The first week of August marks World Breastfeeding Week that aims at creating and raising awareness about breastfeeding around the world. WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action), which was formed in 1991 as a global network dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding world, first celebrated the World Breastfeeding Week in 1992. Since 2016, WBW has been aligned with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. WABA celebrates the week-long awareness campaign with more than 120 countries. Every year it comes up with a new theme. This year the theme is “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility”.
When a baby is born, s/he needs an early and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with the mother. This primary contact with the mother’s skin lets the baby feel settled and secured in a whole new material world. Within the first hour of the delivery, the infant needs at least a few drops of breastmilk (we call it “Shaldudh” in Bangla) which serves as the superfood and the only source of essential nutrients for the baby. Sometimes the mother feels too weak to initiate breastfeeding. At this critical moment, she deserves and needs support from her surroundings.
So, what can be done if the mother still cannot produce sufficient milk for the baby? This is a myth with a little bit of exception. Right after the delivery, the estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically. As a result, prolactin is released which is responsible for the production of breastmilk. Then when the baby is taken close to the mother’s skin, the close contact secretes oxytocin hormones which allow breast milk to letdown with an adequate amount of supply for the baby. And then when the baby latches on to the breast, the sensory feelings pass on to the brain that produces more oxytocin and prolactin and let the mother’s body produce more milk. During the initial stage, a small amount of milk seems little, but sufficient for the tiny size of the baby’s stomach. As the baby grows and the mother continuously and regularly breastfeeds her infant, the amount of the breastmilk meets the demand of a nursing baby.
Therefore, scientifically speaking, a nursing mother needs an ample amount of practical support to nurse her baby continuously. When my first issue was born, I also thought the breastmilk that my body produced was not sufficient for my son. Then the pedestrian told me to stay relaxed and keep on feeding “only breastmilk, and not even a single drop of water” on demand. So, I understood that the myth of feeding an infant in every two to three hours is not practical and realistic. Breastmilk has everything that a nursing baby needs in right portion and on demand. The “on-demand” strategy allows a mother to form a closer and more secured attachment with the baby because she has to be ready to respond to her baby’s hunger calls.
Since a nursing mother is the primary caregiver of the baby, she needs extra care too. The supply of breastmilk does not only rely on the hormones, there are many other factors. A nursing mother’s first and foremost responsibility is to breastfeed the baby, understand the cues and listen to the baby’s cry for every single reason. A baby’s wants are the baby’s needs because he/she is not as expressive and articulative as adults. A growing baby needs to be breastfed several times at night too. To feed the infant, a mother has to go through numberless sleep deprived nights and restless days. So, instead of expecting her to do other household chores like cooking and cleaning regularly, let her take rest when the baby is asleep.
Many lactating mothers become stressed and restless because other than just taking care of the baby, they have to look after the family too. A father cannot breastfeed, but at least he can share other responsibilities and let the mother have a stress-free period of breastfeeding. Women tend to go to their mother’s place when the delivery date is close. There are sentimental and practical reasons for it. I cannot blame the in-laws, but I will definitely tell my sisters (would be and new mothers) that no one can be like your own mother. But the truth is that your mother-in-law also loves you and wants the best for your baby too. Reach out to people when you need help. After my son was born, one day, my mother-in-law told me, “If you do not eat properly, how can you take care of your baby? And if you don’t eat healthy before your baby, how can he get adequate breastmilk? Eat first and then feed”. This is a simple advice I shared with many mothers who were hungry, angry and tired and still did not know how to do stress management.
Dear breastfeeding mothers, the hormones will drive you crazy. You will become skeptical, angry and aggressive at times. But trust me, these are all temporary. Eat healthy, take rest and love yourself. And dear others around a breastfeeding mother, excuse her mood swings for a while and please share responsibility and support breastfeeding at home, in work stations and in public places. Breastfeeding has two-fold benefits. When a baby is breastfed, he/she gets all the nutrients which can easily be digested and assimilated in the tiny body. When a mother breastfeeds the baby, she can prevent diseases like ovarian cancer, breast cancer and type-2 diabetes. Therefore, develop a strong support system for the breastfeeding mothers. While supporting the mothers, we are protecting the next generations.
The writer is a Lecturer, Department
of English Language and Literature,
Premier University Chittagong