Health & Wellness

Empowering parents: enabling breastfeeding

Giorgio Bain was breastfed for seven years by her mother, Nurse Yuna Bain, so when she got pregnant, she knew that she would breastfeed her child.

“I wanted that bond,” said Bain. “I was breastfed for seven years and I wanted to follow suit. [My mother] said she didn’t get a chance to [breastfeed] with my older sister who didn’t take to it [breast], so when she got a chance with me and I latched on, she just kept it going.”

Bain has photos that show her breastfeeding and can recall her mother telling her that she had to stop breastfeeding because she was going to have a baby. Bain and her brother are seven years apart.

She admitted how embarrassing it was to look at photographic evidence of herself as a seven-year-old grade-schooler on her mother’s breast, but knew that she wanted to breastfeed her child.

“I was talking. I was in second grade.”

Bain breastfed her son Omari Tynes exclusively for six months.

“It was painful for the first three weeks, but once the baby and I got the hang of it, then it was easier.”

Now at nine months, she alternates between giving her son the breast at night, breast milk from the bottle and food.

Bain says she plans to see how long she can breastfeed but grimaced as she spoke to the fact that her son is in the teething process.

“We’re up to eight teeth and he bites, and it is painful, especially when he falls asleep on the breast, and trying to get him to unlatch when he’s asleep.”

But night feeding, she says, has its benefits in that it is convenient.

“In the night when he’s asleep, I don’t have to get up and make a bottle, I can just whip it out, put it in and we both go back to sleep.”

Financially, she says breastfeeding has been good for her family.

“A case of milk when I checked was $80 and would last a normal person about two weeks, so [for me] that would last a month, but Omari breastfeeds and eats food, so we just prepare food.”

But she also notes how breastfeeding is a co-dependency for her and her son.

“He snuggles up to me, and when he’s not there, it’s a severe detachment. When he’s on my breast, I feel like superwoman, that this little person feels so safe right there on my chest.”

Bain says she has no definitive idea of when she will wean her son off the breast totally, but says going in, she wants to put in the same amount of time her mom did with her.

The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, but it’s first-time mothers like Bain that members of the Bahamas National Breastfeeding Association (BNBA) hope to attract to breastfeeding rather than formula feeding their babies.

The BNBA describes breastfeeding as an investment in a baby’s future, as a mother produces food that is perfect for the baby, and that the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breastmilk protect babies from illnesses.

Research suggests that breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity, ear infections, eczema, diarrhea and vomiting, lower respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and type 2 diabetes.

“The baby’s benefits are vast,” said Trineka Hall, lactation co-ordinator and BNBA president. Because of those benefits, she says they continue their mission to sensitize people to the benefits of breastfeeding, because of the amount of people that don’t realize the importance of it.

Hall says exclusively-breastfed babies cry less because they don’t get sick as often and that breastfed babies develop into more loving and sociable children and tend to be more intelligent because of better cognitive skills. Hall says they understand concepts faster and easier than babies who were formula-fed.

According to the nurse, breastfeeding is also beneficial to the mother, providing her with a lower risk of certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and a lower risk of osteoporosis. And that breastfeeding also serves as a form of birth control and lessens a woman’s chances of having anemia because she won’t have a menstrual cycle while lactating and breastfeeding.

As the BNBA celebrates World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, Hall adds that they are training with medical professionals in the field of breastfeeding so that they can spread the word as well.

Globally, the theme for this week is “Empower Parents: Enable Breastfeeding”, which was chosen to be inclusive of all types of parents in today’s world by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) which avows that focusing on supporting both parents to be empowered is vital in order to realize their breastfeeding goals.

“A lot of people don’t know it, that’s why we want to encourage the new theme,” said Hall. “We need to continue to share the news. We have new mothers, new women getting pregnant and having children and they don’t know the news, so we have to keep spreading it and going on.”

The mother of three, speaks from experience. She breastfed her oldest child for approximately three to four weeks before she chose to feed him formula via a bottle, admitting that the lack of education at the time made her do it.

“I did not have the information that I have now. I did not have the knowledge and the skill to think I could do it. I did not have the knowledge on how to express the milk, pump it, store it and take it to the nursery. I did not know how to do all of that, so I just went and gave the baby the formula,” she said.

