The benefits of breastfeeding as experienced by a mother
World Breastfeeding Week is commemorated from 1 to 7 August. This year the theme is Step up Breastfeeding Education and Support, aiming to encourage parents and communities to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in order to improve health of babies. Western Cape Government Health supports exclusive breastfeeding of babies for the first six month of their lives. Thereafter it can be continued in addition to appropriate, safe and adequate complementary foods up to two years and beyond.
“When parents choose to breastfeed their children, they’re making the most important decision because breastfeeding is not just food for the baby but there is a release of hormones that allows a mother and her baby to bond in a very special way, this is a lifetime gift that a mother can give her baby. A baby feels safe and secure and this provides a healthy start for a baby’s life. I encourage mothers to breastfeed,” says Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health.
As a fairly new mother to a toddler, Leensie Lötter, communications officer for the West Coast District and Paarl Hospital, shares her learnings from her own breastfeeding journey:
“For any mother who experienced their own unique breastfeeding journey, the benefits of breastfeeding often become evident only when the infant grows into a toddler or young child. Breastfeeding and the pressures associated with it can be daunting for any new mother struggling to get it right at first try.
In my personal experience, continuing with breastfeeding despite challenges like engorgement or the baby unable to latch properly is not an easy choice, but can be rewarding and it really does get easier over time. The support that I received from my husband to succeed with breastfeeding was also a big motivation
My husband, Regardt Lötter, said: ‘I think being able to provide your baby with the exact nutrition, uniquely formulated to her needs is nothing close to a miracle. I saw it as a privilege to support my wife and baby to succeed in breastfeeding’. The support he gave me, both practical and emotional, was the best motivation I could have and instrumental in me continuing with the breastfeeding journey.
A father or partner can support the breastfeeding mother by doing household chores, parenting non-breastfeeding children, and helping her to buy nutritious foods and avoiding harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs. They can also support the breastfeeding mother by being present and not exposing her to the dangers of sexually transmitted infections and by not exposing her to gender-based violence.
Families and communities can support breastfeeding mothers by creating an environment where mothers are complimented for breastfeeding. Families can assist with home chores to allow the mother more time to breastfeed.”
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby?
- Breastmilk is formulated specifically for a baby’s nutritional needs. Sr Merle van Oordt, Clinical Coordinator for Maternal and Women’s Health, says that breast is best. “You cannot duplicate breastmilk. It’s unique in the properties it contains for nutritional value and is ideal for baby’s digestion during the developmental stage. Breastmilk is formulated specifically for the baby’s nutritional needs as they grow and develop and changes as the baby’s needs changes.”
- Breast milk defends the baby against illness and infections. Breast milk contains anti-bodies from the mother that can protect the baby against diseases and infections.
- Breastfeeding is an excellent form of soothing and comfort.
- Skin-to-skin contact (also called kangaroo mother care or KMC) between mother and baby is an excellent way of bonding with the baby, provides warmth to the baby, regulates baby’s heartbeat, helps to increase milk production, and gives baby direct access to the breast to that they can feed on demand. As part of the Western Cape Government Health’s Mother Baby Friendly Initiative policy, all babies are placed in the skin-to-skin position immediately after birth and should remain in that position for at least an hour.
“KMC can be done anytime, every day. It improves growth, reduces morbidities, promotes attachment and bonding, and the regular eye contact stimulates the baby. The unspoken language and skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is very important for the baby’s emotional, neurological, and psychological development, especially in the first 1000 days of life” explains Sr Zeenat Dalwai, Operational Manager in charge of the KMC ward at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital.
We want to help you
“Although we encourage breastfeeding, we understand that not all moms are able to breastfeed. Our goal is a well-fed baby and a happy mom. We are there for you. Speak to your nurse if you struggle with breastfeeding,” says Sr Nicolene Adams, Operational Manager, Maternity Ward, Swartland Hospital.
If you struggle to breastfeed, please speak to your healthcare worker at your nearest facility for advice and help. The staff at our facilities are equipped with staff who are experienced in feeding and nutrition and will be able to assist you.
“We also encourage moms to attend their follow-up appointment dates as part of the First Thousand Days health plan, and to take their babies for their childhood immunisations. It can save their lives,” adds Sr Zeenat Dalwai.
Motherhood can also be a difficult time for mothers experiencing post-partum depression. With hormones adjusting after giving birth, most mothers experience “baby blues” that includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. However, some mother experience severe symptoms that requires medical treatment.
Post-partum depression symptoms to look out for:
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from family & friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Fear that you are not a good mother
If you or your partner experience any of these symptoms of post-partum depression, please contact your health care worker at the clinic or hospital immediately for assistance. Post-partum depression is fully treatable.
Women are encouraged to continue to breastfeed when they return to work:
Providing time, a physical space, and support for moms to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace are considered low-cost interventions that can reduce the obstacles that working mothers face when they want to continue breastfeeding when returning to work.
Before returning from maternity leave, mothers are encouraged to speak to their direct supervisor about her decision to continue breastfeeding how the workplace can support her. We encourage supervisors and breastfeeding employees to discuss and schedule times for breastfeeding breaks that meet the needs of the mother and the operational requirement of the employee’s job.
For more information on breastfeeding visit: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/first-1000-days