Tried and tested breastmilk – optimal feeding for infants

    Dr Leneque Lindeque, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, highly recommends that women breastfeed their babies for at least a year if possible and, when it comes to her son, she practises what she preaches. Photograph by Carien Möller.

    Remember, help is always on hand to help you to breastfeed successfully

    We all know the saying, “breast is best”, as human milk is generally recognised as the optimal feeding for infants because of its proven health benefits for babies and their mothers.

    Talking during World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from 1 to 7 August, Dr Leneque Lindeque, an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, highly recommends that women breastfeed their babies for at least a year if possible.

    “For the first six months, breastmilk is the only food a baby needs – in fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Thereafter, most doctors recommend that breastfeeding continues while babies can also start consuming other foods.”

    “There are several reasons why some women decide not to breastfeed. Some mothers may think that it is easier to feed their baby with formula milk or they may be embarrassed to breastfeed. Many women also face financial pressures to return to work before the recommended six-month exclusive breastfeeding period, and they may feel that it is difficult to continue breastfeeding under such circumstances.”

    “However, breastfeeding holds a multitude of benefits for mother and baby and even for the greater community. It really is beneficial to breastfeed, even if a mother can breastfeed only for a short time. In addition, these benefits last even after breastfeeding has stopped,” notes Dr Lindeque.

    Breastfeeding benefits for infants, according to Dr Lindeque

    • The incidence of pneumonia, colds and viruses as well as gastrointestinal infections like diarrhoea is reduced. These illnesses claim the lives of many infants during this critical period.
    • Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers are less likely to occur later in life in individuals who were breastfed.
    • The IQ and development of your baby may be significantly improved when compared to that of formula-fed babies.
    • Transfer of the mother’s immune system:
    • Breastmilk fills an ‘immunological gap’ while the infant’s immune system is immature.
    • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies.
    • Breastfed babies have a better antibody response to vaccines than formula-fed babies.
    • Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by about half.

    Breastfeeding benefits for the mother, according to Dr Lindeque

    • Protection against the development of pre-menopausal breast cancer is noted in women who breastfeed. These women also have a reduced risk of ovarian and uterine cancers.
    • A lower risk of developing post-menopausal osteoporosis as lactating women absorb calcium more efficiently.
    • Better healing post-delivery.
    • The uterus returns to its original size faster if breastfeeding is initiated soon after birth, which reduces the chances of detrimental bleeding. Women who have had Caesarean sections are also documented to heal faster.
    • A menstrual vacation! Women who breastfeed exclusively around the clock will have delayed ovulation, which means delayed menstruation.
    • The best way of losing weight after the baby’s birth. As the production of breastmilk can burn up to 400 calories in a day, this practice can aid weight loss without dieting.
    • Women are emotionally more stable and are less likely to suffer from postnatal anxiety and depression if breastfeeding.
    • More economical. Breastmilk is always readily available at the right temperature, without the need to sterilise bottles, and it’s also significantly cheaper than formula milk.
    • Bonding with your baby is enhanced and aids in developing healthy relationships for both mom and baby.

    Breastfeeding benefits for the community

    • Breastfed babies are less likely to get sick, therefore moms are likely to take less days off work and medical costs for the family are likely to be less.
    • It is good for the earth as fewer dairy cows, which are necessary for the production of infant formula, are required. Even though this may sound strange, cows release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming.

    Dr Lindeque says many mothers are unduly concerned that they will not produce enough breastmilk. “Fortunately it is safe to say that most healthy women can produce enough breastmilk. Each time a baby feeds and empties the breasts, the body produces more milk. After two to four weeks of breastfeeding, most healthy women produce about three cups of milk a day,” she assures.

    “There are certain circumstances when women are unable to produce sufficient breastmilk. This may be when they are tired or sick, have a great deal of stress, take certain medicines, smoke or do not breastfeed enough,” she explains.

    “However,” encourages Dr Lindeque, “women who have difficulties in producing sufficient milk should talk to their doctors as there are certain options available to aid with the production of milk.”

    So when can breastfeeding begin? According to Dr Lindeque most women can start breastfeeding in the delivery room. “Women should start breastfeeding at least within the first few hours of giving birth. During this time, most babies are awake and want to breastfeed.”

    “If you cannot be with your baby right after birth, there are things you can do so that you can still provide breastmilk to your baby. You can use a breast pump to express breastmilk that your baby can drink later. Using a breast pump also helps the breasts continue to produce milk.”

    “Another issue that is becoming more and more prevalent is women who have undergone cosmetic breast surgery. If you have had breast surgery, you can try to breastfeed and see if you produce enough milk. Many women who had surgery to enlarge or reduce their breasts can produce sufficient milk, but some unfortunately cannot,” adds Dr Lindeque.

    There are some instances when doctors do not recommend breastfeeding, such as when the mother has an infection, is being treated for cancer, uses illegal drugs or consumes too much alcohol. In addition, doctors do not recommend breastfeeding for babies who are born with certain medical conditions. It is therefore important to ask your doctor for advice if you are concerned that your breastmilk may be detrimental to your baby.

    The experienced staff members at Netcare maternity units are well placed to lend advice on breastfeeding and other aspects of baby care. Netcare’s maternity staff members place a strong emphasis on providing quality care and nurturing mothers and babies before and after birth. It is our goal to give the little ones the best start in life, and breastfeeding is a vital aspect of this.

    “Don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider or a registered lactation consultant if you need help or support with breastfeeding,” concludes Dr Lindeque.