A GNA feature by Laudia Sawer
It is a decade ago on a cold Friday early morning in August at a private hospital in Tema, after the labour pains and the several Push!!! from the midwives, a sigh of relief and joy broke on the face of 31-year-old Naa Anyorkor Mensah after successfully giving birth to her first child.
What a relief it was to break free from the pregnancy conditions and antenatal visits. To Naa, giving birth will bring some liberty to her body, but the reality dawned on her when in about 20 minutes after baby was cleaned, weighed and her Apgar score taken, she was handed over to her by the midwives with the instruction to start breast feeding her immediately.
As baby latched onto the nipple and the areola and started suckling, the mother felt some ticklish sensation on her breast and contractions in her abdomen, but how can she stop her baby from feeding, she endured and looked into the baby’s eyes with an expression of love and satisfaction while using the period to bond with her daughter.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development indicating that virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information.
Many expectant mothers receive training and information on how to breastfeed during the pregnancy schools which most antenatal clinics in Ghana organize for pregnant mothers.
The WHO recommends that the Colostrum, which is the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced first at the end of pregnancy is the perfect food for the newborn and must be given to baby within an hour after birth.
Data on early initiation of breastfeeding
Statistics from the Tema Metropolitan Health Directorate revealed that a total of 4,348 babies out of 4,768 births were breast fed exclusively for six months in 2020, while 4,329 out of 4,727 babies born received exclusive breastfeeding in 2021.
In 2020, a total of 3,322 babies out of the 4,768 received early breastfeeding initiative at birth compared to the 3,025 babies out of the 4,727 births in the first half of 2021 who were initiated to breastfeeding within 30 minutes after birth.
Mr Samuel Atuahene Antwi, Tema Metropolitan Nutritionist told the Ghana News Agency in Tema that data from UNICEF showed that only one child in every two – 52 per cent is put to the breast within the first one hour after birth in Ghana.
That the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of children less than six months is reducing, as over 20 per cent of children were given water in their first six months of life.
Mr Antwi said, “The Ghana Demographic Health Survey in 2014 reported an exclusive breastfeeding rate of 52 per cent at six months which was below the optimal EBF rate of 90 per cent in infants less than six months set by the WHO/UNICEF for developing countries”.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Even though breastfeeding comes with its own inconveniences, mothers are encouraged to stick to the breastfeeding of the infants exclusively for six months and complimentarily for at least two years due to the numerous benefits both baby and mother can derive from it.
Notable is saving infants’ lives, as it is a complete food containing over 80 per cent water, balanced proportions and sufficient quantity of all needed nutrients for the first six months.
Breastmilk contains antibodies that protect babies against diseases, especially diarrhea and respiratory infections with the colostrum acting as a laxative to help baby pass the initial dark stools.
It promotes growth and development in babies thereby preventing stunting, it is also always clean, ready and at the right temperature, and easily digestible which make the nutrients well absorbed into the body and protect them against food allergies.
As suckling continues, baby’s jaw and teeth develop as it helps in the development of facial muscles. Frequent contact between mother and infants leads to better psychomotor, affective, and social development of baby.
Early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding facilitates the expulsion of the placenta as the suckling stimulates uterine contractions, and reduces risks of bleeding after delivery.
Apart from stimulating breastmilk production, it prevents engorgement, it is economical, always ready, stimulates bond between mother and baby, reduces a mother’s workload in preparing baby food, as well as reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancer.
According to experts, breastfeeding is more than 98 per cent effective as a contraceptive method during the first six months provided it is done exclusively and amenorrhea persists.
Risk of Formula Feeding
The Nutritionist advised mothers against formula feeding saying some health hazards associated with it include; increased risk of gastrointestinal infections and acute respiratory disease.
Formula fed babies also have an increased risk of infection from contaminated formula, as it can become taint at the factory level with heat resistant, pathogenic, and highly contagious bacteria.
They are also more likely to suffer from asthma, increased risk of allergy, reduction in cognitive development and educational attainment, as well as increased risk of childhood cancers and chronic diseases, obesity, type one and type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease in later life. Such children also stand a higher risk of mortality.
Conditions and Myths
Mr Antwi revealed that it was a myth that malnourished mothers could not breastfeed their babies, explaining that malnourished mothers could breastfeed their babies in virtually all cases adding however that such a mother should be provided with extra food and fruits to rebuild nutrient stores and should be encouraged to breastfeed the infant frequently.
He added that stress does not prevent milk production even though it may slow the release of milk from the breasts, which can result in babies being fussy and mothers thinking that the breastmilk is not enough.
“Frequent breastfeeding will help the mother and baby to get over this and ensure the baby receives enough. It produces hormones that have a calming effect on the mother and baby which can be helpful in this situation,” Mr Antwi noted.
He said a mothers produced enough milk if thhey frequently breastfed and for longer periods, “her breasts may seem soft and empty but they are producing milk” and babies with diarrheas do not need water or tea, explaining that exclusive breastfeeding provided the water, nutrition, and immunology baby needed.
“Feeding an infant water can introduce disease-causing bacteria and other contaminants, it is only in case of severe diarrhea that infants may need rehydration fluids in addition to breast milk as recommended by a doctor”.
Mr Antwi said mothers who breastfed in the past or whose breast milk production diminished could resume lactation again as the increased skin-to-skin contact and frequent access to the breast helped to increase milk production and enabled mothers to resume full breastfeeding.
He however added that it was easier for a mother to re-lactate when an infant was less than six months old.
He gave the assurance that a mother’s breast size does not have any effect on her milk production but rather the size and type of nipples had some significant effect as inverted or flat nipples have to be stimulated to come out before feeding, “at times for inverted it has to be done with a syringe”.
Pre-matured babies, he said, mostly have small mouths for the nipples therefore expression of breastmilk and feeding with cup and spoon is use for them.
As the world celebrates the annual breast-feeding week this August with a global theme of “Protecting Breast-Feeding; A shared Responsibility”, relatives, friends, colleagues, and husbands of lactating mothers must support and encourage them to successfully show humanity love through breastfeeding of their babies.
Let’s all ensure that mothers feed well, get the needed sleep, and also have comfort at the workplace, churches, public transports and other public places to pull out their breasts to feed the world’s next scientists, teacher, politician, doctors, lawyers, journalists, footballers, among other professionals without receiving unapproved stares.
Churches and workplaces must provide dedicated rooms with the needed facilities to provide a good environment for mothers to breastfeed and express their milk while at their premises.
As mothers strive to “start right, feed right, from birth up to two years and beyond”, in accordance with the Greater Accra Regional breastfeeding week theme for the year 2020 and 2021, fathers must be willing to help express breastmilk, and take over feeding of their babies for mothers to get some time for themselves.
Relatives must also not see the childbirth as an opportunity to burden the mother but rather a good time to lessen her work by performing some of her chores.
Fashion designers and seamstresses could help make breastfeeding an enjoyable and less stressful venture by designing styles to have openings in front and the bust with zippers, buttons, and Velcro for easy breastfeeding to prevent mothers having to always ask people including strangers to open their back zip for them.
Mothers are truly a gift to humanity as they take breastfeeding as lasting showcase of their love for humankind to survive on earth after a successful escape from the womb.