"Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don’t decide how much and how deeply to love you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want." – Marni Jackson
The miraculous bond between a mother and her child is beyond words. This relationship starts way before childbirth and is special in so many ways. A mother does everything to protect her child throughout his/her life, like a mama bear, from eating for two and being healthy when the bun is in the oven or the important act of breastfeeding once the baby is out. Breastfeeding is essential, for the mother & child, but we have managed to stigmatize and shame this natural, intimate act.
The first breast milk (colostrum) should be fed within the first hour of birth because it is the healthiest. It is a nutrient-rich fluid containing growth and tissue repair factors which help in increasing immunity and protection against diseases. It also enhances the connection between the mother and child, helps the child to learn latching on from the start, and avoids sucking difficulties later. Breastfeeding gives a child the best start in life and it has emotional benefits as much as nutritional ones. But new mothers are often unaware of these advantages, and they are less likely to be constant in this process. A child needs to be given breast milk only for the first 6 months of their life and should be fed whenever they need it, not at the convenience of anyone else. This is very important as correct methods of breastfeeding can reduce the rates of infant mortality and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
With the COVID-19 pandemic going on in the world, we all very well know how important one’s immune system is, and this system needs to be supported and built as soon as a child is born. Breastfeeding gives all the protection against infections and diseases to a newborn and strengthens immunity for the rest of their life. Breastfed babies are less likely to be cranky during traveling or at night thus, helping the parents to be well-rested. They are also healthier and don’t get sick often.
It is also beneficial for the mother. It helps reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, anemia, type 2 diabetes, endometriosis, postpartum bleeding, and other complications. It also helps in faster weight loss, gets easier to achieve pre-pregnancy weight for the mother, and helps burn an extra 500 calories a day. Maternity health care is as important as the baby’s welfare. Breastfeeding produces hormones that reduce stress and induce positive feelings and calmness in a nursing mother. It decreases social and behavioral problems in the future, for both mother and baby, by facilitating skin-to-skin contact and increase in physical/emotional bonding.
Coming back to the reduced risk of breast cancer, there are hundreds of women who have developed this type of cancer in the time of five years after their last pregnancy. Not breastfeeding increases the chances of postpartum pregnancy in addition to the hereditary risks. (family history among women) This reminds me of a character of The Bold Type, Jane. She lost her mother early due to breast cancer and tested positive for BRCA mutation in the first season. BRCA mutation leads to higher chances of getting breast cancer and that too at a young age. (like her mother who had postpartum breast cancer) The show beautifully showed her physical and emotional journey throughout the seasons. The difficulties of being an ambitious 23-year-old getting to know how she might have cancer, and all that pressure of planning her whole future (family) at such a young age, was very well written. Her whole journey, how she decides to get a mastectomy and freeze her eggs, and tackles post-surgery problems (both mental & physical) was pretty informative and great to watch. As we all know, all forms of entertainment have become a great source of shaping young minds today due to their daily usage, this show has used the platform given to them positively and helpfully.
Of course, there are visible physical changes and issues faced post-pregnancy, but what about the changes we don’t see?
After delivery, 50-75% of new mothers develop ‘baby blues’ and almost 15% of them are advanced into a severe depression called postpartum depression. This consists of everything from emotional highs and lows, crying for no reason, sadness, unpleasantness, anxiety, guilt, fatigue, irritability, and feelings of being inadequate for taking care of your baby. 1 in 100 women is prone to go through the extreme and prolonged form of this depression, called postpartum psychosis. Mothers having this may become extra fragile and have symptoms like insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, severe irritation, and manic episodes. Treatment includes medication and immediate hospitalization of the mother to prevent any harm to the child. Breastfeeding releases hormones like oxytocin and prolactin which promote positive moods and lessen the risk of postpartum depression in mothers.
August is known as the National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and the first week is World Breastfeeding Week which highlights the numerous advantages this brings for babies and mothers. It spreads awareness about how important breastfeeding is and how it needs to be supported and practiced keeping both the people in mind. New mothers need to be educated and families need to be more encouraging. I had seen this creative post on Instagram in which a man was eating at a restaurant and in front of him, sat a woman who was feeding her infant. This man calls the waiter, complains about how rude and disgusting seeing the mother breastfeed was, and tells him to ask the woman to feed the baby in the washroom or a corner as he wants to eat in peace. The waiter in return takes the man's food and puts him in a corner and the baby happily enjoys his lunch. After seeing this post I realized how much we, as a society, need to de-stigmatize breastfeeding and back women to choose where they want to freely breastfeed. Working women often get labeled as unreliable mothers as they are not around as much (as they are busy being heroes and doing it all). To prevent this, offices need to be more accommodating and should give longer, paid maternity and paternity leaves.
This significance of breastfeeding needs to be promoted and new mothers everywhere should be made aware of its importance and ways to support their child’s health. The world should be more supportive of this and should encourage all women. It is not a shameful act and shouldn’t be treated like one. The effect and the importance for both the mother and child need to be known.