Last Updated on August 14th, 2020
BREASTFEEDING :- MYTHS, SOCIETY, FAMILY & MORE
Breastfeeding, a natural biological process, commonly known as nursing, involves feeding a baby with milk from a woman’s breast. While we’ll understand briefly the process of breastfeeding, the focus of this article is to understand the role of the society and the family in breastfeeding, which is commonly taken as a taboo, and to bust some myths that are often taken to be true.
THE PROCESS OF BREASTFEEDING AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Breastfeeding, as mentioned above, simply refers to a woman feeding a baby or an infant with milk from her breast. It is considered to be essential for a baby’s growth, well being and protection of the baby from several diseases and infections. It is equally important for the mother’s health and well-being. Then the question that arises is why did a process as natural and in-built as breastfeeding, particularly in public, become a taboo?
Breastfeeding Becomes a Taboo
It is in a deeply rooted socio-cultural setting that we need to understand the taboo behind breastfeeding. As a prejudiced and commonly held belief, women’s breasts are treated as sexual objects and therefore the idea of nurturing an infant with the breast milk looks gross to many. An activity as natural as breastfeeding, was demeaned and whenever done in public, it was looked at as a gross activity with frowned faces. Though norms were now in place in several countries, to protect women’s rights to nurse even in public areas, it is even till date looked down upon.
With the coming of instant formula, it immediately developed as something ‘civilized’ and was a marker of wealthy, influential and civilized families. Therefore, it instantly replaced breastfed milk. Once again, breastfed milk was looked down upon.
In the recent times, there have been several attempts to restore the due reverence and importance of breastfeed. The society is slowly changing its views toward breastfeeding. There is a ray of hope to build a society where nurturing by mothers is appreciated, and respected.
STEPS TO TAKE TO GET BACK TO BREASTFEEDING
Role of the Healthcare System
Another major issue that was and continues to remain in India is the lack of information, awareness and support structures for breastfeeding. Health workers and lactations counsellors in hospitals are mandatory to have, in order to improve the rate of breast feeding mothers. With the negativity and guilt associated marketing done by formula selling companies, it is very difficult for women to be aware of the benefits and the necessity of breast feeding the baby for 6 months. In cases where the women are unable to breastfeed enough, the guilt is taken as a soft corner by these companies and their artificial formula products are sold. Till the health system takes the stab at spreading awareness, giving counselling and being empathetic to families regarding breastfeeding, it will continue to take a back seat.
Role of Government Authorities
With a ban on such practices, the baby food companies continue to associate themselves with health workers. With the help of these health workers, they give discounts to new parents. They also offer discounts on their products on e-commerce websites. This inappropriate promotion of breastfeeding must end.
The government also needs to ensure that no hospital worker feeds a baby artificially without the consent of the parents, which is a very common practice. After getting the baby feed on artificial formula, it is difficult to reverse to breastfeed the baby. Therefore this is an important step that needs to be taken by the authorities.
Awareness and information about breastfeeding and lactation are extremely critical and should be added as part of the school curriculum of children, so that the kids when grow up, are sensitive to such matters and circumstances. Equally important is the part played by Non-Governmental Organizations which can support the cause and also skill health workers to spread the awareness of breastfeeding.
Role of Baby Food Companies
The role played by MNCs selling baby food is also very important. Since their marketing and branding needs to be in line with the society’s need of breastfeeding exclusively for at least 6 months and adding complementary food items, only after 6 months. This would greatly help in achieving a safe and secure society that promotes breastfeeding.
Role of Workplaces
Working women need to return to work soon after their maternity leave. Therefore, it is important that the process of breastfeed by mothers is understood by companies and is given due respect and importance. Companies may provide exclusive private spaces for mothers to breastfeed the child or expressing milk, spread awareness regarding breast feeding importance. They can give flexibility of schedule in order to cater to the demands of breastfeeding.
When we as a society, come together and support nursing mothers, only then will we be able to provide a respectful environment to the process of breast feeding and help in developing the wellbeing of both, the mothers and children.
How Your Partners Can Help While You Breastfeed?
The first and foremost way in which a partner can help a woman breastfeed is to understand her and be there for her.
- Care for and support the mother who is breastfeeding
- Bring the baby to the mother for nursing and help position the baby
- Bring in whatever is needed – water, tissues and more
- Bathe the baby and carry for a walk
- Change the diaper of the baby and make her/him sleep once fed
- Feed the baby with the bottle of expressed milk, whenever required
By doing little chores and supporting the nursing mother, a partner can get involved in the process of breastfeeding. This allows one to understand nature’s activity and form a stronger connection with both, the mother, and the child. This really helps in enriching the familial bond and that of the father and the child.
LET’S BUST SOME MYTHS!
There are numerous myths around breastfeeding, and we are here to bust them all. Let us be more aware and more careful.
