It is World Breastfeeding Week 2021! You know, that 7-day period from 1st to 7th of August every year where we try to restore breastfeeding to it’s place of pride and former glory.
Technically, this post started during WBW last year. That is to say, I had the idea to write something in August last year (Haha!). In my defence, the world and I were grappling with a pandemic, the likes of which have never before been seen in this generation. So, I eventually got around to writing down the beginning of the draft in January 2021. All 500 words of it. And then I decided to leave it till WBW 2021, because you know what never goes out of fashion? Breastfeeding (we hope)!
As I sat down to write this post though, I decided that it might be better as a 2-part post (hopefully, the release day for part 2 doesn’t get postponed till next year). This year’s theme is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’. As my post is a take on some interactions between family members and breastfeeding or intending-to-breastfeed mothers, and between health workers and mothers, I thought I would recap some facts about breastfeeding.
(Gentlemen, shall we?)
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. This should ideally be initiated within the first hour of life; and exclusive means that the baby should not be given any other thing apart from breastmilk (exceptions are made for medications. This means no water – yes grandmas, I’m looking at all of you!
Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby requires for growth, and even helps build the immune system. Babies who are exclusively breastfed are less likely to come down with childhood killer illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea. Importantly, there is a growing body of research to demonstrate that breastfeeding may protect children from developing childhood cancers, especially Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).
Breastfeeding also holds some benefits for the mother; breastfeeding helps the uterus contract more quickly, and return to pre-pregnancy state, prolonged breastfeeding is protective against breast and ovarian cancers, and breastfeeding can help you shed that pregnancy weight more quickly.
Contrary to popular opinion, breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag. The breast is largely made up of fat and ligaments which undergo changes in pregnancy. It is these pregnancy changes that are responsible for changes in the shape and size of the breasts, and not necessarily breastfeeding itself. Thus, a woman may notice these changes whether or not she breastfeeds.
When it’s all said and done, exclusive breastfeeding is an amazing choice for both mothers and babies, but it isn’t always the easiest of choices, as it is fraught with its own challenges, intrinsic and extrinsic. The second part of this post will draw on my personal experiences to highlight how our attitudes as family and community members and even health workers may serve more as a hindrance to women who hope to or are trying to exclusively breastfeed their babies.