At the beginning of my breastfeeding journey with my first born, Mikaili, I felt breastfeeding was quite the inconvenience and kept me strapped to a baby almost 24/7.
This also meant ensuring that the clothes I wear had easy access and that I was ready to go at any time, seeing as I was breastfeeding on demand.
As time went by, I realised that during the breastfeeding journey, one gains this thing called intuition and maternal instinct. You start feeling when something isn’t okay with baby. So, it’s more than just feeding baby and giving them the nutrition they need.
One thing is for sure, breastfeeding is a skill and an art. It is learned though, and the journey with one baby will not the same with another. So knowing the why keeps you mind-strong on your decision.
I breastfed Mikaili for 6 months but with Morgan was tough – add the stresses of having two under two at the time and it became increasing stressful. I suspect the inability to relax may have affected my ability to fully lean into the journey. I took note of the blunders I made and the needs I had and managed to articulate my needs in my breastfeeding journey with Malik.
Again, whilst breastfeeding is a natural process and your body starts producing colostrum, the early milk packed with nutrients and disease fighting antibodies, during your second trimester, the actual process of breastfeeding doesn’t come easy. Baby and mom needs to establish a latch, and those first moments after birth need to be treated as almost sacred – skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth where one allows baby to find their way to the breast is the best to establish breastfeeding.
Knowing what you need, how to ask for it and why you are in this journey is very important. As much as the benefits of breastfeeding are immeasurable for mom and baby, there is a reason why our breastfeeding rate is not where it should be – breastfeeding does not come so easy to everyone, it is both physical and psychological.
WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.
Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night.
This information I will be sharing shouldn’t make you feel guilty and ponder on your shoulda-coulda-wouldas; but rather offer you information to make a better-informed decision. If you didn’t manage to breastfeed your first baby, don’t guilt yourself – forgive yourself.
Why Should I Breastfeed?
Benefits for Baby:
- Breastmilk Provides Optimal Nutrition for Babies
There’s nothing more all-in-one than breastmilk. Not even your favourite all in one shampoo conditioner.
A baby who is exclusively breastfed needs nothing else. Not even water. Nope. Not even on a hot summer day.
In those early days of breastfeeding, whilst in hospital, you may notice a watery sticky-like substance, this is as the colostrum comes. I experienced colostrum from my second trimester.
It may come in whilst in hospital or when you are home. This is a first type of breast milk. Your body doesn’t make a lot of colostrum, but your body knows to make every amount it needs for the first few days of baby’s life – its baby’s antibody load up.
This usually becomes thick, yellow, and sticky, but it can also be thin and white or orange in colour. Liquid Gold!
If you are pumping, the thick colostrum may get stuck in the tubing of your pump – therefore I usually recommend moms to try only breastfeeding and not pump in those early days as the colostrum comes in.
As your babies continues to breastfeed, a milk called foremilk which is high in lactose (milk sugar) and low in fat and calories. It’s thin, watery, and it looks white.
This is present with almost every feed going forward. The quantity of the foremilk depends on how full your breasts are.
At times baby may be thirsty but not hungry and may stop feeding after the foremilk.
Then there’s something we call hindmilk, this is the milk that comes in as the main course during every feed. This is a richer, thicker, and creamier milk. Hindmilk is the high-fat, high-calorie breast milk that your baby gets that helps them feel satisfied between each feed. Hindmilk also helps baby gain weight and grow.
At times moms are worried that baby may not be gaining weight or your paediatrician may have concern that your baby is not gaining enough weight; or perhaps baby is having their breastmilk but just not getting full or perhaps even waking up every other minute still wanting to feed; I’d pump my foremilk for a minute or two before breastfeeding and then keep the foremilk for the pre-bath feed to quench the between-feed thirst, bath baby (there’s something about water that makes babies so hungry) and then feed baby the hindmilk. You have a human sleeping like a baby, literally.
I’d also like to note that I had a lot of milk! So, it was likely that I had a lot of foremilk. (Call it the mom’s cheat code for breastfeeding)
- Breastmilk Provides the Necessary and Important Antibodies for Babies
Much like blood, breast milk is a living liquid jam-packed with white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s soldiers that help us fight infections and diseases. Mom’s milk is loaded with antibodies that help baby fight off viruses and bacteria and whilst it is not proven that breastmilk protects babies from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, several studies have found antibodies that target the virus in human milk. In addition, breastfed infants are generally less likely to have severe respiratory symptoms when they get sick. Breastfeeding is good for babies.
- Breastmilk promotes long-term health problems and healthy weight in babies
There are reasons why it is essential that introduction of solids is delayed in babies. The digestive system of a baby is still immature. Exclusive breastfeeding lines the intestines and the immunoglobulin A – these are plugs that close the gaps between the cells that line a baby’s intestines – these gaps make a baby more vulnerable to health problems. So, breastmilk works like a kind of putty and closes these gaps. And when baby’s digestive system is ready, they will be able to digest food properly with minimal risk.
