Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life
When most young women think of breastfeeding, a few thoughts come to mind,
‘My breasts will fall.’ ‘It is an old fashioned way of feeding.’ ‘I am a career lady.I don’t have time for that.’ ‘I hear it’s so painful. I can’t go through such pain.’
Rica was 19 years old when she got pregnant. She lived in the university student hostel. Unlike most girls her age, she was determined to keep the baby irrespective of what everyone had to say. She broke the news to her parents who were not pleased and rejected her. Due to financial difficulties coupled with ignorance, she only started her antenatal visits towards the end of her pregnancy. After what seemed like an endless period, she gave birth to a lovely baby girl.
Her breasts didn’t produce milk during the first three days but the nurses made her understand it was normal. She was discharged on the third day of delivery and later that day she started producing milk, it was yellowish (Colostrum: First milk produced upon delivery). Her friends, as young and ignorant as she was, asked her not to give it to the baby because her breasts were cleaning out the ‘bad milk’. The baby was crying so much but she won’t breastfeed and she kept giving her water.
A few days later, both breasts became very swollen and painful and she couldn’t breastfeed her baby. The pain increased with time, she developed fever and her breasts produced a smelly discharge. A few weeks later, her mum decided to visit for the first time only to discover Rica in a very sick state and the room had a very foul smell. The baby was so thin and looked ill. She immediately made arrangements and Rica and the baby were taken to the hospital.
Turns out Rica had a Breast abscess (infection of the breast) which had spread to the entire body. Fortunately, she was brought to the hospital on time and got treatment. She was encouraged to keep breastfeeding and her mother was now more than willing to teach her the lot about motherhood.
Do you know the importance of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is important to both the mother and the baby. The health and socio-economic effects are well recognized.
For the baby,
- It provides the all basic vitamins and nutrients that a baby needs during the first few months of life. Colustrum (First milk produced upon delivery), is very rich in proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that fight disease.
- It protects the baby against diseases and strengthens the immune system.
- It is the safest, healthiest and cheapest food for a new-born baby.
- It increases the bond between baby and mother.
For the mother,
- It is affordable and readily available.
- When a baby is exclusively breastfed, it is a form of contraception(birth spacing) for the mother.
- Helps your body to return to pre-pregnancy state very fast.
- Protects from diseases like ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
For the full benefits of breastfeeding to be attained, women are advised to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six (06) months unless they have a condition preventing them from doing so. The baby can be weaned(Introduction of semi-solid foods into diet) by the sixth month of life.
What happens when you don’t breastfeed or breastfeed poorly?
Some complications of avoiding breastfeeding include;
- Sore nipples: usually due to poor technique and bad nursing positions. Happens three to seven days into breastfeeding. The best treatment is to improve on positioning of the baby during nursing and also to apply moisteners to the breast. The video below shows some common breast feeding positions:
- Breast engorgement: this is mostly a combination of high milk production and decreased feeding frequency. When the baby does not adequately remove the milk from the breast, it can lead to breast engorgement. It can cause the breast to feel hard, painful, hot and appear taut or shiny. This makes nursing difficult for the baby and painful for the mother.This can be prevented by;
- Breastfeeding frequently, 8-12 times in 24 hours.
- Express milk when feeding is missed.
- Wean the baby gradually.
Treatment consists of,
- Applying a hot moist towel or taking a hot shower before nursing your baby. Hand express some milk to allow easier latching.
- Massaging breast before and during breastfeeding and pumping.
Trying to take deep breaths, listening to music and other techniques to ease discomfort.
A breast pump can be used to empty the breasts if the baby is not latching properly or if you nurse on one breast. However, it is advisable to nurse on both breasts.
3.Plugged ducts: They are painful spots or lumps in the breast that occur when milk is unable to flow freely. The symptoms come gradually and there is no fever.
Prevention consists of;
- Emptying the breast completely after each feed.
- Positioning the baby properly at the breast when nursing.
- Wearing a comfortable, properly fitting bra.
- Reducing the amount of pressure on breast like heavy bags, baby carriers or sleeping on the stomach.
- Avoiding food high in saturated fats.
Treatment has to do with;
- Moist heat to affected area before feedings
- Massage lump before and after feeding from behind the lump towards the nipple
- Nurse or pump often. But remember your baby is more efficient at emptying the breast than a pump.
4. Breast infection: It is a more serious complication of breastfeeding. It can be caused by improperly or untreated blocked ducts or cracked nipples as was the case with Rica. The symptoms may include, fatigue, flu-like muscle aches, fever, headache, intense localized pain, red, hot and swollen breast.
Treatment is based on;
- Talking with your physician.
- Breastfeed frequently and try not keep breast as empty as possible as the baby won’t get ill from the milk contrary to the belief Rica had.
- Try not to skip or delay feedings. Pump frequently if unable to nurse.
- Apply moist compress or soak the breast I warm water before feedings. Massage the affected area using a gentle but firm circular motion after warm soaks.
- Wear a support bra that does not cause painful pressure.
Some cases of mastitis may further complicate to a breast abscess needing surgical care.
Most women at risk of complications are teenage mothers, women of low educational standing, no antenatal visits, refusing to breastfeed for medical or cosmetic reasons, little or no information on how to breastfeed. This can be curbed by doing the following:
- Hand express some milk on the nipple and allow it air-dry after each feed
- Alternate nursing positions to consistently empty milk ducts
- Avoid using excessive amount of soap on the breast when showering
- Wear cotton bras and change breast pads frequently
- Use small amounts of moisteners on the breast and allow the breast to air-dry.
What can you do to raise breastfeeding awareness?
The following tips are helpful in sharing awareness on breastfeeding importance;
- Encourage pregnant woman and breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed by sharing tips such as those above.
- Community outreach programs increase breastfeeding awareness. Last year, HERO Cameroon organised community outreach activities in three Cameroonian regions. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter , Youtube and Instagram for more health educational information.
- Some organisations like GiftedMom have created applications and social media platforms to share breastfeeding awareness tips. Click here to download the app from the playstore.
The theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2018 is ‘Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life’.
By Fozao Mbi Vanesssa.