MYTH 1. Formula and baby food have more nutrients than breastmilk.
BUSTED. Breastfeed has the highest amount of nutritional value along with antibodies that protect the baby from falling sick and also provide the right level of nutrition that baby food or formula cannot provide.
MYTH 2. Babies need water or other supplements when breastfeeding.
BUSTED. As mentioned, breastmilk has the right amount of nutrition and it is strongly recommended that a baby is fed breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months. Neither water nor any other supplements are required during this period.
MYTH 3. Too large or too small a breast size means you cannot breastfeed.
BUSTED. Breasts of any size of shape do not mean that you cannot breastfeed. Women of all sizes, flat nipples, large areolas, and every other woman can breastfeed. A plus size woman might need some help initially in positioning the baby correctly, but with the right position any woman of any size can breastfeed.
MYTH 4. Breastfeeding spoils a child, especially after few months of age.
BUSTED. A baby is naturally attached to the mother, owing to the time spent inside a mother’s womb. Kids naturally latch to a mother’s breast, even before breastfeeding them coercively. Breastfeeding only strengthens this bond between a mother and a child. In no way, does this spoil any child. WHO recommends that a baby is exclusively fed for at least 6 months, and further on demand for 2 years and beyond. This does not spoil your child.
MYTH 5. It is only advisable to breastfeed for 6 months.
BUSTED. WHO and other health organizations clearly recommend exclusive breastfeed baby for at least 6 months of age. Post this age, it is recommended that breastfeeding is continued along with complementary food added to the diet of the child. The child should be breastfed even for 2 years, and beyond, on demand. This only benefits the mother and the child.
MYTH 6. Breastfeeding is a painful process.
BUSTED. Breastfeeding is not supposed to be a painful process. While the latching initially could feel uncomfortable, but with time and practice, that is resolved. In fact, if the process of breastfeeding is painful, it is recommended to consult your doctor since this is not normal.
The only issue women face after breastfeeding is problem of saggy breast. but there are many natural ways to deal with saggy breast issue. There are simple yoga and exercises to get firm breast shape after you are done with breastfeeding baby for 1 year.
MYTH 7. A woman should not breastfeed if she is sick.
BUSTED. In case of common illnesses like cold flu or diarrhea, these illnesses cannot be passed to the baby through breastfeed. Instead, the antibodies in the breastmilk would only protect your child from any illnesses.
However, in case of H1N1, you should avoid being around your baby. In case of being HIV positive or having active tuberculosis, you should not breastfeed without consulting your doctor.
MYTH 8. Breastfeeding would ensure birth control.
BUSTED. While mothers breastfeed, it delays regular ovulation and menstruation, and therefore acts as a natural birth control, it is in no way an ensured contraceptive technique.
MYTH 9. One needs to restrict their sex life because of breastfeeding.
BUSTED. Your sex life is independent of breastfeeding. However, what you need to keep in mind is that during breastfeeding, because of low estrogen levels in a woman’s body, the vagina has dryness and may need additional lubrication. You must also take care of leaking nipples. However, you need not restrict your sex life at all.
MYTH 10. One needs to wait for some time before breastfeeding the baby after the birth.
BUSTED. You should immediately begin breastfeeding within the first half an hour of a child’s birth. Premature born children might need support before they can begin breastfeeding.
Do You Need to Take Any Supplements When Breastfeeding?
While your diet can continue as in pregnancy, you would need some extra nutrients. Here is what you need additionally.
- Protein – You must intake 2 to 3 servings of protein every day. You can increase the protein intake through natural sources including eggs, meat, fish, seafood, tofu, and poultry.
- Calcium – When Mothers breastfeed child, it is important to increase the intake of calcium to a recommended 1,300 milligrams every day. Natural sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and tofu. You may also want to introduce calcium supplements to your routine, with your doctor’s prescription.
- Iron – It is equally important for women to increase their iron intake during breastfeeding. Egg yolks, meat, poultry, dried fruit, and beans are good sources of iron. Supplements can be taken as required.
- Vitamin C – By increasing the consumption of citrus fruits, tomatoes, kiwi, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, and bell peppers, you can increase the intake of Vitamin C. Alternatively, choose supplements, if required.
- Multivitamin tablets or supplements should also be added to your daily nutrition in order to provide the right nutrition to your baby and yourself during breastfeeding.
The most important part of this article is the conclusion that we must draw for the well being of the children. We as a society, at workplace, as NGOs, as government bodies, as for-profit companies, need to come together and support breastfeeding as a practice. Also we need to do away with the taboo of breast feeding baby.
We need to promote a comfortable environment for nursing women to breastfeed anywhere they need to. We need to understand that this is a natural process and a necessary step for mothers to ensure healthy baby. Much more than anything else, nursing mothers need the support of both, their families, and the society to nurture the kids and take care of themselves. Let us build a better and more comforting society for every mother and every child born.
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