Breastfeeding, or nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from the mother’s breast. It is the primary method of providing the infant with essential nutrients for growth and development since the baby cannot fed for him/herself. All mothers (see exceptions below) can breastfeed. However, mothers need significant help from relatives and the society to make breastfeeding a success. Breastmilk changes as your baby grows, to meet the changing growth and development needs for your baby; At the first few days after delivery, the milk will be a Colostrum.

The Colostrum

Mature milk is the normal white milk produced 2-3days after delivery , depending on the frequency of first breastfeeding sessions. Mature milk is produced in larger amounts than the colostrum to meet the increasing breastfeeding demand and appetite of your baby.  Mature milk is rich in carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. Over time, breastmilk will change from foremilk to hindmilk (Foremilk is high in water and lactose whereas hindmilk is high in fat and calories )to translate to changing dietary needs of the baby. Further your breast milk will contain huge concentrates of white cells during the first few breastfeeding weeks, However, over the course, white cells will be lessened and lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme increases to offer the needed protection against diseases. The levels of lysozyme stays high throughout the breastfeeding process as long as the mother is feeding properly. 

Colostrum is the yellowish, sticky breast milk that gets produced at of the pregnancy. You may not feel as if you are producing sufficient colostrums. Do not despair, each single drop is packed with nutritional and protective components thus sufficient. After all, the baby will not be requiring too much milk for a while. After the colostrum, comes the mature milk. The quality of breast milk depends on when the milk is made. For instance, the quality of a mother’s breast milk after an immature birth would greatly differ from when the mother has a completely mature birth. The type of food taken by the mother also affects the quality of breast milk. However breast milk is always packed with the exact nutritional and protective components needed most by your baby at every age of growth and development. As such, it is important that you breastfeed.

When to Breastfeed

 Breastfeeding starts immediately after the birth of the baby. It should be exclusive for the first six months since birth. If the baby is born prematurely, you may not be able to nurse right away. You should start pumping your milk. The baby will receive this milk through a tube or a bottle until she’s strong enough to breastfeed on her own.

Breastfeed as frequently as possible; 8-12 times within 24 hours is pretty much on target. Ideally, breastfeed whenever the baby shows signs of hunger. For newborns, crying is a late sign of hunger; thus, you should breastfeed the baby before s/he starts crying. To make sure your baby is eating often enough you may consider waking him/her up if s/he has slept for four hours since your last nursing session. She may fall asleep again mid-feeding thus you may consider unswaddling him/her. Do not panic if the newborn has trouble finding or staying on your nipple. Breastfeeding requires lots of practice and patience. S/he will eventually learn. After the six months, solid foods should be introduced alongside breastfeeding.  There is no definite time to stop breastfeeding. Continue breastfeeding as long as you and the baby are comfortable to stop. This could mean until s/he is one year, or two years old. Stop when you are both ready.

How to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding can take up to 40 minutes. It is important that you pick a cozy spot for breastfeeding, and latch the baby in a comfortable position. Turn the baby’s whole body toward you, chest to chest. Touch his/her upper lip with your nipple and s/he will open the mouth wide. Hold the breast for support and pull the baby onto the breast ensuring that the baby scoops not just the nipple but as much of the areola (the darker part surrounding it) as possible. This will help the baby to use the tongue smoothly and rhythmically against the under-surface of your breast. This action removes milk from the ducts. 

 It works well to support the back of your baby’s head with your hands. Once your breast is supported, keep it still, and only move your baby according to his/her response. You will know when the baby is correctly latched by the way it feels as s/he breastfeeds, and by the way s/he behaves. If you have twins, it is best to have them on the same feeding schedule. Alternate them each time while feeding.

