Human body is the finest creations of nature and no amount of intervention and replacement with artificial parts or organs can supplant the original form. Likewise the breast milk is one of the purest, healthiest, safest and most economical food for the new born babies and directly impacts the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of new mothers.

Breast milk is a priceless gift that you can offer your baby, even the finest artificial formulations cannot match due to absence of growth factors and immunoglobins that are present in breast milk. Feel glad if you can breast feed your baby there is so much of science and art behind breast feeding which you shall cherish during your motherhood. The significance of breast milk, its health benefits to the baby and the mother have been detailed in great depth in several thick books of medicine, human physiology, nutrition and in recent decade through social media.

Breast feeding and its success is purely dependent on the health status of the mother, and it is closely associated with her dietary habits, socio economic status, geo-political environment and pre-existing medical conditions. Hence it’s important that the woman in every family should take care of her health and nutritional status as the first thing even before she shoulders the responsibilities of a family and Motherhood. When a woman is pregnant she is looked after with lot of care and love and this is expressed mainly by feeding her as per her carvings, likes and dislikes. However one needs to be careful and keep a check on extreme food behaviours like over indulgence in food, starving leading to several physiological changes that might affect the growth of foetus. Hence understanding the importance of balanced food during pregnancy and eating at regular intervals, along with light exercise and pre-natal yoga provides extended benefits post pregnancy.

However with changing times I have witnessed an unassumingly curious mothers and grandmothers and extended families worried about the nutrition and health of mothers and new born within hours of the baby being delivered. Which is a good sign that we have learnt to take care and have been cautious. It’s natural to care for the new mom and baby but going over board and creating a kind of pressure will only invite psychological distress, and we also need to understand that some woman suffer postpartum depression which can be an impending factor in breast feeding.

What are the steps one needs to take care to ensure quality breast feeding?

There are several maternity hospitals which hold sessions for woman to prepare them for nursing during last month of pregnancy. This certainly will not provide 100% support, however the information on holding the baby, easy breast feeding methods, dos and don’ts while feeding a baby, and breast hygiene will ease your starting troubles when you actually start nursing the baby. 

  • Check for Breast deformities and alternate options for breast feeding and pumping of breast milk.
  • Talk to Nursing / Lactation Specialists: When to start breast feeding the baby? Soon after the baby is born, he or she has own signals of expressing hunger, let the baby latch on the breasts, from day one, even if the milk is not expressed. It’s important to encourage skin-to-skin contact and offering your breast as often as your baby wants to feed in the early days. This certainly helps stimulate your breasts to make milk. The latching mechanism and the baby’s efforts in sucking will automatically help you, the third /fourth day is a sure day when mother is ready to feed the baby. The first milk, the colostrum provides a huge blanket of immunity so start feeding your baby without hesitation. Remember not to panic for first few days (i.e. three to five days even if the milk is not expressed, it varies from woman to woman.Understand the Health and Nutritional significance of Breast milk for the baby?Colostrum is the first milk that your baby receives. Irrespective of its colour and texture go ahead with breastfeeding since this is a natural immune mechanism. Colostrum contains high amounts of white blood cells and antibodies and is especially high in immunoglobulin A (IgA) A natural self-defence is created as, IgA coats the immature intestines of the baby. This helps to avert the pathogens from raiding the Baby’s system apart from preventing food allergies. Other immunoglobulins, including IgG and IgM, in breast milk also help protect against bacterial and viral infections. The colostrum production slowly gives way after 14 to 15 days to mature breast milk. The majority have sub-optimal Concentrations of Immunoglobulin to replace natural colostrum. Some formulations are labelled as colostrum supplements but marketed as colostrum replacements. Although referred to as artificial colostrum, and formula feeds can only attempt to duplicate milk of a particular species since these cannot be synthesised in artificial feeds provide, live cells, enzymes and immunoglobulins, growth factors and anti-bodies that are abundant in breast milk. Secondly the nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, calcium, vitamin ABCDEK, essential fatty acids, and other minerals from breast milk are easily absorbed by the infant compared to formula feeds which are difficult to digest and absorb due to high carbohydrates and fat content. Apart from several health benefits of breast milk that make the baby physically strong with excellent immunity to preventing acute infections and chronic disorders like obesity, diabetes and heart ailments in future and mentally sharp with timely milestones. It’s the healthiest, safest, economical and handy that cannot match to any alternative feed.How long to breast feed?Feed your baby along as you can minimum for 6 months and a maximum period of  12-13 months. Wean your baby gradually from 9th month apart from breast milk, a few feeds on regular whole milk and not any infant formula feed apart from solid foods and by end of 15 months the baby should be able to feed on pasteurised milk and home made solid foods (cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetable mashes etc.)What to feed the baby in absence of breast milk?It can be very depressing for the mother if she fails to breast feed the baby; please seek immediate help of an expert and do not delay the process of breast feeding.  Remember until then do not feed the baby any foreign food as per traditions – honey, sugar water, water, cow milk, ghee etc. Give some private time and rest to the mother and baby to bond and help her nurse.Look for alternative nursing methods like wet nurse, breast milk banks and avoid artificial feeds as much as possible and keep trying since it has been observed that few woman express milk late, apart from this in case of health complications of the baby its ideal to follow the advice of neonatologist and paediatrician.How does breast feeding help mothers?Breast feedings helps contraction of the uterus and bleeding to cease more quickly after delivery. Breastfeeding research has proved that to reduce the risk breast and ovarian cancers and incidence is low among breast feeding mothers. It certainly builds a strong emotional bonding their babies. In fact breast feeding helps you lose lots of fat from thighs and abdomen.  The skin and body is toned up as a result of breast feeding. It helps as a natural contraceptive to some extent however it’s not a 100% safe method to adopt in place of other contraceptive methods, seek your gynaecologist's advice.