#WBW2014: Early First Breastfeed Makes All The Difference.

This week is World Breastfeeding Week – a celebration, as well as an opportunity to continue to push forward the protecting, promoting and supporting of breastfeeding.

The health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for mother and baby are well documented, not to mention the convenience and cost advantages. Early initiation of breastfeeding (defined as the provision of breast milk to a baby within one hour of birth) plays an important role in the establishment of breastfeeding, with far reaching additional consequences. A recent study completed by Alive and Thrive shows the following benefits to early breastfeeding:

  1. In low-resource, high mortality settings where infection causes a large proportion of newborn deaths, early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding can substantially reduce child mortality.
  2. Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour can help prevent neonatal deaths caused by sepsis, pneumonia, and diarrhea and may also prevent hypothermia-related deaths, especially in preterm and low birthweight infants.
  3. Early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding serves as the starting point for a continuum of care for mother and newborn that can have long-lasting effects on health and development.

It is estimated that 1 million newborn lives could be saved every year by early breastfeeding initiation but that only 43% of newborns globally receive breast milk within an hour of birth. The reasons for this vary depending on country and culture. Some traditional cultural practices do not promote babies receiving colostrum (the nutrient and calorie rich milk produced by the mother in the first few days after birth); some hospitals do not promote practices which encourage early breastfeeding (such as skin-to-skin contact); and some mothers simply do not receive the support they need to help the baby to latch to the breast. It is imperative that women and their families receive information and education during pregnancy, and high quality postnatal support, to enable early breastfeeding initiation.

Unicef and WHO infographicThis year, as part of World Breastfeeding Week, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have partnered with 17 organizations to produce a brochure highlighting eight measures to ‘scale up early initiation and optimal breastfeeding.’ The information focuses on the following topics:

  • The need for breastfeeding-friendly practices in healthcare facilities
  • Well trained health care staff who provide skilled support in the immediate postnatal period
  • The education of women and their families around infant feeding
  • The implementation of the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes

In both my professional and personal experience, early breastfeeding initiation is not only important in providing a newborn with the best possible nutrition – in those early moments after birth, giving a mother an unhurried opportunity to allow her new baby to breastfeed offers her protected time to connect with her baby. This instills the confidence that she will undoubtedly need to go on to successfully breastfeed for the recommended six months and beyond.

Breastfeeding: A winning goal for life!

Want to join the global conversation?

Follow #WBW2014 & #Worldbreastfeedingweek

Visit www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org

Cover Photo Credit: Mothering Touch, Flickr Creative Commons

 

A Midwife’s Point of View: Breastfeeding

The contractions have ended and the only sound is the cry of the newborn little baby lying on her mother’s belly. The room becomes calm and relaxed as the family exhales and begins to recover. After a few minutes the little baby starts searching for her mother’s breast, pecking her little head back and forth, smacking her lips and making her very first sucking movements with her mouth. Using her legs to push herself upwards, she slowly moves towards her mother’s chest, and with the help of her mother’s gentle hand, her mouth finally reaches the nipple.

The breasts are well prepared. The first milk, known as colostrum, starts to be produced in week 18 of the pregnancy. It doesn’t feel like the breasts contain any milk. It takes approximately three more days until the real milk flows into the breasts. But this first milk is perfectly suited for the little baby. The baby’s stomach and intestines have only known the amniotic fluid and is now slowly but surely getting used to breast milk. This first milk contains substances that help the intestines adapt to a life outside the uterus and brings vital nutrients that the baby needs to grow.

The new mother is now holding her baby in her arms. The baby lies looking up at her mother, seeing her for the first time. They look at each other for a moment. The distance between them is just as long as the newborn’s small eyes may be capable of seeing and being seen is extremely important for the little baby’s continued psychological development. After looking at her mother for a while, the baby starts to cautiously and tentatively suck on her mother’s nipple. Being close, skin to skin, enables both mother and child to relax even more, as oxytocin, the natural, well-being hormone, flows like currents in their bodies. Oxytocin causes the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and respiration to stabilize in their bodies and causes the production of breast milk. This hormone also causes the mother’s uterus to contract, preventing her to bleed too much.

After sucking for a while on the breast, the baby falls asleep, exhausted but satisfied with both the birth and the first meeting with her family. Colostrum contains enough energy so that the baby now can sleep for a day and the new parents can rest.

The above scenario may be recognized by some women, but not by others. The description has been used to demonstrate the awesomeness of our bodies, and particularly, a woman’s body.

A peaceful breastfeeding start increases the chances of successful breastfeeding in the future.

As a licensed nurse and midwife, I meet women who breastfeed every day. Some do it with ease. Some fight through each feeding in pain, with babies who do not want to suck or babies who don’t want to stop sucking. Some women struggle without enough breast milk, while other women have too much milk. I also meet women who have chosen to partly breastfeed, or who, for various reasons, have chosen not to breastfeed. What is common for all women I meet is the incredible love they carry and the strong desire to do the best they can for their child.

It is imperative that we, as health professionals, are aware that our knowledge and treatment can be critical to how a mother succeeds in breastfeeding.