Pictorial guidelines for the commonest breastfeeding positions

Advantages of Breastfeeding

Benefits to the baby

  1. Breast milk is the ideal infant’s nutrition as it is a perfect mix of proteins, vitamins and fat-all the nutrients your baby needs to grow. This perfect nutrient mix is provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. These appropriate nutrients allow the baby to grow and gain the right weight rather than becoming overweight.
  2. Benefits of colostrum
    • Colostrum is very rich in nutrients such as protein, minerals, salt and vitamin A, and low concentrates of fat and sugar. These are essential for growth and development of the newborn
    • Additionally, the colostrums is packed with numerous white blood cells and certain antibodies that help to protect the baby against maladies. This earns the colostrums the title of baby’s first immunization among some people.
    • The colostrum has a laxative effect and helps your baby to rinse his/her gastrointestinal tract of meconium (wastes accumulated before birth), thus reducing the risk of jaundice.
    1. Breast milk (both the colostrums and the maturemillk) contains pivotal antibodies that help the baby fight disease causing viruses and bacteria’s. Exclusively breastfeeding reduces hospitalizations and trips to the doctor. Thus, breastfeeding will reduce your baby’s predisposition to: 
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) 
    • Dental problems
    • Childhood cancer
    • Respiratory illness such as asthma and allergies
    • Ear infections
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Bouts of diarrhea
  3. Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores. According to studies, breast milk contains the long-chain saturated fatty acids that are pivotal in promoting brain development and enhancing IQ scores. Thus, breastfeeding your baby will make him/her be more intelligent.
  4.  There are lots of physical closeness such as skin-to-skin touch and eye contact during breastfeeding. These help your baby to bond with you and feel secure

Important proteins in breast milk

1.Bile salt–stimulated lipase, β-casein amylase, haptocorrin, lactoferrin, and α1-antitrypsin- Promote the , digestion and use of micronutrients and macronutrients from the milk.

2.Several proteins with antimicrobial activity, such as immunoglobulins, κ-casein, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, haptocorrin, lactoferrin, α-lactalbumin, help in antimicrobial activity thus protect babies from proteolysis in the gastrointestinal tract. Also protect your baby from pathogenic bacteria and viruses. 

3.Other proteins such as lactoperoxidase, α-lactalbumin and haptocorrin promote prebiotic activity (the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria). Prebiotic activity limits the growth of several pathogens by decreasing intestinal pH.

4.Peptides and some proteins such as cytokines and lactoferrinand peptides have immunomodulatory activities

5.Other proteins such as insulin-like growth factor, lactoferrin and epidermal growth factor help in the development of the intestinal mucosa and other organs of newborns.

Benefits to the mother

  1. Breastfeeding burns calories faster hence as the mother, you will lose pregnancy weight faster when breastfeeding. 
  2. Breastfeeding increases the production of the Oxytocin hormone. The hormone helps the uterus to return to its-pre-pregnancy size and in consequential in reducing uterine bleeding after birth. Additionally, the Oxytocin hormone helps you (the mother) to produce intense feeling of love and attachment with your baby, promoting the mother-baby bond.
  3. Breastfeeding enhances the production of the Prolactin hormone. The hormone helps in augmenting mother’s emotional wellbeing and producing a nurturing sensation that allows you to focus on nurturing your baby and promoting the bond with your child.
  4. Breastfeeding lowers your predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers, as well as osteoporosis.
  5.  With breastfeeding, you do not buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples or warm bottle. As such, breastfeeding saves you time and money
  6. Breastfeeding is an ample time to relax quietly with your baby. This time greatly enhances bonding

Foods that Increase your Milk Production

  • Oatmeal- loaded with energy and contains fiber that is good for your digestion
  • Salmon- Nourish you with Essential Fatty acids (EFA) and Omega-3, which are vital for milk production
  • Spinach and Beet Leaves- Nourish you with iron, calcium and folic acid essential in making your baby stronger. They also contain detoxifying agents.
  • Carrots- Contains Vitamin A which complements lactation process and boosts the quality of your milk
  • Brown Rice- Brown rice gives nursing moms the extra energy required after delivery. Further, it has hormone stimulants that boost lactation. Additionally brown rice increases your appetite so you can eat other nutritious food.
  • Oils And Fats- They aid in easing your bowel movement and sustaining the supply of healthy fat to your baby
  • Cow milk-Contains EFA and enhances lactation 
  • Water and Juices-These increases the total milk volume per feed. They also prevent you from dehydration by replacing the fluid lost during lactation.

