The bumpy road to breastfeeding
Breastfed is best fed. Find out how it works.

Some women want to use strict diets and exercise regimensand/or diet pills and slimming mixtures to lose the weight they havegained during pregnancy as quickly as possible and wonder if this willinterfere with their breastfeeding.

Other mothers want to know what diet they should follow while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is best
All women should try to breastfeed their babies for as long aspossible, and at least for the first three months of life.Breastfeeding has many advantages, namely:

  • Breast milk provides the most nutritious option for feeding yourbaby and its composition is much more nutritious than any formula.
  • Breast milk is not contaminated with microorganisms (aserious risk when formulas are not prepared under hygienic conditions),is always fresh, and does not require refrigeration.
  • The anti-infection factors and immune cells in breast milkprotect vulnerable infants during the first year of life and providethem with built-in immunity.
  • Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six monthsof life are less likely to develop allergies than babies who arebottle-fed.
  • Breastfeeding prevents the baby from gaining excess weight,which can lead to obesity in later life (women who tend to gain weightshould do everything in their power to breastfeed their babies toprevent the baby from getting fat).
  • Babies that breastfeed develop stronger jaws and their teethdevelop normally (bottle-feeding can lead to abnormal development ofthe teeth and palate).
  • Breastfeeding is highly economical – instead of spendinglarge sums of money of formulas, the mother need only spend a smallamount of money on her own diet.
  • Mother-to-child bonding is much stronger and more immediate in breastfed babies.
  • Breastfeeding is more convenient because it is not necessaryto sterilise bottles and teats and make up formulas. This isparticularly important when mothers and babies need to travel.

Consequently, the greatest gift a mother can give her baby is to breastfeed him or her.

What promotes milk production?
Most mothers who are trying to breastfeed are told a variety of oldwives tales about factors that stimulate milk production. 'Drink fivelitres of water a day!', or 'Drink milk stout!', or 'Don't' eat food Xor food Y!' are popular, but unproven bits of advice that your bestfriend or mother-in-law may give you.

From a physiological point of view, the primary stimulus thatpromotes milk production is having the baby suck at the breast. When ababy sucks at her mother's breast, nerves underneath the skin of theareola send messages to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus,which then stimulates another part of the brain known as the pituitarygland. The pituitary gland produces two hormones, namely prolactin andoxytocin.

Lactation hormones
The hormone prolactin stimulatesmilk production in the breast, while oxytocin stimulates cells in thebreast to contract so that the milk moves through the ducts in thebreast towards the nipple (i.e. the 'let-down').

So, the more your baby sucks, the more milk you will produce.Women who struggle to produce milk need to let their babies suck asoften as possible to get this stimulation system working properly.Frequent sucking is advised to promote abundant milk production.

Factors that influence 'let-down'
A number of factorscan influence milk production and let-down. Stresses such as adifficult birth can delay the start of milk production. Emotionalstresses that affect the mother, like depression (a common factor afterbirth - the so-called 'baby blues'), or anxiety can also hamper goodmilk production.

How a mother feels about breastfeeding is also crucial to hersuccess. If the mother is unsure, or finds the idea unpleasant, she maynever achieve successful breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is one of themost natural and rewarding things a mother can share with her child, soget over your repugnance and hesitation and get down to feeding yourchild with confidence.

Other people such as the staff at the maternity home, familyand friends should give a nursing mother all the support she deservesso that she is calm and relaxed and happy. The role of a supportive andencouraging husband should never be underestimated. If your husband isdistant or not involved, point out to him how much this will mean tothe future health of his child and how much money and effort can besaved by breastfeeding.

If you feel uptight about breastfeeding, do deep breathingand/or relaxing exercises, and your milk will flow. Avoid conflictsituations and things you can't handle at this stage. As a nursingmother, your prime goal is to relax and produce milk for your baby. Allother problems need to be ignored. You can also ask someone else tosolve them for you.

Make breastfeeding your baby a relaxed and pleasant time bysettling down in a quiet part of the house in your favourite chair.Enjoying this process will give your child the best start in life.

(Mahan LK & Escott-Stump S (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition & Diet Therapy. 10th Ed, WB Saunders Co, Philadephia, USA. )

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