Health & Fitness

Breastfeeding the right way for healthy babies

Supporting mothers to effectively breastfeed their children can help increase the practice. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Most mothers look forward to breastfeeding their children after birth to enable the babies enjoy the health benefits of the milk.

Research has shown that breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life.

It offers protection against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, especially when the infant receives colostrum (or first milk), which is rich in immune boosters.

Breast milk also has long-term health impacts such as reducing the risk of being overweight and developing obesity in childhood and adolescence.

To reap maximum benefits, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that women should exclusively breastfeed their children for six months.


But for this to happen, the child needs to be introduced or initiated into breastfeeding early enough - within an hour after birth as per the recommended guidelines.

However, this seemingly easy task can prove to be an uphill task for women.

"Before you give birth, you assume that once the baby is born, it will automatically latch on the breast by some natural instincts. But this isn't always the case," says Ms Maureen Mumo, a mother of two who had difficulties breastfeeding her first child.

"Mothers need to get it right at the beginning because the sooner the child starts breastfeeding, the greater the chances that it will be able to stick to the habit for long," says Ms Gladys Mugambi, head of the nutrition and dietetics unit at the Ministry of Health.

According to her, health centres need to put in place measures that will support mothers to begin breastfeeding their children early enough.

Dr Nelly Bosire, a Nairobi-based consultant gynaecologist notes that once the child has been delivered, it should have skin-to-skin contact with the mother as soon as possible.

She can hold the baby or it can be put on her chest.

"This touch enables the baby to begin bonding with the mother immediately. This helps with breastfeeding."

Through the use of spinal anaesthesia as opposed to the general one, mothers undergoing caesarean section can also have the opportunity to hold their newborns as soon as they are off the delivery table since they will still be alert.

Dr Bosire notes that hospitals should practice Rooming-In, which entails putting mothers and their newborns together at all times.

This increases the frequency of breastfeeding hence increasing the amount of milk produced by the mother.

It further promotes bonding and closeness, which enhances breastfeeding.

"Some hospitals have a habit of keeping the two apart. The child is placed in the nursery for some time before being taken to the mother's room even when nothing is wrong with either of them. This should change."

Dr Bosire urges mothers to refrain from giving the baby formula milk as this may make them lose interest in breast milk.

"They may become reluctant to pull the milk from the breast through suckling when they were previously accustomed to using less force with feeding bottles."

She, however, notes that sometimes it may be impossible or difficult for mothers to breastfeed their children, hence necessitating the need for formula milk albeit temporarily.

This may happen when women develop severe complications such as high blood pressure that may require the mother to be put under close observation in the intensive care units (ICU) away from the baby until she recovers.

Pre-term babies or those that become sick soon after birth may also need to be admitted in newborn unit ICUs to enable them get adequate care.

A new study published recently in the Journal for Obstetrics, Gynaecologic, and Neonatal Nursing found that delaying bath times of healthy babies for twelve hours or more increases the rate of exclusive breastfeeding.

Nearly 1,000 healthy mother-newborn pairs took part in the study, including 448 babies bathed shortly after birth and 548 who delayed the bath.

Results showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates increased from 59.8 percent before the intervention to 68.2 percent after the intervention.

Mr Heather DiCioccio, lead author of the study from the US- based Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital notes that this may have happened due to increased skin-to-skin time between the mother and baby.

In addition, he states that the similarity in smell between the amniotic fluid (lingering in unwashed babies) and the breast may also have encouraged babies to latch on their mothers’ breasts easily.

“Babies in the delayed bath group were also more likely to have stable or normalised temperatures after bath. They weren't as cold as the babies who were bathed sooner after birth. So, they may not have been as tired while trying to nurse."

Statistics from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) show that about 40 percent of Kenyan children are not exclusively breastfed for the initial six months of their lives as recommended by the WHO.

Supporting mothers to effectively breastfeed their children can help increase the practice hence enhancing the wellbeing of children.