Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for both mum and baby. It is part of the age old process in which mothers and babies get to know each other.
The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, thereafter a combination of family foods and breastfeeding up to the age of 2 years.
Of course, some women are unable or do not wish to breastfeed. If however, mum does wish to breastfeed and is struggling - they can always consult a midwife, local doula or a support group for help. Other mums in the family or friends may also be able to offer support and advice.
Benefits for mum
Breastfeeding is helpful for mum for a number of reasons; it encourages the release of oxytocin which boosts mood, helps mum bond with her baby and also helps the uterus return to its normal size after birth. It is a convenient and free way to feed baby, it lengthens the time taken for periods to return, it helps protect against certain cancers, and in some women it can contribute to the safe return to pre baby weight.
Benefits for baby
Reduces infant mortality due to a reduction in common childhood illnesses
Helps for a quicker recovery from any illnesses
Can provide the ultimate nutrition
Changes with baby’s individual needs
Promotes sensory and cognitive development
Protects against infectious and long term chronic diseases
The make up of milk
Colostrum, the first milk to come through until about 5 days after birth, is full of immune boosting properties and relatively low in lactose. It can vary greatly in colour, and is effectively baby’s first protection against the outside world. It also has a laxative effect to help baby pass it’s first stools.
Transitional milk kicks in from 5 days onwards until about 2 weeks post birth, and at around 4-6 weeks the milk is considered fully mature. Human milk provides what is called the ‘normative standard for infant nutrition’, and this is sometimes misinterpreted as assuming whatever mum eats, baby will get what it requires. This is not the case, and a poor maternal diet can lead to a deficiency in certain micronutrients including vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D, and iodine. Vitamin D and Vitamin K are often very low in milk. The fatty acid profile of human milk varies in relation to maternal diet, particularly, in the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Foremilk and hindmilk (milk at the beginning of a feed and the milk that comes in towards the end) also vary greatly, with hindmilk sometimes containing up to two to three times the concentration of milk fat found in foremilk. This is why mothers are often encouraged to allow baby to finish the milk from one breast before moving on to the other.
As well as nutrition human milk also contains many hundreds to thousands of distinct bioactive molecules that protect against infection and inflammationand contribute to immune maturation, organ development, and healthy microbialcolonisation (gut health). Science is only just beginning to discover many of these bioactive factors and their impact on both short and longterm health
The human body is amazing and works the best it can in any given situation. However, we can make things a little easier, and ensure optimum nutrition is passing to baby via the milk, by your choice of food. Doing so will in turn help mum to feel more energised and positive.
Milk supply is most likely to be reduced from the positioning and attachment of the baby at the breast that results in incomplete breast drainage, as well as infrequent, restricted, limited feeds. Premature delivery is often synonymous with difficulty feeding. Smoking is associated with reduced milk supply, and smokers are more likely to wean earlier due to this reduction. It is also unclear as to how much of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes pass on to a baby through breastmilk - irrespective of this we would recommend doing everything possible to not smoke.
The mother's body will supply the best nutrients it can through breastmilk. However, nourishing the body with adequate fluids and nutrients from good foods will improve quality and quantity of milk and leave mum with more energy, healing faster from birth, and feeling more positive. Being well hydrated will support milk production.
Almost every culture has a herbal tradition of using herbs to support breastfeeding, effectiveness is largely anecdotal but the following have been used for hundreds of years, fenugreek, anise, basil, blessed thistle, caraway, chaste berry and fennel. Visit a medical herbalist if you would like to support recovery from birth and milk production with herbs.