By the time Hall gave birth to her second child in 2002, she had met Nurse Carlotta Klass, the lactation co-ordinator at the time who educated her on breastfeeding. Hall proceeded to exclusively breastfeed her second child for two-and-a-half years. She also breastfed her third child until the child no longer wanted it.

She explained that after breastfeeding her second and third children, she learned first-hand the benefits of breastfeeding which she said included the closeness and bonding with the baby, the specific nutrition only she could provide as a mother, the cost savings and the health benefits for not only the baby, but for herself as well.

Lactation consultants like Hall say formula, which is made from cow’s milk, can be harder for a baby to digest; and that it often takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting it.

She also believes that a mother’s life can be made easier by breastfeeding once mother and child settle into a routine. Because there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize, formula does not have to be purchased, measured and mixed – and bottles do not have to be warmed in the middle of the night.

Breastfeeding also keeps mother and baby close and physical contact is important to newborns as it makes them feel secure, warm and comforted. Mothers benefit as well; the skin-to-skin contact boosts the level of oxytocin (the hormone that helps breast milk flow and can calm the mother).

Hall encourages mothers considering breastfeeding to breastfeed frequently when the baby wants it. She adds that to ensure the baby is getting the best breast milk possible, mothers should eat healthily, consuming lots of fruits, vegetables and fluids, and stay away from caffeinated drinks, and that mothers should also get lots of rest and take their vitamins.

The lactation consultant admitted that she noticed the financial difference between her three children after, giving one formula, and breastfeeding the other two.

“I saved a lot of money on formula and bottles and the like. I would encourage pregnant mothers to consider trying to breastfeed for the first six months to see the money they would save. Plus, their children would be healthier and smarter for it.”

When learning to breastfeed, Hall says the most important thing a mother-to-be can do to prepare is to have confidence in herself and plan ahead. She says that committing to breastfeeding starts with a mother’s belief that she can do it.

Hall also adds that women should get good prenatal care, talk to their doctor about their plans to breastfeed and ensure that the facility at which they plan to give birth has staff and the means to support successful breastfeeding. They can also take a breastfeeding class, ask a doctor to recommend a lactation consultant for support after the baby is born, talk to friends who have breastfed, or consider joining a breastfeeding support group like BNBA; and talk to spouses, partners and other family members about how they can help them successfully breastfeed.

WABA states that empowerment is a process that requires evidence-based unbiased information and support to create the enabling environment where mothers can breastfeed optimally, and that as breastfeeding is in the mother’s domain, when fathers, partners, families, workplaces and communities support her, breastfeeding improves. The process, they say, can be supported as breastfeeding is a team effort and everyone needs to protect, promote and support it.

Hall also advises that family members can assist by being kind and encouraging, good listeners, and helping to ensure new mothers get enough to drink and enough rest by helping around the house and taking care of any other children who are in the home.

Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed as soon as possible after giving birth, then at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours to promote milk production. Hall advises that in the first few days after birth, a baby will likely need to breastfeed about every one to two hours during the day and a few times at night, as healthy babies develop their own feeding patterns, and mothers should follow their baby’s cues for when he/she is ready to eat.

While there are many benefits to baby and mother through breastfeeding, there are common breastfeeding challenges that mothers should be made aware of, including sore nipples; low milk supply; oversupply of milk; strong let-down reflex; engorgement; plugged ducts; breast infection (mastitis); fungal infections; inverted, flat, or very large nipples; and nursing strike. But for every challenge, there is a solution.

Hall encourages people, especially employers, to support women who choose to exclusively breastfeed. She says many women may want to exclusively breastfeed, but opt out of breastfeeding because they fear for their jobs, as they feel their boss won’t allow them to have breastfeeding breaks.

The nurse notes that in the government sector, breastfeeding mothers are allowed two 45-minute breastfeeding breaks, daily, along with a regular lunch hour until the baby is six months old.

To further encourage mothers in breastfeeding, Hall has also set up a curtained-off breastfeeding nook at the South Beach Clinic where mothers can breastfeed in private when visiting the clinic.

Mothers-to-be seeking information on breastfeeding can also seek education at the BNBA meetings that are held the first Tuesday of each month at Holy Cross Church at 6:30 p.m. where midwives trained in lactation and breastfeeding are available to speak with women.

WABA, a global network of individuals and organizations dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide, annually coordinates and organizes the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW).

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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