Rather than imposing the obligation of breastfeeding on lactating moms, there is a need to understand the uniqueness of each mother’s journey and prioritise her well-being
“Feeding with love: Breast or Bottle, the bonds remain unwavering.”
World Breastfeeding Week is a week celebrated annually from August 1 to August 7 in more than 120 countries. It was organised by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and UNICEF to promote exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for the first six months of life. EBF in the first six months is known to yield many health benefits, offer nutrients, and protect from deadly diseases. The WHO and UNICEF target 70 per cent exclusive breastfeeding worldwide by 2030.
India and breast-feeding stats
According to the National Family Health Survey-5 data (2019–21), the rise in exclusive breastfeeding in India among children under 6 months is 54.9 per cent, up from 46.4 per cent in 2015-16. Research reveals higher rates in rural areas compared to that among urban infants.
Mental health and breast feeding are deeply connected
The act of breastfeeding has a deep impact on maternal mental health.
Breastfeeding releases oxytocin and prolactin, improving the mother’s mood and reducing the risk of postpartum depression. It also promotes a sense of bonding and attachment, along with a sense of accomplishment.
At the same time, breastfeeding can be a demanding journey for many new mothers. Stress is the No. 1 killer of breastmilk supply, especially in the first few weeks after delivery. Common struggles such as latching issues, low milk supply, or painful breastfeeding experiences can cause stress, frustration, and self-doubt and potentially impact a mother’s mental health. Coupled with sleep deprivation, pressure, guilt, postpartum depression, and anxiety, it can hinder a mother’s acceptance of her role as a new mother.
Emotional impact: understanding women’s feelings when unable to breastfeed
* Societal expectation: It is often expected that a new mother must “naturally” know how to feed a baby. The old wives tales often revolved around how our grandmothers could do this without any training, which can create unrealistic expectations.
* Good mother complex: Many new mothers worry that their baby and they will not be able to bond if they are unable to breastfeed. The pressure to be a “good mother” can be overwhelming and may cause mothers to neglect their own well-being, leading to burnout or emotional strain.
* Advice: While there is plenty of advice around, there is not enough authentic guidance about the basics of breastfeeding.
* Social media pressure: The comparison wave of looking down upon anyone who doesn’t exclusively breastfeed causes many mothers’ distress and guilt.
* Lack of support: The unavailability of family support, managing most chores on their own, and not finding enough time to sleep can wreak havoc on a tired new mother.
How to handle others who shame you for not breastfeeding your child?
It can be hard to manage such people. Remember, prioritise your own mental health, educate others if you can by sharing resources, and finally learn to set boundaries with those who bring you down. Seek the support of like-minded individuals.
Breastfeeding myths and old wives’ tales
Myth: Small breasts produce less milk.
Fact: Breast size does not determine milk production.
Myth: You should avoid breastfeeding when you’re sick.
Fact: In most cases, it’s safe to breastfeed when you have a mild illness.
Myth: Expressing milk is not good.
Fact: Expressing breast milk can be beneficial and serve various purposes, depending on the mother’s and baby’s needs.
Myth: All psychiatric medications should be avoided during breastfeeding.
Fact: Not all psychiatric medications need to be avoided during breastfeeding; many are considered safe under proper medical guidance. These can be lifesaving in some cases.
What can a father do to help support a breastfeeding mother?
A father can play a crucial role in supporting a breastfeeding mother.
* Start by showing support, being patient, and offering encouragement to your partner;
* Learn about breastfeeding;
* Be a team player by taking turns feeding the expressed milk so your partner can rest it out;
* Chores: Help with the other chores around the house;
* Voice: Your wife’s right to privacy while healing from childbirth;
* Try, if possible, to attend the doctor checkups;
* Companionship: provide companionship to her while she is breastfeeding, if possible.
Every woman’s breastfeeding journey is unique. What matters most at the end of the day is the wellbeing of the baby and mother. A child who is fed is best, be it through the bottle or the breast.
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