Breastfeeding is more than just nutrition for a child
Interview with an expert on the benefits of breastfeeding, support to women and more
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During World Breastfeeding Week, we spoke to pediatrician Susanna Nemtsova. Her research work is devoted to issues related to breastfeeding. Besides Susanna is an expert herself: she gave birth to 4 children, three of whom she breastfed.
Susanna told us about the benefits of BF, why almost all the problems associated with it are "in our mind", and who and what can help women. She also shared a very personal story that predetermined all her current activities – helping and supporting women in natural motherhood. "Everything I do now is because I understand how painful it is when there are difficulties associated with children."
About the importance of BF
I think there is no need to talk about the benefits of breast milk and its composition – that is clear.
No production is capable of synthesizing the structure of milk. It is a system with not only microelements, fats, proteins, carbohydrates. It is also a nutrient medium for those microorganisms that populate the child's body in the first minutes of their life. Therefore, when a baby receives breast milk naturally, it receives a nutrient medium for the protective microcosm. This microcosm ensures all metabolic processes in the body.
Breast milk contains antiviral, antiallergic, antiparasitic components. As well as hormones that cannot be obtained from a baby formula. With optimal breastfeeding regime*, the baby is at a lower risk of catching infectious diseases in the first year of life.
Also, breastfeeding reduces the risk of infant death, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, leukosis, leukemia and lymphoma, allergic conditions (bronchial asthma, dermatitis, eczema) and many other diseases.
And when it comes to the health of breastfeeding mothers, they are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, postpartum depression, etc.
*Optimal BF regime:
- breastfeeding starts within the first hour of a baby's life
- there is only breastfeeding up to six months of a child's life (without adding any liquids and water, supplementary feeding with solid, semi-solid food, with the exception of vitamins and medicines)
- breastfeeding continues up to two years or older if the mother wants that (at the age of 6 months mother should start introducing supplementary food).
About psychological comfort
A child learns everything by observing the world around them through hearing, sight, smell and taste, touch. He/she will also have to learn to express emotions. And if a smiling happy mother picks up the baby and starts breastfeeding, and thus launches a hormonal mechanism for the formation of maternal instincts (peace, happiness, affection, joy, love), then one of the first emotions the child learns will be joy.
Parents are often afraid that long breastfeeding will not allow them to make a "real man" out of a boy. Actually BF does the opposite.
Mom is the first woman with whom a baby forms a close emotional bond. Breastfeeding allows the boy to understand that there is a woman in this world whom he can feel safe with. And it will be easy to teach a man to take care of a woman and a family when he is an adult. It will be a default feature inside him.
There are very few contraindications for HB. Absolute contraindications are the following:
- the mother is in unconscious state, has mental disorders;
- the mother has especially dangerous infections (typhus, plague, cholera and others);
- the mother is the carrier of T-lymphotropic virus.
There are some limitations if the mother has HIV. Even if all the treatment and prevention measures are taken, the risk of transmission still remains. With tuberculosis, you can breastfeed only after a full course of treatment.
It is impossible to breastfeed if the child is unable to digest breast milk protein (galactosemia, congenital alactasia) or if the mother doesn't have milk at all (agalactia). But such cases happen extremely rarely.
Breastfeeding is not contraindicated in COVID-19. On the contrary, breast milk protects babies from coronavirus and contributes to the development and strengthening of the baby's immune system.
About BF problems
It is not enough to say: "Breastfeed!" You need to thoroughly work with women to explain to them the importance of BF and to support them.
We are all under constant stress now. Not to mention women in the postpartum period. If the mother is stressed during the feeding period, then the child will show certain reactions – cry, sleep and eat poorly, etc. Because the child is in the same psycho-emotional state as the mother because of her hormones. And then problems with BF begin.
Many mothers understand that all the problems associated with feeding are "in their mind". But what should she do next? Not everyone can afford a psychologist or a consultant on breastfeeding. It's quite expensive.
About supporting women during BF
The most important thing is to help the mother relax and relieve her of daily stress. The support of close people – her husband, parents – is very important here.
Unfortunately, mothers quite often not only take care of the baby, but also have a lot of household chores. If they cannot find time to connect psychologically with the child and are forced to think all the time about the household and other family members, it is difficult for them to enjoy breastfeeding and establish this process to the fullest. Successful BF in such a situation is impossible. Therefore, support, help and understanding of the immediate circle is very important.
If a mother breastfeeds a child and she is calm, hormones of joy, happiness, and peace are produced. They help cope with the stress received after childbirth. They help to balance her condition. If everything works well, the mother can enjoy BF very much.
What else is very important to do to make BF work?
- to ensure skin-to-skin contact and early breastfeeding attachment in the first hour after birth
- for the mother to stay together with the infant in the hospital and apply frequent breastfeeding attachment to establish lactation
- feeding on demand.
About the doctors you can contact for help
A joint initiative by WHO and UNICEF is currently being implemented to create an enabling environment for breastfeeding in hospitals (the initiative is called "Baby Friendly Hospital" – ed.). You can apply to medical institutions that have the status of a "Baby Friendly Hospital" (you can find out about them here). Medical specialists who are very competent on breastfeeding matters work there.
About mobile app Bebbo
In the age of information technology, it is important to use modern tools for obtaining information and self-assistance. For example, mobile apps. Recently, UNICEF released Bebbo – a free app for parents of children aged 0-6. Through such tools important information is disseminated much more efficiently.
Considering that all the content of the app is adapted for Belarusian parents and at the same time these recommendations comply with international standards of medical care, it is a very cool assistant.
There are basic generally accepted and modern recommendations for establishing breastfeeding, the introduction of supplementary foods, which can actually help. There are good tips on how to make life with breastfeeding comfortable – for example, when traveling.
Besides, the app has a child development tracker. "Reminders" in a way. Often problems arise when parents do not keep up with the growth and development of the baby. They are not ready for a new stage of development and do not know what to do. And after entering the date of birth of the child, the application itself reminds you of important milestones, tells you what to prepare for and how to go through this period in the best possible way.
A personal story
My story and my personal experience predetermined all my current activities. Everything I do now is because I understand how painful it is when there are difficulties associated with children.
Together with colleagues from the Republican Scientific and Practical Center "Mother and Child" and our partners, including UNICEF, we organize breastfeeding and psychological release rooms for mothers, as well as consultations with a psychologist. At some point we would like to have peer counseling for mothers with children with special needs. It is very important for me that in our country women who have just become mothers are well supported.
I have four children, but I breastfed only three. My first child is in a foster home. He was born with Down syndrome and the most common congenital heart defect associated with Down syndrome. I was a student, and under the pressure of the social environment that surrounded me then, I decided to abandon the child. My husband also insisted on abandoning. I didn't have the courage to make the decision myself.
Now I am using all my life resources to get a chance to get my son back. It is a difficult and long journey with many ambiguous moments.
I had milk, I could breastfeed my son. But then this issue was not even discussed. I experienced great grief, but didn't discuss it with anyone.
On the one hand, in such a situation, doctors understood that lactation would cause certain problems for the mother. On the other hand, when I saw the child for the first time 5 years later, I realized that many issues with his health would not have arisen if I had been breastfeeding. Even if I made the decision to abandon him, his health would be different after breastfeeding. Breast milk for such a child is medicine.
There are different sides to each story. And there is a light side and a dark side in each of us. You never know in which situations a good thing can become something else. Therefore, it is so important that a woman is supported after childbirth in making an independent, informed decision. Especially if the baby has serious health problems.