As I write this article, I gaze at my beautiful baby peacefully taking her afternoon nap. Oh, how she has grown indeed! I can’t help but be amazed, observing milestone after milestone that she achieved as the days pass by. It seems like it was just yesterday when I carried her for the first time as a fragile newborn. Now, she can already say tatay and other one- or two-syllable words. She also counts and recognizes numbers up to 10, identifies the colors of the rainbow, and knows some letters of the alphabet. She also loves the camera and poses with a few-toothed grin on cue! My heart swells while pondering about these things, and I am glad to have made the decision of providing her with the best possible nutrition some months back.
Breastfeeding is a decision
I say that breastfeeding is a decision because even if milk production comes naturally to most pregnant individuals, moms must consciously choose to give their milk as primary food for their babies. Prolactin is a hormone that naturally increases in pregnant women to start milk production in the mammary glands. On the other hand, another hormone called oxytocin stimulates the passage of the liquid gold from the gland to the ducts, until they are sucked out by hungry babies or expressed for future use. Milk, although ready, may not come out or be replenished steadily, unless a new mom will have her baby latch on to her breasts regularly and empty out its contents.
After making the decision to breastfeed, there is actually little stuff to prepare compared to deciding which milk formula to use. To be able to give your baby breast milk, perhaps a good nursing pillow and virgin coconut oil (VCO, for sore nipples) may help. But even without a nursing pillow and VCO, a mom may survive. All it takes is the mom who is ready to nurse and the hungry baby. In fact, mother-baby-friendly hospitals discourage feeding bottles to be brought in the packed items for confinement. I was lucky that I also got support to begin my breastfeeding journey from the hospital, where I delivered my baby. The nurses gave me reassurance when I doubted my capacity to give milk and was asking for milk to pacify my one-day-old baby then (who was crying her lungs out!). Mommies will just produce little milk on the first few days, true. But the colostrum is enough to satiate their babies’ hunger pangs. In fact, only 5-7 ml of milk per feeding is needed by their tummies, which are approximately calamansi-sized, until day 3.
I would say that the decision to breastfeed must be made a few months before delivery, so that preggy moms may have time to read up on the matter. Knowledge about breastfeeding will strengthen a mother’s resolve to provide the best for her baby despite the sleepless nights, bloody teats, soaked shirts and many more. There are also many breastfeeding myths that only research and scientific evidence will debunk. Sometimes, well-meaning individuals will throw a comment or two about your baby’s weight gain and you may feel that you are being accused of depriving your child. This is so close to home, even relatives who are used to equating chubbiness with good health will say this. However, research has shown that healthy breastfed infants will typically put on weight more slowly than formula-fed infants in the first year of life. The keyword here is weight gain, breastfeeding mommies should remember that their little ones will also gain weight and stronger bones even, compared with formula-fed infants.
Aside from better bone health, babies sucking milk from their mommas are shown to have higher IQ scores and better language development. Breastfed babies are also less prone to infections (i.e., ear infection, cough, colds), allergy, and obesity later in life.
Best for baby, also good for mommy
Breastfeeding is also good for mommies. Recovery from childbirth is faster for breastfeeding moms because oxytocin stimulates the contraction of the uterus to its original size and decreases uterine bleeding. Moreover, breastfeeding helps shed the extra pounds gained during pregnancy; as well as prevent post-partum depression with the relaxing effect of oxytocin and more genuine bonding time with the baby. Because of hormone regulation in the process, new moms will also experience a delay in the resumption of their regular menses, making breastfeeding a good and natural tool for family planning.
Recently, there have been research findings that support breastfeeding’s benefits against cancer (CA) development in women, particularly ovarian and breast CA. Although the CA-preventing mechanism is still being investigated, estrogen suppression in breastfeeding is being pinpointed.
Involving daddy in the journey
Apart from pregnancy, breastfeeding is a journey that first-time mothers should not take by themselves. In my case, I also decided to involve my husband in providing nutrition for our baby. Dad may help by carrying your little one and making her burp after feedings. I noticed too that my baby calms down in her father’s arms and dozes off faster than when I am the one carrying her. This is probably because she is not distracted by the smell of milk on the caregiver’s shirt! So, dads could help too by putting their babies to sleep after burping. When I have a backache or stiff muscles from long periods of feeding, my husband also helps me by putting oil and massaging the tense body parts.
After a few months, I already had to step out of the house some days for work; this is when hubby saved the day by making sure the breast pump is clean and ready for use. Also on most days, my husband is the meticulous responsible dad, who brushed and sterilized the bottles, pacifier, and teethers. Aside from cleaning up, breastfeeding moms may also ask their hubbies to help in food preparation or feeding, when weaning and complementary feeding are done by six months onwards. Dads may also help by preparing a healthy snack or bringing water for mommies before feeding sessions (especially during cluster feedings).
The journey of breastfeeding is not an easy one. I often jokingly say “it’s not for the faint of heart”. But now that I am already almost two years into it, I can say that it is one of the most fulfilling experiences that a woman could have. It is a blessing to me, my baby, even my family. It is a bond-forming experience that benefits everyone, even the environment. Ironically, it does not cost as much as it is the most natural! My encouragement for moms out there is to give it your best shot, and just press on despite the unsolicited advice. At the end of the day, it will be only you (or perhaps together with your husband), who can decide what’s best when it comes to nourishing your little one. There are reputable sources of information that may help mothers make sure that they are feeding their babies efficiently. Here are some helpful links and resources that personally helped me in my journey:
This is also important because sometimes, some women may just have physiologic hurdles to breastfeed exclusively. For those women, breastfeeding may not be the way to go but it will neither make them any less females nor parents.
Food for “Pa-dede” moms
Mommies should have adequate nutrition as well, to be able to have a steady supply of milk for their babies. Veteran moms will swear by soups with moringa or malunggay, camote tops or other green leafy veggies and clams. Hydration with water is also very important. Furthermore, there are foods known as galactagogues or stimulants for milk production. The following are some natural galactagogues that you can easily get in the groceries or markets:
fennel or fennel seeds