Mother’s Milk is Life Giving

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This is an article from our “Doctor’s Corner” series, brought to you by Samitivej Hospital. Make sure to read the entire series!

Expecting Expats thanks Anjana Sachabudhawong, M.D. for sharing this article from her blog, Happy Healthy Children.

Doctors are telling new mothers, “don’t let misinformation prevent you from breastfeeding.”

Breastfeeding is supposedly a natural phenomenon, as natural as childbirth itself. However, for most new mothers, it can prove to be rather frustrating since dealing with helpless newborns, who are unable to express themselves, can be particularly daunting, especially with no experience to fall back on. Thankfully, unlike parenting (which does not come with a manual), there is now a wealth of breastfeeding information available for young mothers. In light of declining rates for exclusive breastfeeding, support groups and organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) also offer support systems to guide the new mother through the process of breastfeeding.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network of individuals and organizations concerned with the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding worldwide. WABA will celebrate World Breastfeeding Week from August 1-7. This year, the theme is circles of support for breastfeeding mothers. The celebration is a recognition of the need for support for the breastfeeding mother, whether from facilitative health care systems or proactive legislative measures or encouraging family and friends.

Shying away for all the wrong reasons

A pediatrician specializing in Neonatology and Lactation from Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital notes, “According to the Thai Breastfeeding Society, the average rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Thailand is 33%.” To the doctor, the decline in breastfeeding rates is inexplicable. “If you leave a mother and child alone in the first hour after birth, what we call the golden hour, the baby will find the breast and suckle. Once you lose that instinct, you have to re-learn and it becomes a struggle.” Hospital policies, c-sections to cater to convenience and superstitions, lack of knowledge about breastfeeding among medical staff, and the overall medicalization of the reproductive process have disrupted the natural rhythm of the mother and child.

Myths surrounding breastfeeding and the rampant popularity of breast milk substitutes do not help matters either. Working mums give up breastfeeding and switch to substitutes when they return to work after maternity leave. Some women even believe that breast milk substitutes are more beneficial to infants. In some countries, tradition has it that a few days after birth the infant must be started on other foods. Some mothers fear that they might not produce enough milk for their babies.

Busting myths

Breastfeeding mothers can, with the help of encouraging employers, express milk and store it. Like many food products, breast milk can be safely stored in a refrigerator and used later. So, breastfeeding need not stop when mothers return to work at the end of their maternity leave. A pediatrician explains, “It needs very little effort on the part of the employer to provide a room where mothers can pump milk and a refrigerator where this can be stored. Mothers can take the refrigerated milk home at the end of the day and leave it at home for the infant to be fed the next day.”

Colostrum, or the first milk that a lactating mother produces, is thick and yellow in color. In many cultures this is considered dirty or unhealthy and mothers are warned not to breastfeed their baby for the first few days after birth. Doctors point out that this milk is actually rich with nutrients essential to a newborn. Over time, the milk thins and changes color but is still packed with helpful antibodies. Doctors advocate feeding babies nothing but breast milk for the first six months of their life because no breast milk substitute can provide the same amount of nutrients.

A nurse and midwife at Samitivej Hospital, specializing in lactation and certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants, points out, “The most important difference between breast milk and any substitutes is this: breast milk is ‘live’ food. Formula is processed food. Breast milk has no expiry date. It is always fresh, always good, and always safe for the child. It is difficult for an infant to process the additives in substitutes.”

Doctors say that the amount of milk a mother produces is not restricted by the size of her breasts. In fact, when a woman is breastfeeding, her body produces hormones that, in turn, produce the milk the baby needs. So, in the absence of a medical condition, a mother should be able to produce enough milk for her baby. Hospitals today are staffed with lactation consultants who can help with such problems. Nurse explains, “Every government hospital in Thailand now has a lactation clinic. There is a lot of progress in hospital practices and in supporting breastfeeding. Many offices have breastfeeding spaces. If such a space can be included in public places like malls, it would be good. However, people tend to stare at breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding is not indecent exposure; it is a caring, bonding experience. This attitude in society needs to change. Breastfeeding is everybody’s issue. It is not just the mother’s or a hospital’s issue. Everyone has to support mothers, who must, in turn, fight for the right to breastfeed their babies.”

A not-to-be-missed experience

The nurse continues, “Mothers need support immediately after birth. There is a lot of work and very little education. They are told that babies sleep 10-12 hours a day, but they don’t understand that babies probably do so in 10 small installments.”

A pediatrician adds, “Mothers complain that babies are too sleepy, not latching on, not sucking. Often mothers do not know what they are doing wrong. Formula manufacturers say feed every 4 hours and that’s what people do, whereas it would be more natural to feed the baby whenever it is hungry.”

Mothers with genuine health problems and infants who are unable to nurse must, of course, have recourse to alternative measures. However, healthy mothers should not miss out on the experience of breastfeeding. New mothers might face physical problems — breast infection, inverted nipples, cracked or bleeding nipples, clogged ducts, babies that find it tough to latch on — and emotional problems — not knowing why your baby is crying or feelings of inadequacy or helplessness. However, help is at hand. Don’t miss out on an amazing experience because you are too afraid to ask for help is what the doctors say.

“The smell of the baby, the feel of the baby, the bonding that occurs as a mother holds a child close and nurses it at her breast — this is good for mothers and for children. When a mother breastfeeds her child, she gives it more than just nutrition, she gives it life,” the nurse adds.

Samitivej, We Care!

For further information, please contact:

Child Health Institute
Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
2st Floor, Building 2
Tel: 66 (0) 2711-8236-7
Call Center: 66 (0) 2711-8181
E-mail: info@samitivej.co.th
Facebook: www.facebook.com/samitivej

Photo Credit: www.photographybyjoelle.com via Compfight cc

Samitivej Hospital

Samitivej Hospitals are world class international health care facilities located in Bangkok, Thailand.

Fully equipped with the state-of-the-art technologies, our innovative Women's Health Center at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital provides comprehensive gynecological and obstetrical service for women of all ages.

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