Monday, November 09, 2015

Why Breastfeed?

I am a breastfeeding mom to my 2 kids. I became an Exclusive Pumping (EP) mum for DC till she was 14 months. For JC, as he was born a premature baby at 28 weeks, I was also expressing breast milk for him for almost 2 months until he was able to develop sucking instincts. From there on, he prefers to direct latch as compared to be bottle fed. He self-weaned when he was around 18 months. You can read more about my breastfeeding journey for DC here and here.

Breastfeeding is more becoming a norm in our society now. I know of many friends and relatives who breastfeed their babies. I am glad the grandparents are also more understanding and supportive of mums who breastfeed, though I am sure some of these grandparents will say “Breast milk is good!” just because their friends say so, without probably understand the real benefits for both mum and baby J

Here’s why (and if they start to doubt, they can also look up World Health Organisation as reference) 

Health Benefits for Infants and Babies

Breast milk is ideal for infant and babies. It contains antibodies that help protect babies from illness such as diarrhea, pneumonia, infections, allergies and much more. Colostrum – the first milk being produced at the beginning stage of breastfeeding – is extremely high in nutrition for newborn, making it perfect first food for baby. Some even dubbed colostrum as ‘liquid gold’. Colostrum has a laxative effect on the baby, which helps in the excretion of excess bilirubin through baby’s early stools and helps prevent jaundice. Colostrum also contains high concentrations of leukocytes, protective white cells which can destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses

For JC’s case, as he was in the NICU incubator there is no way he can latch. I had to resort to both my Avent breast pump and the Marmet method to get him the colostrum he needed. The pump is used as a means to stimulate the sucking of the baby, and Marmet method and a syringe to help extract precious colustrum from the nipple. We ended up buying boxes of syringes from the pharmacy, all for the sake of feeding our little JC! The nurses in NICU will feed JC via tube using a special machine (see picture below). It releases breast milk from the syringe into the tube on a timely basis. When almost empty it will sound a beep so the nurse will replace it with another syringe. 

When he was slightly older but sucking instinct not yet developed, the nurse will then direct feed him through tube. They will slowly pour out tiny quantities of milk through the tube, and then monitor closely his intake. It is like drinking milk through a straw lying down, so basically don’t even need to suck to get the milk. When he turned two months, they tried feeding him via cup. Once he developed the sucking instinct only then the nurse allowed me to try getting him to latch and nurse.

I am thankful that both my children do not have an allergies or complications when they were babies. They are healthy and active children. Even if anyone of them should fall sick, they recover much quickly than us adults. There was once DC got diarrhea as a result of a viral infection when she was around 10 months old. She can still breastfeed without worry as breast milk is compatible to the stomach, unlike cow-based milk, which the lactose will irritate the stomach even more.

Long Term Benefits for Children

We look beyond the immediate benefits of breastfeeding for babies, how does it help when they are older? Children who are breastfed are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are also less likely to have type-II diabetes. It also helps with their brain development and they tend to perform better in intelligent tests.

Both DC and JC were chubby as babies, but the minute they started crawling and walking, whoosh! Suddenly both of them looked so lean! Sometimes my husband asked why can’t they put on more weight, but I always tell him most importantly they are healthy.

They are also extremely clever. There are some things they learn without us teaching them! This is true especially for JC. As he is a preemie, we have always been concerned with his development. During each milestone check-up, doctor mentioned it is good that JC is active and head circumference is growing above the 50th percentile. It means his brain development is good. Here is one example, after standing on the sofa for a while trying to figure out how to get his toy (the grandfather was next to him watching closely), he suddenly realised that he can actually climb up the sofa instead! This was an impromptu photo shoot as we did not expect him to do that! There are many other things JC does that simply amazes us, his mind is very sharp and will find ways to get to things, even though sometimes he does not understand his methods may not be safe (we had to always watch over him in case he starts climbing the grilles or over the play yard)

Benefits for Mothers

If there is one reason for breastfeeding, I would say it is to help with lose weight. Yes, you heard it right! There was a study done examining the relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum weight retention. Results showed that women with higher breastfeeding scores (how long and how intense they breastfeed) were more likely to lose their pregnancy weight six months after giving birth. It is said a nursing mother can burn 300 – 500 calories a day. Wow!

How is that so? When I was breastfeeding, I was constantly hungry and I kept on munching. However instead of gaining weight, I lost weight instead (though it took me a longer time to lose my weight when I was nursing DC as compared to JC). The reason is simple: Our bodies are producing milk for our babies. When there is demand, there will be supply. Our body takes up what we eat and converts it to food for our babies. Milk production requires energy (i.e. calories). Weight loss occurs when we use up more energy than what we consume. Hence there is no need to immediately go on a diet else your body does not have enough energy to produce milk!

Apart from weight loss, breastfeeding reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, breastfeeding lowers the levels of certain cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body, which can also help reduce risk of breast cancer. At the end of breastfeeding, your body gets rid of any cells in your breasts that may have DNA damage. This reduces the risk of breast cancer developing in the future.

Image source :

Breastfeeding moms can also attest to one more benefit of breastfeeding – it is so convenient! Imaging going out on a trip, all you need is a nursing top, a nursing cover and your baby! Compare this with bringing a bag full of formula milk powder, warm water, bottles, teats, warmers etc (you get the picture). Nursing can be done anytime, anywhere. I usually still prefer a nursing room for privacy, but so long you are comfortable to breastfeed anywhere, it will not be an issue.

One last interesting fact: Do you know that exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control? It is said to provide 98% protection in the first six months after birth. Perhaps husbands will be most happy to hear this news LOL

So how does one get started with breastfeeding? There is plenty of information on the internet, but closer to home; you can also search for useful information from our Ministry of Health website ( Government or private hospitals also conduct breastfeeding classes from time to time so it is good to enquire with them. It is strongly advisable to exclusively breastfeed babies for at least 6 months.

Start discussing with your husband, your family, and your friends. Get their understanding and support. If possible, get a contact of a lactation consultant in case you needed help from a professional. It is not a one person journey, it is support from your loved ones which will keep you going. I am glad I have the support and understanding from my loved ones, which help in my breastfeeding journey. Am I reaping the rewards? Sometimes it is too early to tell but I am glad I chose the path to breastfeed, and I really hope you will do the same too :)

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