Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A few thoughts on Breastfeeding

The issue of breastfeeding vs bottle-feeding is really interesting. When I was a baby (so I am told), formula milk was touted as the ideal nutrition for babies. The addition stuff that was added into the milk was believed to enhance the baby's growth and well being. On top of that, it costs more to formula feed your baby, so there was also the issue of prestige involved.

Fast forward a few decades and the whole thinking has been reversed. Breast milk is now recognized as the better milk for babies. How we managed to come to the belief that Humans can create something better than what God has already provided, baffles me. It's almost like arguing that 3rd party spare parts are better than the original for your prized BMW.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

It is well recognized nowadays that breastfeeding confers many benefits for babies which includes:

1. Protective effects against illnesses like diarrhoea, lung and ear infections.

2. Protecting the child against the development of allergies like asthma, eczema and rhinitis.

3. Reducing the risk of obesity.

4. Some possibility that it may reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

5. Some link between the protective effect of breastfeeding and the development of certain cancers.

6. Better performance in tests of cognition.

7. Benefits to the mother like helping to reduce the mother to her pre-pregnancy weight as well as getting the uterus to return to its normal size. There is also evidence that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer and perhaps ovarian cancer.

So how many mothers in Singapore actually breastfeed?

But the issue is not that mothers don't know about the benefits of breastfeeding. The majority do. But the problem is that a lot of mothers have (or think they have) an inability to produce adequate breast milk and also that most of them have to return to work after the maternity period which makes it difficult to continue breastfeeding.

In Singapore 95% of mothers actually do initiate breastfeeding, but at 2 months only 50% are still breastfeeding . By 6 months, this drops to only 21% which compares unfavorably with other developed countries like the US (33%) and Australia (45%).

Encourage Exclusive Breastfeeding for the first 6 months

Knowing the benefits of breastfeeding, the current drive is to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the infant's life. (This is the recommendation for healthy full term infants. The requirements for infants with special needs will need to to individualized)

For the first 6 months of life, healthy infants only need breastmilk and nothing else. There is no evidence that weaning the child at 4 months has any demonstrable benefits. Even after introducing complementary foods, the mother is encouraged to breastfeed the child until 12 months of age. Of course, if the child is not gaining weight appropriately while being exclusively breastfed, then medical help should be sought.

Do I need to give my baby extra water?

Another common question is whether babies need to be given extra water. The answer is no, not even in a hot climate like Singapore. Breast milk provides all the fluids needed in the first 6 months for the infant who is fed on demand. Giving the baby extra water may cause it to reduce its intake of milk and there is also a risk of water intoxication if too much is given. Babies who are ill or have diarrhoea will of course need medical attention.

OK, I want to Breastfeed, where can I find support?

So, you've decided to breastfeed your child? Great! You can find more information on support groups and other useful stuff at the Association for Breastfeeding Advocacy website.


Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents for the Healthcare Professional. Health Promotion Board 2007


Anonymous said...

My son is now 22 month old and I am still breastfeeding him, no formula milk or fresh milk yet. He has been eating our table food since he was 1 year old.

The problem is that I am too skinny and almost everybody tell me to stop breastfeeding. My son is a breastmilk addict and it will not be easy to stop breastfeeding totally.

I am 170cm in height and my pre-pregnancy weight was 51kg. I am now 45kg and I was 43kg at one point of time. I eat and eat and eat but I cannot get myself to grow fat. I wanted to let my son self wean off my breast instead of forcing it to happen.

Should I stop breastfeeding? I will be sending my son to childcare next month and cut down on breastfeeding. I am not ready to stop either.

Dr Leslie said...

Currently, the recommendation is to breastfeed until 1 year of age and beyond which it is really up to you as the parent whether to continue. As the child is almost 2 years old and going to childcare, it would be practical to wean him off the breast. It is really a matter of habit now.

Anonymous said...

Hi mommy,
I think you should continue to breastfeed him, especially when he is about to start childcare. The antibodies in the breastmilk will help in some way. That was what my lactation consultant told me. I suppose he is only doing night feeding?

Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous,
I was thinking that it might be a good idea to breastfeed him when he first started childcare. When my son kanna gastroenteritis and was admitted to kk when he was one, the doctors at kk did not give him any medicine. They just tell me and breastfeed him whenever he wanted. The nurse kept checking on him for dehydration and he was discharge the next day with no medicine at all. So breastmilk is really powerful.

Blur Ting said...

I breastfed my son for many years until I ran out of milk. He's turning 16 now. Our bond is very strong but he still has allergy problems (asthma and eczema). I often wonder about this. Then again, I tell myself the allergy problems could have been worse if not for the breastfeeding.

My other son who wasn't breastfed at all because I was sick for several months after giving birth to him, doesn't have any allergy problems. In fact, he seems more resilient than his breastfed brother.

Anonymous said...

I must say I miss breastfeeding my children. They are now 9 and 6. I wish I had captured their contented faces when I was breastfeeding them....

God is indeed amazing to have devised such facility within our bodies to help mother and child to bond.

My son who fed on breastmilk for a good 3-4 months never fell sick in his first year.

Strongly encourage all mothers to breastfeed where possible.