The barriers to breastfeeding
Support from family and workplace, and creating a more inclusive public space enables women to breastfeed their infants, opine doctors
CHENNAI: One of the most natural bonding experience between a new mom and her baby happens through breastfeeding. August being Breastfeeding Awareness month, it’s imperative to create awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby. The benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and the infant are numerous but there are several challenges such as social taboo, misinformation and lack of proper facilities for lactating mothers in public places that prevent women from openly embracing breastfeeding their infants.
According to WHO, just 40% of infants under 6 months are exclusively breastfed globally, which is a major cause for worry.
By 2025, the World Health Assembly resolution has clearly set a goal of at least 50% of infants under six months to be exclusively breastfed. However, providing parental support at the place of work is important to attaining this objective.
In a statement recently, WHO said: “Evidence shows that while breastfeeding rates drop significantly for women when they return to work, that negative impact can be reversed when workplaces facilitate mothers to continue to breastfeed their babies.”
Lactation and skill support expert Dr Jayashree Jayakrishnan, Fortis Malar, explained the importance of having a dedicated nursing room with the necessary amenities where women can exclusively nurse their children, express milk, and store it.
“The area where women breastfeed should be clean, friendly, secure, and private. A breastfeeding room should have direct access, be physically distinct from the rest rooms, and also be adjacent to the workspace with supporting tools. A warm and comfortable atmosphere is mostly influenced by lighting and airflow. Additionally, privacy needs to be protected, therefore entrances need to be properly closed and the facilities need to be opaque,” she said.
Pediatricians advise women to breastfeed their infant for the first 6 months. However, you can continue to nurse your child until the baby is 2 years old.
“Establish a daily schedule for nursing your child. Before you leave for work and right after you arrive home from work, feed your kid. You can tell the caregiver not to feed her right before you get back. This is a great approach to re-establish contact with your infant. If you’ve had a long day at work, you can also pump breast milk. This helps the child have uninterrupted access to mother’s milk,” pointed out Dr Jayashree.
A working mother who is also breastfeeding, requires a lot of emotional support from the family. It also enables the psychological well-being of the infant.
Dr T Vijayakumar, HoD-paediatrics at Prashanth Hospital, said, “Breastfeeding mothers are stressed out all the time. Whenever the baby cries, which could be every 30 minutes to an hour, she has to feed. This reduces her rest time, and leads to breast pain and cracks in nipples. This is a common issue that we witness among the lactating mothers at the hospital.” Doctors emphasise on educating caretakers as several practices in the name of rituals can affect the mother and the child. He added that often new mothers are misguided into believing that every time the baby cries, it’s for milk.
“There are many reasons for a baby to cry. When the baby wants milk, but secretion is less, mothers are made to feel guilty about it. So, a lactating mother is not allowed to eat certain food items stating that the baby may get gas or indigestion which is very rare. Mothers need to consume a good diet similar to what they needed during pregnancy for proper lactation. It’s important to maintain hygiene and age-old practices of not allowing a mother to take bath after delivery is not a good habit. Babies are given sugar water and spices in the name of rituals but they will affect breastfeeding and baby’s health,” said Dr Vijayakumar.
No facility to store
Besides the common issue of lack of not exclusive facilities to facilitate breast- feeding, many women do not have the right place to store the breastmilk after they pump it out.
“Breastmilk must be used within 3-4 hours after it’s expressed. We started lactation classes to educate mothers on what practices need to be followed, and also a few old rituals that should not be stopped,” explained Dr S Shobana, consultant neonatologist & pediatrician at Women’s Centre by Motherhood Hospital. “Everyone has an opinion and ad- vice on breastfeeding and this can get confusing for a new mom. This is why we need to create more awareness on all aspects of breastfeeding.”
Some practices are discouraged, and sometimes new moms are criticised about the production of milk or the lack thereof. “Such insensitivity only discourages them and can push them to de- pression. The family should be supportive of lactating mothers,” she added.
New mothers need to be educated about donating breastmilk, said Dr S Shobana, who added: “Too many myths and superstitions prevent new mothers from donating their milk.”
Lack of awareness about the concept among mothers and families is a huge challenge. “Many lactating mothers are willing to contribute but they’re not educated about it, and also fear familial reactions. Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital was the first one to start the breast milk bank and other government hospitals are doing a good job at it. However, there is a lack of awareness about the concept among the breastfeeding mothers and more GHs must initiate the same,” she added.