Is breast best for everyone?

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -


The connection shared between mother and baby during the first few months of birth is mind-boggling. From late-night feeding to cuddling and soothing, women experience an emotional rollercoaster that can evoke strength, highlight vulnerabilities, or trigger maternal instincts. One connection of note is formed during nursing, where the baby is tenderly cradled, and both mother and baby are linked via skin-to-skin contact.

A magnificent show of human connection, breastfeeding provides much-needed nutrients required for a baby's healthy growth and development, so much so that the World Health Organisation recommends feeding be initiated within the first hour of birth. This ensures, the new-born would reap the benefits of colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy.

The benefits of breastfeeding are widely canvassed, and it is recommended that exclusive and continued nursing be the modus operandi for the first six months of life. Not only does exclusive and continued breastfeeding help protect against childhood infections and chronic diseases, it also manages post-partum stress disorder and reduces financial burdens by obviating the need for commercial substitutes.

With all the benefits of breastfeeding presented on a silver platter, it seems an affront to common sense that any woman would opt out of nursing and use a breast milk substitute. After all, breastfeeding should come naturally to a woman in the same way maternal instincts do.

This is a common misconception, one that leads to mummy-shaming, chastisement and depression. Like maternal instincts, breastfeeding does not always happen naturally and is nothing short of a struggle for some women. To be blunt, many new mothers tussle with numerous issues associated with breastfeeding and are led by frustration to use breast milk substitutes.

For the most part, there is available literate on the difficulties relating to breastfeeding, but society isn't always ready to face the truths about an unspectacular subject matter.

As the medical saying goes, breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby learn together, and it can take time to get used to. One common issue that hinders this process is the baby's inability to latch. The latching-on technique ensures the baby's mouth is appropriately placed on the nipple, allowing milk to flow at an optimum level. This process is crucial because it guarantees the baby removes enough milk from the breast during breastfeeding and "tells" the breast to increase or maintain milk production.

This isn't always a seamless process, and issues with latching on can interfere with breastfeeding, decrease breastfeeding confidence and lead to early weaning.

Breast soreness is another issue that isn't regularly discussed and is usually present during the first week of breastfeeding. This can be severely distressing, mainly if the baby isn't adequately nourished after feeding.

Several factors contribute to sore breasts, but research suggests that continued feeding alleviates this problem eventually.

Soreness is one thing; a burning or stabbing pain in the nipple known as nipple vasospasm is another. Nipple vasospasm is caused when your breasts' blood vessels tighten up, and blood flow is restricted. This makes breastfeeding virtually impossibility and can cause emotional scars, making it difficult to breastfeed in the future, even after seeing a lactation consultant.

Inflamed tissue, bacterial growth and a built-up of milk in your breast are all the signs of mastitis. Mastitis is inflammation in your breast tissues, which could quickly lead to an infection. It is marked by red, stiff, swollen breasts that result in excruciating pain and renders breastfeeding infeasible.

This condition sometimes causes a blocked duct, a lump resulting from a build-up of milk in the breast. Interestingly, this isn't caused by an actual blockage, but a back-up of milk seeping into breast tissues, making them inflamed.

International Lactation Consultants say mastitis can often occur when a mother "has an oversupply of milk, gives infrequent feeding, or the baby has a poor attachment to the breast that leads to ineffective milk removal."

Against the backdrop of pain, bleeding, and engorged nipples, "the breast is best policy" seems almost inhumane, especially against those mothers who suffer tremendously from the onset. Breastfeeding is a beautiful experience, but the post-labour chapter is immensely difficult for some mothers and isn't always a bed of roses. Sticking to the hard and fast rules associated with breastfeeding could lead to a harrowing outcome. All that matters is paying attention to the most critical people in the narrative – your body and baby – and do what's best for them.


"Is breast best for everyone?"

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