Becoming a parent generates a wide range of emotions: love, fear, anxiety, joy, sadness, loneliness, togetherness, uncertainty, fatigue, giddiness, and more. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed is not always an easy choice and to get breastfeeding to work or to stop breastfeeding may require professional help. My wish is that new mothers and their families receive the help and support they need, and are able to make informed and empowered choices, leading to results that works best for both the mother, the child and the family. Breast milk contains the best nutrition a child can obtain during the first 6 months of its life, but what is just as important is having a mother who feels well, is present, strong and confident.

Liza HenningThis is a guest blog post by Liza Henning, licensed Nurse and licensed Midwife. Liza works at the maternity hospital and the breastfeeding clinic in Malmö, Sweden.

Mothers on Breastfeeding

For World Breastfeeding Week, we have asked mothers to submit photos of themselves breastfeeding and to share their reason for breastfeeding. We want to raise the voices of these mothers and share their pictures to reduce the stigma around breastfeeding in public spaces. We at Girls’ Globe believe that all mothers deserve the professional care and assistance they need to support their children in the best possible way, no matter where in the world these mothers are, or how they choose to feed their babies. While World Breastfeeding Week brings attention to the benefits and importance of nursing, the priority must be on support and acceptance – and giving mothers, and their babies, the services and the help they need and deserve.

We want to promote respect and support for all mothers.

These pictures speak louder than words.

Sleep Feeding

I couldn’t possibly think of a better investment in my child’s well-being than breast milk.

There’s no shame in giving your baby a snack.

Snacktime

Breast milk, I never travel without it.

IMG_3953

Breastfeeding after lunch time in the medieval town of Porvoo, Finland.

Breastfeeding in Finland

Are you a mother, how do you choose to feed your baby and why? Share your story in the comments below.

Evymama: Toronto's Only Breastfeeding Boutique

Evymama's Toronto Storefront
Evymama’s Toronto Storefront

“Toronto’s Only Breastfeeding Boutiques.” Those are the words written on the window of Evymama, a Toronto-based maternity and nursing boutique. Founded six years ago by Sarah Lemay, Evymama is a space for mothers and expecting mothers to find the right products for their needs, ask questions in a supportive environment and access a diverse collection of resources.

When it comes to breastfeeding, in addition to a wealth of knowledge stemming from personal experience, the Evymama staff taps into Toronto’s network of professionals who specialize in lactation and supporting breastfeeding moms. The store offers nursing attire for women of every size and every comfort level, ranging from those who have no problem breastfeeding in public to those who prefer to be more discreet and covered.

It is not punishment to feed a baby. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be something you want to get over with in order to get back to wearing clothes you like. If you were fashionable beforehand, you can still wear pretty things while breastfeeding. ~ Carla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama

Throw into the mix Resident Doula, Carla Murphy, who provides advice and emotional support, and it’s easy to see why Evymama is, in fact, a breastfeeding boutique.

I had the chance to speak to Carla about all things breastfeeding; from stigma, to the factors that discourage moms from breastfeeding, to the importance of support and community when facing the aforementioned issues.

Carla started by giving me a little history lesson to put breastfeeding into both cultural and historic perspective. In the 18th century, formal portraits of mothers breastfeeding were a source of pride, showing that the mothers were feeding their own babies as opposed to using wet nurses. But the introduction of formula and the sexualization of breasts contributed to changing attitudes and stigmatization of public breastfeeding. When we talk about stigmatizing breastfeeding, it is important to point out that this stigma is almost exclusively present in North America. In other parts of the world it is simply understood that breastfeeding is the healthiest and most economically sound way to feed babies and doing so in public would garner no more attention than an adult grabbing a coffee on the run.

Karla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama
Carla Murphy, Resident Doula at Evymama

However, as Girls’ Globe blogger Emma Saloranta wrote in her post “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Breast,” it seems as though North Americans have sexualized breasts to the point where we have forgotten their primary purpose.

It is now widely accepted that breast milk is the most nutritious food for babies. That being said, moms should be free to make the choice that is right for them and their child. If you are not a mom and have never spoken to one about breastfeeding, you likely do not understand what a challenging decision it can be. Carla spoke at length about the difficulties some moms face: babies who won’t latch on, painful breastfeeding experiences, feelings of isolation and physicians who are not knowledgeable enough to offer the support and advice needed. Many women are discouraged from, or are simply unable to breastfeed because of these challenges.

Conversely, criticism of how a mother chooses to feed her child is not exclusive to those who breastfeed publicly. Breastfeeding attitudes are so much influenced by culture and class, that in some circles bottle-feeding your baby in public is a faux pas. Carla, a mother of three, shared her varying experiences with breastfeeding. One of which included having to pump and feed her son from a bottle because he would not latch on to her breast after months of trying. While out with him in her middle-upper class neighborhood, she received looks from mothers who assumed that she was feeding him formula. “I wanted to hold a sign that said ‘I’m bottle feeding breast milk!’” she says.

The struggles may be different, but they are real. When others attempt to police where, when and how a mother chooses to feed her child, they are actually asking the mother to put the comfort of strangers before the needs of her child and herself.

