Sujal Torgal Patil
The first week of August is marked as Breastfeeding Week throughout the world by the WHO in order to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies. The 2019 slogan ‘Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding’ has been chosen to be inclusive of all types of parents in today’s world. Focusing on supporting both parents to be empowered is vital in order to realise their breastfeeding goals.
Breast milk, known as stanya in Sanskrit, is the upa-dhatu (sub-tissue) of the rasa dhatu which depends on the quality of the food eaten by the mother. Breast milk is secreted by touch, sight or thought of the child, and is called oxytocin reflex (milk ejection reflex) in modern science. The hormone oxytocin is produced in response to the stimulation of the nerve endings in the nipple by sucking as well as by thought, sight or sound of the baby. The health of the infant in the first six months completely depends on the mother’s diet. And the common health issues that the infant suffers from such as fever, indigestion, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, vomiting, certain skin disorders, etc, are majorly caused due to the intake of heavy, less healthy or incompatible diet by the mother.
The baby should be fed on demand and not by the clock. Babies sleep a lot and during the first few days one needs to wake the baby with gentle tickling behind the ears or on the soles. This act should not be unpleasant to the baby. The baby must remain satisfied for at least two hours before he/she starts crying for the next feed. To safeguard against regurgitations after each feed, burping the baby is advised.
A breastfed baby does not need additional water.
Bottle feeding should be avoided because it may lead to nipple confusion and result in the baby refusing to be breastfed. There is also a possibility of contamination and development of infections.
The position of the mother and baby during feeding needs to be learned properly and practiced. The mother should be attentive.
An ideal diet for a lactating mother should be mild, warm, easily digestible and not too heavy or starchy. Having excessive heavy and nutritious food can lead to indigestion in the mother which gets passed on to the child as well. The mother should avoid excessive salty, sour, pungent or acidic food, improperly formed curds, paneer or sweet preparation with a lot of jaggery.
One must avoid stressful situations like being awake at night or sleeping excessively in the day, and any sort of addictions. Normally breast milk is whitish in colour, sweet to taste, thin, easily dissolvable in water and cool to touch. Breast milk that has a bluish black or pink tinge and is astringent, watery, tasteless, dry, light and frothy in nature is pathological and unsuitable for the child.
In Ayurvedic texts, various physical and psychological disorders are listed in which breast feeding is deemed unfit. A woman who is hungry, in grief, tired, pregnant, suffering from fever, emaciated, obese or with any pathology should not breastfeed. According to modern medicine contraindications mothers with septicemia, active tuberculosis, typhoid fever, breast cancer or malaria should not breastfeed. Some conditions such as substance abuse and severe neuroses or psychosis, mother suffering with active HIV infection and infants with galactosemia are contraindications to breastfeeding.
Ayurveda advises that when a mother or wet-nurse is not in the position to feed due to certain reasons, goat’s or cow’s milk should be given in appropriate amount until the mother or wet-nurse does not regain sufficient milk or else, until the child cannot thrive properly without milk. It could be given to the child after medicating it with decoction of appropriate herbs mixed with sugar.
If the amount of breast milk produced is less, cereals, meat, cow’s milk, sugar, curd is added in appropriate amounts in the diet of the mother while keeping in mind the metabolism. There are many useful herbs in ayurveda which can give results in a couple of days, but have to be administered under expert guidance. Do not fall for any home remedies as remember, for any silly mistake of yours, your infant may have to suffer. For cracked nipples, a local application of shatadhouta ghrita (a type of medicated ghee for external application) is very useful.
Gradual weaning should be done after eruption of teeth and the child should be given goat or cow’s milk with a light yet nourishing diet. Weaning is a transition period in which solid and table foods replace milk. While introducing solid feed encourage a cup rather than a bottle.
Women who breastfeed their infants are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression. Breastfeeding soon after birth acts as a natural birth control measure, due to lactational amenorrhea. Prolonged breastfeeding also ensures lesser weight gain after child birth. Breastfeeding mothers also show a lesser incidence of rheumatoid arthritis, various cancers, breast anomalies or uterine anomalies as compared to mothers who did not breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is mutually beneficial for the physical, emotional and mental health of both, the mother and the child and therefore is revered highly. Breast milk is the best medium of communication between the two and facilitates strong bonding between the two. Conscious breastfeeding should be encouraged individually and socially too. In today’s era of nuclear families and hectic schedules, awareness about breastfeeding is a priority for all.
(Writer is CMO at Traya Natural Health Centre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)