According to The Star, only 36.6% of mothers breastfeed their babies in 2017. This is actually an alarmingly low number of breastfed babies. Why? That’s because the National Breastfeeding Policy actually recommends exclusive breastfeeding for your baby’s first six months.
Breastfeeding is, essentially, a mother feeding her child with milk produced by her body through the breasts, called breastmilk. Breastfeeding is also called nursing. Generally, a mother’s breast starts producing milk somewhere between the second and third trimester of her pregnancy.
Breastmilk should make up the baby’s entire diet in the first six months of their life. It contains more than enough nutrients to sustain the baby’s health without other foods or liquids like water or juice.
Why is breastfeeding so important?
There are a lot of benefits to breastfeeding for both the mother and her child. Most importantly, a mother’s milk changes in composition and nutrients according to the growth and needs of her baby, unlike formula. That’s why doctors often advise mothers to nurse their babies as often and as long as possible.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for babies because it’s chock-full of nutrients and antibodies, with just the right amount of protein, vitamins, and fat to help the baby grow and develop healthily. It’s also filling, readily available at any time, easily digested, and costs next to nothing when compared with pricey milk formulas.
Here are some interesting facts and benefits you should know about breastmilk and breastfeeding.
Your first milk is a thick, sticky substance called colostrum
Also known as liquid gold, colostrum has a thicker, stickier consistency. The yellowish tint is due to the large presence of beta-carotene in it. Production of colostrum usually starts as early as the beginning of the mother’s second trimester during pregnancy and lasts up until 2-5 days after giving birth.
Compared with mature breastmilk, colostrum has a lower sugar content, higher concentration of protein, and tons of antibodies. It’s especially high in immunoglobulin A (IgA) that protects your baby from infections, diseases, and illnesses by forming a protective layer in the nose, throat, and digestive system. Think of it as your baby’s first shot of immunisation.
Besides all of the goodness mentioned above, colostrum also plays an important role in helping your baby reduce jaundice. The main cause of jaundice is the high concentration of bilirubin in the baby’s body. Colostrum has natural laxative properties that help excrete meconium, the baby’s first stool that contains a high concentration of bilirubin.
What are the components of breastmilk?
We can’t talk about the wonders of breastmilk without telling you what kind of nutrients it contains.
Apart from the abundance of antibodies, there are 4 other main categories of nutrition present in breastmilk. They are protein, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins.
There are two types of proteins found in breastmilk, namely whey (~60%) and casein (~40%). Whey is a readily digestible protein that goes easy on the baby’s premature digestive system. Meanwhile, casein has a slightly more complex structure that helps to keep the baby stay full for a few hours. Both these proteins provide excellent protection against infections and illnesses.
Breastfeeding helps babies gain weight quickly due to the high amount of fats that are present in breastmilk. Fats are important in a newborn baby’s diet because they are the main source of calories for the baby, are essential for proper brain development, and they aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
Another kind of fat found in breastmilk is called long chain fatty acids (LCFA). This includes DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid), and they are “critical during pregnancy, lactation and infancy for proper development of the fetus and infant”. These fatty acids aid proper development of the baby’s brain, retina, and nervous system.
Lactose makes up the majority of carbohydrates in breastmilk at around 40%. The main benefits of lactose include reducing unhealthy bacteria and helping the growth of good bacteria in the gut, fight off invading diseases and illnesses, and increasing absorption of important trace minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
There is a direct relation between a mother’s vitamin intake and the amount her baby receives through breastfeeding. That’s why new mothers should eat various nutritious food and are often encouraged to take vitamins and supplements while breastfeeding. Click here to learn more about proper nutrition after giving birth.
What are the health benefits of breastfeeding?
There are a ton of benefits to breastfeeding, whether it’s for the new mother or her baby.
Benefits for the baby
Due to the high concentration of antibodies and nutrients in breastmilk, it’s often referred to as the baby’s first immunisation. Research suggests that breastfeeding may help lower the baby’s risk of contracting infections and diseases such as:
Asthma – A condition where the airways become inflamed and restricted, causing wheezing, coughing, and breathing difficulties.
Childhoood leukaemia – A cancer of the white blood cells, most common among young children and teens.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – Inflammatory bowel diseases caused by the chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
Diabetes – Type-1 diabetes is more common in young children, which is the pancrea’s inability to produce insulin.
Middle ear infection – A condition common in young children aged 6 months to 3 years that causes fever, diarrhoea, loss of balance, and difficulty hearing.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – A sudden and unexpected death of a baby younger than 12 months old.
Benefits for the mummy
Photo by Freepik
On the other hand, breastfeeding induces the secretion of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, that’s also greatly beneficial to the mother. Oxytocin is also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ and it’s highly responsible for developing and strengthening the parental bond between mother and baby.
These are the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother:
Reduces risk of breast cancer – A study shows that for every 12 months a mother breastfeeds her baby, her chances of developing breast cancer reduces by 4.3%.
Reduces risk of ovarian cancer – Breastfeeding greatly reduces the risk of ovarian cancer for the mother by 63% (more than 13 months, multiple children) and 91% (more than 31 months, multiple children).
Lowers risk of postpartum depression (PPD) – There’s a significant link between breastfeeding and PPD, as mothers who breastfeed often are less likely to develop the condition, but mothers who get PPD early on also have trouble breastfeeding.
Prevents osteoporosis – Oxytocin helps to lower the risk of getting osteoporosis as it aids in calcium absorption in the bones.
Contracts the uterus – Oxytocin stimulates involution, which is the contraction of your uterus back to the shape and size of an upside-down pear.
The main takeaway is that breastfeeding provides a myriad of benefits for both the mother and baby. It plays an important part in ensuring the baby gets enough nutrients and vitamins for healthy growth as the composition varies accordingly to the changes in the baby’s nutrition needs.
If you’re thinking how to ensure you can get complete and adequate nutrition while nursing and in confinement, try our 28-Day Confinement Healing Soup, catered just for new mothers who want to stay vigorous and strong. You can choose to boil the 28 days of soups on their own or with a little bit of lean meat, whichever you prefer.
Besides, it also comes with a plethora of other health benefits, such as replenishing your Qi, improving complexion, reducing water retention, and most importantly, stimulating lactation to increase the production of breastmilk.