Breastfeeding — The special food of the newborn

It is fascinating how mammals develop special organs solely devoted to the production of food for their offspring. After birth, all mammalian newborns need special food for a specific period [exact time period varies with each species] before they are able to digest the food of their habitat. The calf nurses in few hours after birth or the lion cub doesn’t start hunting soon after birth. It is a transitional period when mother digests food for the child and directly produces the food that assures the child’s survival.

Milk has a different composition for each species, corresponding to the nutrition required by the newborn of that species for its optimal development. In the first 4–5 daysafter the child’s birth, the breasts produce a substance called ‘colostrum’. This responds to and satisfies the particular needs of the newborn in the first few days of life. This colostrum later changes to mature breast milk.

Breastfeeding is one of the most intimate way the mother and the baby can be in physical contact after the birth. It gives assurance to both the mother and the baby that they are part of each other. It is an important aspect to establish a valuable relationship between the two. Through suckling, the baby communicates to the mother’s body that, “I am hungry and I need my special food.” It is an important stimulant for the milk production.

Why breastmilk is so important for the baby?

  • It has proteins (cystine and taurine) that are of special importance to the brain development. Lactoferrin is a protein that helps in iron absorption possible for the newborn.
  • The breastmilk provides appropriate quality and quantity of antibodies. Many doctors say that mothers that breast-feed their newborns even for a few weeks give them great protection against infections and allergies.
  • The constituent of breastmilk is such that it is easily digested. It prevents the baby from issues like constipation, diarrhea or upset stomach.
  • It has perfect amount and balance of minerals required by the newborn. It also has 10 times more vitamins than found in a formula milk or cow’s milk.
  • Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies.

As much as the breastmilk is important to the baby, it is equally important for the mother to feed their baby. This is because:

  • It helps in contracting the uterus to its original size.
  • It helps in dealing with the postpartum depression as it strengthens the bond between the mother and the child. This builds sense of security for the mother and the baby.
  • It aids in a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity for mother.

Technique of Breastfeeding

Nursing the baby becomes easier and more beneficial if the mother has the right knowledge of what, how and why to do it. This gives self-confidence to the mother to overcome possible difficulties.

While breastfeeding, the first thing to understand is that the size of the breast or volume is not critical for the production of milk. What really matters is to provide the physiological stimulation immediately after birth. Therefore, the mother must put the newborn gently near the breast, allowing the baby to feel and smell it.

One must never force the breast into the mouth. It is important to remember that suckling at the mother’s breast requires a strong muscular effort, and newborns are just beginning to learn it. They need to be respected when they stop sucking.

Another important factor to consider is to not impose a timetable of breastfeeding such as a fixed number of times per day. Newborns vary in weight, muscular power, and volume of their stomachs. Production of milk is also different throughout the day. This means that children cannot eat the same amount of food at each meal, and the interval between meals can vary.

So, to overcome the above challenge, we may use a technique that is often referred to as ‘cue feeding’. It means that we observe and follow the child, and offer the breast when the baby is awake and ready to eat.

It must be clear that merely because the newborn is awake and crying does not necessarily mean they need food. They may also be crying because of being wet, or being in an uncomfortable position, or (very common) being bored.

Newborn are very interested in the environment. They are ‘active seekers’ of impressions, and when allowed freedom of vision and movement, they are able to observe and concentrate on people and objects. They do not sleep all the time (they did not in the womb), and food is not their only interest.

Few things to consider

  • Beginning at birth, we need to respect the child’s times and rhythms. While breastfeeding, we must ensure that children are allowed to detach from the breast themselves.
  • The number of times children eat can vary according to the strength of the sucking, the volume of the stomach, and the amount of milk produced by the mother.
  • We must respect a minimum interval of 2 to 2 1/2 hours in between meals. This allows for digestion of the milk taken previously.
  • A special place with a comfortable seating/chair should be used for breastfeeding time. This helps the mother to solely concentrate on feeding the baby forgetting the external world.
  • The mother must drink extra fluid to keep herself hydrated.
  • Recreational drugs and alcohol ingested by the mother will enter the milk, and hence must be avoided.
  • After feeding, it is important to keep the baby somewhat upright so that the air swallowed while suckling can escape.

With the cue feeding, if the child cries even after being fed shortly, we know it is not for food. This helps ease our distress. It is important to satisfy all the child’s needs, not just hunger. Try changing, moving, picking them up, burping, etc, but remember that if the child has just eaten, the problem cannot be solved with more food or a pacifier. Children like our company, and like to observe and use their brains. So we must offer them different answers to their response.

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