and babies who are exclusively breastfed do not have digestive issues such as diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of respiratory and ear infections in babies.
- Breast Milk contains live cells and stem cells, which help in the development of babies’ organs such as the brain, liver, kidneys, heart and bone tissue.
- Research suggests that breastfed babies go on to develop higher IQs.
- It promotes healthy weight gain and reduces the likelihood of obesity later in life.
- Breastfeeding is also known to reduce the risk of Type 1 diabetes, gastrointestinal illnesses, urinary tract infections, meningitis, Chrohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, liver disease and heart disease later in life.
- The first milk, known as Colostrum, is rich in special proteins that form a coating inside the baby’s intestinal tract. Thus, protecting them from harmful bacteria build-up.
- Since the taste, texture and smell of your breastmilk changes as per the foods you eat, breastfed babies grow up to be less picky eaters.
That’s why WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first six months and not introducing fresh juices or even water for this period. Even when your baby starts consuming solids, continuing breastfeeding at least up to two years is recommended.
Breastfeeding also benefits the mother
The benefits of breastfeeding aren’t limited to your baby. As a new mom, you too stand to gain from it:
- Breastfeeding 8-12 times in a day can help you burn 500-600 calories and help you return to your pre-pregnancy BMI within 12 months.
- The brain releases hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin when you breastfeed. These hormones help you bond with your baby and also reduce postpartum blues.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer in women, as well as other life-threatening conditions such as type-2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
- It helps your uterus shrink back to its regular size and reduces postpartum bleeding.
- Breastfeeding also speeds up the restoration of the menstrual cycle after childbirth, reducing the chances of unwanted pregnancy.
Breastfeeding has its challenges too
A study carried out in the US indicates that 92 percent of women struggle with breastfeeding in the first few days after giving birth. In India, 70 percent of new moms find breastfeeding challenging, as per a survey. Going by these statistics, it’s clear that despite myriad benefits, breastfeeding is neither easy nor natural for a majority of women.
Some of the top challenges that get in the way are:
- Engorgement: Thanks to all the milk supply ratcheting up, your breasts can become rock-hard and sore as a fresh wound. Expressing milk or making a baby latch in this situation can lead to agonising pain. A mix of massage, hot and cold compresses can help alleviate the discomfort.
- Mastitis: This condition is marked by breast tissue inflammation, likely due to an infection or clogged ducts. Mastitis leads to localised soreness and flu-like symptoms that may include fatigue and fever.
- Incorrect latch: A lot of young moms and babies struggle with the correct latching techniques. Unless the baby latches correctly, neither the milk drains correctly nor they get their fill. This can lead to painfully long feeding sessions and a hungry, cranky baby. Both of which can be frustrating experiences.
- Insufficient supply: If your baby doesn’t seem content even after a long feeding session or they’re not producing enough soiled diapers (at least six in a day), you may be dealing with insufficient supply.
- Inverted nipples: Some women have nipples that are retracted inward or flat. This can make latching difficult and breastfeeding a challenge. As the baby sucks on the areolas and not the nipples, it can lead to cracks on the surface, making the experience extremely painful for the mother. Silicon nipples available in the market can be a life-save in this condition.
What can you do?
If you want to breastfeed your baby but are finding the process challenging, there’s nothing like turning to good old dadi maa ke nuskhe for help. Here are some things you can try to make sure your supply is abundant and flows seamlessly:
- Fenugreek seeds: You can boil the seeds in water and drink it with honey. Alternatively, the seeds can also be used in dishes such as curries, vegetables or meat.
- Fennel seeds: Water or tea infused with fennel seeds is commonly given to lactating moms in India for a healthy supply.
- Seeds: Cumin seeds, sesame seeds, Dill seeds are used in different regions of the country, depending on the local foods and temperatures.
- Veggies: Green leafy vegetables, especially from the gourd family, help promote healthy lactation.
- Lentils: Red lentils or masoor dal are also considered a time-tested food for improving milk supply.
- Ghee: Milk infused with ghee, nuts and dried foods is a go-to traditional recipe given to new moms in Indian homes.
Need more support?
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, it helps to consult a lactation consultant or reach out to support groups such as Breastfeeding Support for Indian Moms, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India and La Leche League support in India.
Breastfeeding can invite a lot of scrutiny and unsolicited advice in our society. Don’t let the pressure get to you or feel guilty about not being able to meet the ‘gold standards’ of breastfeeding.
You can also use a breast pump to extract your milk if your milk supply is fine but you are not able to feed the baby because of painful/engorged breasts. In case of decreased or no milk supply or any other problems, consult your doctor to choose a formula milk for your baby. You can also check with your doctor if you can switch to cow/goat milk or not. A pediatrician is the best person to consult in this case.
In the end, it’s your personal choice. As a mother, only you know what works best for you and your baby.
Arushi Chaudhary is a freelance journalist and writer with 5 years of experience in print publications such as the Pune Mirror and Hindustan Times, and has spent close to a decade writing for digital platforms and print publications – The Tribune, BR International magazine, Make My Trip, Killer Features, The Money Times, and Home Review, to name a few. Of the many things she's written about over the years, exploring the space of love and relationships through the prism of psychology excites her the most. Writing is her first and forever love. You can find her on Twitter here.