Mammals, the most intelligent set of species essentially breastfeed their offspring and Man, the most evolved of them all, has benefitted much from it. Breastfeeding one’s child was considered the norm up until 15th century when the European royalty followed by noblewomen and other affluent women set the practice of hiring wet nurses to care for their newborn. In the 1950s, the post World War Consumerist America (and Canada) were enamoured by Formula milk, further fostering the idea that breastfeeding is for women who can’t afford other means. The Western world which has now woken up to the wisdom of this natural phenomenon is keen on creating awareness and promoting it. In India, where we have a tendency to readily accept foreign ideas, awareness can help us stay on track. So let’s look at why breastfeeding a child is the best option.
Since conception, a mother’s body undergoes enormous changes and post delivery, it is just as fragile as the new born. Breastfeeding, to a great extent, can help the mother spring back to good health and great shape. A mother’s uterus which expands 500 times during pregnancy shrinks back to its normal size quicker as the mother breastfeeds her child. On an average, a mother burns about 500 calories a day by just nursing her new born; this is instrumental in shedding baby weight. A breastfeeding mother need not worry about contraception at least for the first 5 months post delivery when she has not resumed her menstrual cycle. These mothers are less susceptible to post partum depression.
Caring for a new born, as underappreciated as it might seem, is immensely important as it lays the foundation for good healthy life. Studies have proven that breastfed babies have higher immunity to allergies and are less vulnerable to infections as compared to bottle fed ones. This could mean fewer visits to the doctor during weather changes, over all well being and less stress for the mother/ caretaker. These effects can last through adulthood as the baby grows.
The best of Formula milk is still incompetent as it does not contain living cells, enzymes, antibodies and hormones that mother’s milk is rich in. The only source of’ Lipo proteins’ essential for the brain development of the newborn is only through the mother. Also the quality of mother’s milk is naturally altered to suit the baby’s needs while formula is inflexible. Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain in children and improved gut health. Mother’s milk is easily digestible which means fewer diaper changes and a less irritable baby.
* Care should be taken in providing adequate nutritional food to the mother.
Renowned Paediatrician Dr. D. Senguttuvan*, points out the common practice of feeding cow’s milk to new born babies and says “It is important to understand that a mother produces milk in order to nourish only her newborn. The cow’s milk will have all the nutrients in it to help its calf grow into a healthy cow and a human mother’s milk has the nutrients to help the baby grow into a healthy human. So it is only common sense to not feed cow’s milk to human babies at least for the first 6 months.”
What is good and bad for us depends on how it affects us. Today, when time and dedicated attention are precious commodities one has to apply the ‘less work – optimum benefit’ formula to everything we do and breastfeeding is a win-win situation for both the baby and the mother. The baby gets optimum nutrition and ample time to for strong emotional bonding with its mother and the mother can give the best care to her child without wasting money (on feeders, sterilizers and expulsion pumps) and time (in washing and sterilizing them), rather indulge in something they enjoy. The 26 weeks maternity leave is an added advantage to exclusively breastfeed the baby till it begins to eat solids.
On a more sentimental note, the’ unconditional giving’ of a mother is the purest form of love and care one can find in this world. Any bit of kindness and selflessness we show towards someone has its roots in the intuitive bond we formed with our mother as sucklings and it is imperative that we, as a society understand this and make way for our young mothers to raise a generation of healthy and loving humans.
*Dr. Senguttuvan has 23 years of expertise in Paediatric services and is instrumental in getting National Neonatal forum accreditation for NICU in Kauvery Hospital, Cantonment.