Common Breastfeeding Challenges

  1. Producing enough milk– Many moms are worried whether they are producing sufficient milk for their babies. A general rule is that a baby who wets 6-8diapers per day is likely to be getting sufficient milk. Small breasts do not low amounts of milk, small-breasted mothers can produce as sufficient milk as the big breasted mothers as well as they partake the right nutrition and remain hydrated. Most importantly, avoid stress and anxiety, as they significantly affect the lactation and interfere with the lactation reflex.
  2. Sole nipples- In the first weeks of breastfeeding, your breasts will be sore. You can reduce the soreness by latching the baby correctly, and breaking the suction of your baby using your finger after each feeding. Start feeding the baby from the less-sore nipple since the baby sucks more actively at the start.
    Keep your nipples dry and allow them to “air dry” between feedings helps to reduce the discomfort. Additionally, holding a bag of ice against the sore nipples temporarily eases the discomfort. 
  3. Dry, cracked nipples-Avoid using soaps, lotions and other skincare products that have alcohol as an ingredient as they increase the cracking and the dryness. Use cotton bra-pads and change them often, to ensure the nipple is always dry to reduce cracking. Apply lanolin on the dry and cracked nipple after feeding but remember to wash it off before the next breastfeeding. 
  4. Breast engorgement-It’s natural and healthy that your breasts will be full with milk. However, sometimes they may be engorged, whereby the blood vessels become congested and traps milk in the breast, making them hard, swollen and painful. When this is the case, try feeding the baby. If s/he is already full, release the milk using your hands. Taking a hot shower may also relieve the engorgement.
  5. Blocked milk ducts-A red sport on your breast may be a sign of blocked duct. Relieve the blockage by gently massaging and warmly compressing the area with the red sport. Frequent breastfeeding will also help. 
  6. Mastitis- This is a breast infection caused by the entry of a bacteria especially through a cracked nipple after breastfeeding. Symptoms of mastitis include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever and soreness on part of the breast. Take antibiotics (consult a doctor for the appropriate antibiotics) while continuing with breastfeeding. 
  7. Working mothers: Pumping the milk– When you are a working mother, it is possible that you will not be getting all the time that is required to breastfeed your baby. This does not mean you should avoid breast feeding-pump the milk! This involves putting your breast milk on containers and having a help to feed the little one while you are away.
    Pump the milk in bottles and store the milk in a refrigerator. The refrigerated milk can be used for two days. You may also freeze the pumped milk and it will be healthy for 6 months. However, do not thaw the milk on an oven as this will kill the important antibiotics. Thaw the milk in hot water.
  8. Breastfeeding in public- Most mothers will find it uncomfortable to breastfeed in public places. But what do you do when you are in public and the baby is hungry? It is your right to breastfeed your baby whenever and wherever your baby is hungry, thus you can go ahead and breast feed.

Tips to make it easy to breastfeed in public

1.Wear clothes that ease the access to your breasts

2.Always carry a shawl or a blanket to throw over your shoulders and cover anything you don’t want to expose in public while breastfeeding

3.When criticized for breastfeeding in public, always know that there are laws that protect you to breastfeed whenever and wherever you want. However, if you feel insecure, move away from the person criticizing you and look for people who can support you.

When to avoid breastfeeding

  • You have tested HIV positive. Breastfeeding while you are HIV positive can pass the virus to the baby
  • You have active, untreated tuberculosis
  • You are receiving chemotherapy for cancer
  • Your baby has galactosemia- a rare condition called that makes infant intolerable to galactose which is a natural sugar in breast milk.
  • You are on some prescription drugs for migraine headaches, arthritis or Parkinson’s disease. (Consult your doctor on whether the prescription drug you are taking can affect the baby if you breastfeed).
  • Avoid illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana while breastfeeding. If you cannot, avoid breastfeeding as it will pass the harmful compounds to the baby

Consult a doctor when:

  • You have unusual discharge or bleeding from your nipples
  • Your breasts become unusually red, swollen, hard, or sore