The most consistent theme throughout my discussion with Carla was the need for more support for breastfeeding moms. In Toronto, all hospitals with birthing units are equipped with free breastfeeding clinics. But beyond clinical advice, being a part of a community of moms who can share experiences, resources and support is invaluable. For a complete list of breastfeeding resources in Canada and abroad, visit the Newman International Breastfeeding Centre website.

Join us in Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week!

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 - Official logo
World Breastfeeding Week 2013 – Official logo

August 1st marks the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, observed around the world to bring attention to the importance of breastfeeding for a child’s life, health and well-being. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers,” a theme which emphasizes the importance of kangaroo care.  The week’s activities are coordinated by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), which was established in 1991 to implement the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding.

The benefits of breastfeeding to children’s health are well known and well documented. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding is one of the single most effective ways to promote child survival and child well-being. WHO estimates that if all children were breastfed within an hour or birth, exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, and partly breastfed for up to the age of two years, over 200,000 child lives would be saved every year. While breastfeeding can be essential to a child’s survival and basic health, its benefits are far reaching, and a recent study has also linked breastfeeding to a higher IQ. WHO, UNICEF and other stakeholders have adopted a globally accepted recommendation of six months of exclusive breastfeeding as the optimal goal for babies around the world.

Yet, despite convincing scientific evidence demonstrating the indisputable benefits of breastfeeding, less than 40% of children between 0 and 6 months are exclusively breastfed globally. While the reasons behind low breastfeeding rates are complex, more often than not one or several of the following reasons are at least partly to blame:

  1. Inadequate and unaffordable maternity health care services: When women lack access to proper maternity health care, they might be unaware of the importance and benefits of breastfeeding, and unable get the support they may need if they are facing challenges with nursing, such as not being able to produce enough milk, or finding breastfeeding painful. Ensuring that women can access proper, affordable maternal health care services is crucial in the promotion of good breastfeeding practices.
  2. Short or non-existent maternity leaves: As only a handful of countries offer maternity leaves of 6 months or longer, most mothers would have to continue to breastfeed after returning to work to meet the recommendation of 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. For many mothers, balancing breastfeeding with work can become too draining, and breastfeeding rates tend to drop notably after mothers return to work.
  3. Inflexible work place arrangements: Mothers wanting to breastfeed after returning to work are often faced with a reality of their place of work lacking a private and clean space for pumping milk, no place for storing breast milk, and lack of flexibility in terms of breaks required for moms to pump at work. In the United States, the “Break Time for Nursing Mother” legislation made it mandatory for employers to provide nursing moms with access to both the required breaks, and a space to pump milk at the work place. Similar laws are needed all over the world, and information about laws and policies relating to breastfeeding should be made more readily available to ensure that nursing moms are aware of their rights.
  4. Stigma associated with public breastfeeding: As normal and as crucial as breastfeeding is for babies’ well-being, public breastfeeding still causes controversy around the world and nursing mothers find themselves shamed and shunned to nurse in dirty toilets or made to feel like they shouldn’t be leaving their homes until they no longer have to breastfeed their babies. Eliminating the stigma and standing up against the hypocrisy that surrounds public breastfeeding is essential for mothers to feel comfortable breastfeeding their babies, whether at home or in public.
  5. Aggressive baby formula marketing: Campaigning by infant formula companies has also been found to have a negative impact on breastfeeding rates, for example in East Asia as well as in Mexico.

The decision of breastfeeding is often attributed solely to mothers. However, for many mothers the situationbreastfeeding symbol is much more complicated. It is also important to remember that even in the most ideal situation, some mothers will not breastfeed for six months, and the reasons for that can be complicated, from simply not being able to produce enough milk to the mother being on medication that prevents her from breastfeeding. Guilting mothers to breastfeed is never the right approach – providing them with proper maternity care, equipping fathers, partners and extended family with skills to support breastfeeding mothers, ending stigma around public breastfeeding and implementing laws and policies that make it easier for working mothers to breastfeed are all positive tools that can be extremely effective in ensuring that breastfeeding rates continue to increase – not decrease.

Breastfeeding is not only a child well-being issue, it is also a women’s issue and a feminist issue.

Image courtesy of WHO
Image courtesy of WHO

We all, as individuals, partners, husbands and wives, families and societies have a role to play in ensuring that all babies get the best possible start to life, and that all mothers can have the best possible circumstances for breastfeeding their children at home, in public, or after returning to work. Girls’ Globe wishes all mothers and families around the world a Happy World Breastfeeding Week, and we encourage all of our readers to step forward to support breastfeeding mothers all around the world!

Are you a breastfeeding mom who wants to contribute to ending stigma around public breastfeeding? Send us a photo of yourself breastfeeding, with a quote about why you think breastfeeding is important. Photos can be submitted to info@girlsglobe.org, and they will be shared on our blog and through our social media!

Cover image and “What Dads Can Do” graphic courtesy of WHO – check out their other great infographics on breastfeeding along with our World Breastfeeding Week Pinterest board to learn more!