Children who are exclusively breastfed not only grow strong and healthy, but also their mothers are happier. Agnes Kyotalengerire explores the benefits of breastfeeding
Tina Baine, a mother of three, recalls the pressure her mother-in-law put her under to breastfeed her babies in the first year of their lives.
“My children never suffered diarrhoea and colds when I was breastfeeding them,” Baine recalls.
Jemimah Nakitto, a mother of two-year-old Jotham, is thankful to the mid-wife who discouraged her from giving him formula even when breastfeeding was difficult for her. Nakitto’s nipples were sore and she would produce little milk no matter how hard Jotham suckled. Now that Jotham is a strong and healthy toddler, Nakitto does not regret insisting on breastfeeding.
Nutritionists and medical experts say if done adequately, breastfeeding benefits both the baby and the mother. Benefits for the baby
Breastfeeding in the first hour of life provides immunity against diseases. Apophia Kyampaire, the manager food and nutrition security at Baylor-Uganda explains that colostrum, the first yellow milk, which is produced when a mother has just given birth, is rich in vitamin A and contains more protein than subsequent milk.
“Colostrum prevents bacterial infections in new-borns because it contains antibodies, white blood cells and other anti-infective proteins, not found in mature milk,” she explains. Kyampaire adds that colostrum also helps clear the baby’s gut of the first dark stool (meconium). This helps to prevent jaundice. In the same breath, she warns against giving babies anything other than breastmilk immediately they are born. “Artificial feeds given before a baby has taken colostrum may cause allergies.”
Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby needs and it is easily digested,” Kyampaire explains.
Breastfeeding promotes development of the baby’s brain and nervous system, while continuous suckling aids proper development of the jaw and facial features, says Jane Okello, a breastfeeding expert.
A baby who is breastfed gains weight normally, Okello adds, which curbs obesity related health issues.
Benefits for the mother
The benefits of breastfeeding are not only for the baby, but mothers too stand to gain if they breastfeed for a reasonably long period.
Mothers who breastfeed, especially soon after birth, are less likely to experience fatal post-partum haemorrhage (bleeding after birth), according to Dr. Dan Murokora, the director for Uganda Women Health Initiative. He explains that breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin hormone, making the uterus contract faster and hence reduce bleeding.
Breastfeeding helps with child spacing. “Mothers who breastfeed exclusively and have not had their periods have few chances of becoming pregnant in the first six months after giving birth,” explains Dr. Evelyn Nabunya, a gynaecologist at Mulago Hospital. She says breastfeeding increases the release of prolactin, a hormone, that prevents ovulation and conception.
She adds that breastfeeding offers protection against breast and ovarian cancers. “Women who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 25%,” she explains. The reduction in risk is proportionate to the cumulative duration of breastfeeding, the more years a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk of getting breast cancer.
Dr. Murokora explains that breastfeeding helps to prevent uterine and ovarian cancer by lowering oestrogen levels during lactation, and that the less oestrogen available to stimulate the lining of the uterus and perhaps the breast tissue, the less the risk of these tissues becoming cancerous.
He adds that breastfeeding reduces the risks of osteoporosis. “Non-breastfeeding women have a four times higher chance of developing osteoporosis than breastfeeding women and are more likely to suffer from hip fractures in the post-menopausal years,” he says. Osteoporosis is the condition whereby bones become thin, brittle and fragile as a result of hormonal changes during menopause
Women who breastfeed face a lower risk of suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression compared to formula-feeding mothers, according to Josephine Nalugo, a breastfeeding consultant. This can be attributed to the release of oxytocin or the happiness hormone during breastfeeding, which significantly reduces the risk of depression.
Breastfeeding could reduce the risk of depression is that it promotes bonding between mother and child.
“It helps to form a close relationship between the mother and the baby. A mother who is happy bonds better with her baby,” says Nalugo.
The benefits of breastfeeding also stretch to one’s pocket. According to Alex Mokori, a nutritionist. “Breastfeeding provides nourishment for a child at the same time relieving parents the cost of health issues associated with artificial infant feeding, for example, ear infections and diarrhoea,” says Mokori
Mokori adds that breastfeeding is convenient because the milk is always available and does not need any preparation, saving the mother the bother of carrying bottles and formula whenever she is on the move.
Real life experience: Suckling was Amber’s first and last activity every day
By Catherine Nassuuna
I remember that Monday morning when I first held my baby girl Amber Moriah Laker and put her to my breast. I was a little scared of how it would be! It was ticklish, but I knew my baby needed to feed. I held her firmly — her little butt in my palm, tummy to tummy, she was yearning. Her little pink mouth wide open, I held the breast to her mouth.
She suckled nonstop and the feeding lasted for hours. It felt like eternity the first days. Day after day I used to wonder about the babies who used to hold their mother’s breasts while feeding yet mine did not. I tried forcing her but in vain until the day she did so by herself.
Amber is amazing, when she was five months old I went back to work. Somehow she realised I had to leave every morning. She never wanted the morning session to end.
She would suckle endlessly until I had to let go for I would be extremely late for work. I made it a point to come home early and on return she took it on. It was the only thing she knew how best to do. There are times I came home later than usual only to find her waiting. Sleep was hard to come to her at night before feeding. The breast become the first and last thing to think of everyday.
One Saturday, after her first teeth had come, she cried and I put her to the breast, but she refused to suckle. I tried to find out why she was crying, but failed. I knew she was hungry. I put her back to the breast. I will never forget what she did to me — she took the breast into her mouth suckled on it and instantly bit me so hard while opening her eyes and staring at me.
I screamed! It was painful. I looked at her and wanted to slap her hard, but she was just a baby. Sometimes babies too get upset and not even the breast will help. But just giving them time to get over it helps.
At one year Amber could speak some words, mummy was one of them. She used to pull my blouse, pat my breast and shake me saying: “Mummy, mummy, mummy,” and I think because in my stories I talked about ‘boob’ it was another of those few words, when she learnt boob.
I wish you see and hear this baby of mine calling out mummy mum..mummy boobuuu!!! She won’t stop opening my blouse and when she sees no button she wants to undress me just to get to the boob. When I call her she is so busy that she just says, hmmmm! With her eyes opening and shuting. Totally in a “boobing” world.