Breastfeeding also promotes healthy weight gain in baby and helps prevent childhood obesity – this could be due to the development of different gut bacteria that affects fat storage.
Breastfed babies also have a higher leptin in their system. Leptin is a key hormone that regulates appetite and fat storage.
Breastfed babies are also able to regulate their own appetites and milk intake, and this has a long-term effect on a baby that starts weaning’s eating habits.
Babies who are breastfed have a reduced risk of a lot of illnesses that include:
- Middle ear infections
- Respiratory tract infections
- Colds and infections
- Gut infections – breastfeeding has been linked with a reduction in gut infections
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – Breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of SIDS, especially when a baby is exclusively breastfed
- Allergic diseases
- Bowel diseases
- Childhood leukaemia
- Breastfed babies have a high IQ and EQ
It has been said that children who have breastfed have a higher IQ and are set up from birth to ace those tests. Baby Geniuses in the making!
So, when investigating brain development of breastfed babies, researchers have said that a breastfed babies IQ scores higher and they are less likely to develop behavioural problems or even have learning difficulties as they grow older.
Researchers also concluded that breastmilk promotes cognitive development.
Breastmilk has the following ingredients that aid brain growth and development: Fats, fatty acids, Omega 3 oils, DHA, cholesterol, amino acid taurine and lactose.
When I personally learnt that cholesterol is in breastmilk and aids brain development, I was so confused, but the early exposure of cholesterol in breastmilk helps baby better cope with it later in life, aiding their cardiovascular health now for the future.
In the beginning, breastfeeding is taxing because it takes up almost all your time. It is hard to do anything else whilst breastfeeding. I’ve tried breastfeeding whilst baby is wrapped in a sling on me and trying to multi-task, it is quite difficult. It can be frustrating. But in those early days, whilst baby is figuring out their surroundings and making sense of the world, the breastmilk AND connection with mom plays a vital role in the emotional development of baby. Use those moments to build that bond and trust between you and baby. Cuddle, look into each other’s eyes, bask in all the oxytocin. You’re building their emotional intelligence in those moments.
I’ve said numerous times, maternal forms of parenting should be emulated in every space of our lives because children who feels good and feels their needs are met, rarely acts out. Breastfeeding shows this to us. Your baby feels safe when their needs are met instantly. And this relationship forms the foundation of long-term discipline.
Nothing comforts babies like breastmilk. Breastmilk after falling, after an immunisation, breastmilk after a bath, or when baby is overly tired. Breastmilk calms and soothes baby. It is said the calming effect is due to the high sugar content of breastmilk.
Benefits for Mom:
- The Hormones That Help Mom Heal and Elevate Mom’s Mood
During pregnancy, your uterus grows quite a lot. It literally takes over your abdomen.
After childbirth the uterus starts to contract and when mom puts baby to her breast, the hormone the brain releases is called oxytocin.
This same hormone causes contraction during childbirth and helps with contracting the uterus after birth. Oxytocin is also the “maternal hormone” or the “love hormone”.
Now when baby starts sucking oxytocin and prolactin are both released by the brain and these hormones are what causes the “let down” and the milk starts flowing. You will feel an almost euphoric bubble of love form in this moment.
And although the early days are stressful and exhausting, your natural nurture and protection mode kicks in.
- Breastmilk Is Free and Saves Time
With breastmilk, you don’t have to spend money on formula or even need to calculate how much your baby needs to drink daily. I was a feed on demand mom, so when baby needed to feed, I’d just bring them onto the boob – breast milk is also always at the right temperature and ready to drink (unless of course you pumped and froze the milk).
With breastmilk you don’t have to spend time cleaning and sterilizing bottles. You only need worry about that when you have pumped and may need to then bottle feed the pumped milk.
You also don’t need to mix and warm up bottles in the middle of the night (or day) or even need to figure out where you’ll find warm water or ways to warm up bottles while on the move.
- Breastfeeding Is Amazing for Mom’s Body
Research shows that breastfeeding provides long-term protection from female cancers such as breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.
It is also said that women who breastfeed have a decreased risk of high blood pressure, arthritis, high blood fats/hyperlipidaemia, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
I personally lost a lot of weight breastfeeding and it helped contract my uterus quite a lot before I could safely belly bind.
- Natural Family Planning
Whilst I believe this true, I also say be very careful! Lol
It is said that breastfeeding reduces your chances of falling pregnant (you have less than 2% chance of falling pregnant if you are exclusively breastfeeding).
BUT your baby must be less than 6 months. I guess after 6 months they’re not exclusively breastfeeding right? There are some solids being introduced.
You must not have begun your menstrual cycle.
And again, you must be exclusively breastfeeding and on demand.
What do you feel was the biggest struggled on your breastfeeding journey?
SHOP YOUR BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY NEEDS ON ART OF SUPERWOMAN
Breastfeed Your Baby by Marie-Louise Steyn
Hello World (A Baby’s Journey) by Dr Diana Du Plessis & Aneke Grobler