This is a guest blog post by Liza Henning, licensed Nurse and licensed Midwife. Liza works at the maternity hospital and the breastfeeding clinic in Malmö, Sweden.
The contractions have ended and the only sound is the cry of the newborn little baby lying on her mother’s belly. The room becomes calm and relaxed as the family exhales and begins to recover. After a few minutes the little baby starts searching for her mother’s breast, pecking her little head back and forth, smacking her lips and making her very first sucking movements with her mouth. Using her legs to push herself upwards, she slowly moves towards her mother’s chest, and with the help of her mother’s gentle hand, her mouth finally reaches the nipple.
The breasts are well prepared. The first milk, known as colostrum, starts to be produced in week 18 of the pregnancy. It doesn’t feel like the breasts contain any milk. It takes approximately three more days until the real milk flows into the breasts. But this first milk is perfectly suited for the little baby. The baby’s stomach and intestines have only known the amniotic fluid and is now slowly but surely getting used to breast milk. This first milk contains substances that help the intestines adapt to a life outside the uterus and brings vital nutrients that the baby needs to grow.The new mother is now holding her baby in her arms. The baby lies looking up at her mother, seeing her for the first time. They look at each other for a moment. The distance between them is just as long as the newborn’s small eyes may be capable of seeing and being seen is extremely important for the little baby’s continued psychological development. After looking at her mother for a while, the baby starts to cautiously and tentatively suck on her mother’s nipple. Being close, skin to skin, enables both mother and child to relax even more, as oxytocin, the natural, well-being hormone, flows like currents in their bodies. Oxytocin causes the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and respiration to stabilize in their bodies and causes the production of breast milk. This hormone also causes the mother’s uterus to contract, preventing her to bleed too much.
After sucking for a while on the breast, the baby falls asleep, exhausted but satisfied with both the birth and the first meeting with her family. Colostrum contains enough energy so that the baby now can sleep for a day and the new parents can rest.
The above scenario may be recognized by some women, but not by others. The description has been used to demonstrate the awesomeness of our bodies, and particularly, a woman’s body.
A peaceful breastfeeding start increases the chances of successful breastfeeding in the future.
As a licensed nurse and midwife, I meet women who breastfeed every day. Some do it with ease. Some fight through each feeding in pain, with babies who do not want to suck or babies who don’t want to stop sucking. Some women struggle without enough breast milk, while other women have too much milk. I also meet women who have chosen to partly breastfeed, or who, for various reasons, have chosen not to breastfeed. What is common for all women I meet is the incredible love they carry and the strong desire to do the best they can for their child.
It is imperative that we, as health professionals, are aware that our knowledge and treatment can be critical to how a mother succeeds in breastfeeding.
Becoming a parent generates a wide range of emotions: love, fear, anxiety, joy, sadness, loneliness, togetherness, uncertainty, fatigue, giddiness, and more. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed is not always an easy choice and to get breastfeeding to work or to stop breastfeeding may require professional help. My wish is that new mothers and their families receive the help and support they need, and are able to make informed and empowered choices, leading to results that works best for both the mother, the child and the family. Breast milk contains the best nutrition a child can obtain during the first 6 months of its life, but what is just as important is having a mother who feels well, is present, strong and confident.