I recently had a conversation with a young mum. Her baby boy is three months shy of his second birthday. I was fascinated to find out that her son had stopped breastfeeding the previous month. I was curious to know what are some of the things she wished she knew about breastfeeding before she became a mother.
During pregnancy, a hormone called prolactin is produced in little but increasing amounts as the pregnancy progresses. Upon delivery of the baby high prolactin levels are produced and milk production begins. Breast milk comes in three stages, Colostrum, transition milk and mature milk. Colostrum is yellow in colour and it provides nutrients and antibodies necessary for the first days of your baby’s life. Transition milk comes 3 to 5 days after birth while mature milk is produced from the 10th day. However, this process is not always as smooth for most first time moms.
First thing she told me she wished she knew about was how to increase her milk production. Most first time mothers are advised to stuff themselves with all manner of foods from porridge 4 times a day, special lactation cookies among others. Breastfeeding works on the law of supply and demand. Breastfeed more often as this stimulates production of hormones that trigger production of more milk. This is known as the let-down reflex. Pumping in between feeds also goes a long way into boosting milk production. A balanced diet and staying hydrated is adequate.
Second thing she told me was that, supplementation should not be stigmatised. Imagine having triplets and its’ feeding time, who goes first and who goes last? Supplementation can be either giving formula or expressed milk. Most parents decide to supplement during the first few days for various reasons but the major reason is nutrition. Most mothers are still recovering during these first few days and haven’t gotten the hang of breastfeeding.
Some mothers supplement breastfeeding due to low milk supply. The decision to supplement is not an easy one and some mothers do not have a choice. It could be due to having multiples or underlying medical conditions either with the baby or the mother- including the mental health of the mother. Resuming work could also be a factor as it might be difficult to express milk for the baby in the morning before work.
A good latch is at the core of maintaining sufficient milk production during the breastfeeding period. It takes a while to know what is comfortable for both the mother and baby. There are several factors that could make latching on difficult and this can be a frustrating process especially for first time mothers. It could be the nature of the nipple or the child having a tongue tie which makes it hard to feed. In case of challenges you can get assistance from a lactation specialist or breastfeeding specialist.
Everyones journey is different, and we acknowledge that breast milk adds significant nutritional value to a baby’s first few months. That notwithstanding, I dare to simply say, fed is best.