Sunday, March 16, 2008

Liquid Gold

To say I am an advocate of breastfeeding is a huge understatement. When I was pregnant, I didn't have much of an opinion on the whole natural versus drugged birth issue, but one thing I was completely certain of was that I wanted to breastfeed my son. Memories of throwing up constantly as a child haunted me. I was allergic to nearly everything edible when I was young, so eating was something of a traumatic experience until the age of 8 or 9, when I started to love food (and still do to this day).

The spirit is willing, but the flesh may be weak. Despite my ardent desire to breastfeed, I wasn't entirely sure it would be possible. Both my sisters didn't have enough milk to nurse their eldest children, and fearful the same thing might happen to me, I did my homework. What I discovered encouraged me. Other mothers-to-be out there, take note.

1. There is no such thing as "not having enough milk." A newborn's stomach is the size of a thimble and half a teaspoonful of liquid is enough to fill it. Stimulating the breasts by suckling will ensure that enough is produced in between feeding times to keep your baby nourished.

2. Colostrum, the first liquid produced after childbirth, is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies. The best way to get started is to put your baby to the breast every 2-3 hours after birth, even if they only suck for a couple of minutes at a time to begin with. The real milk comes in 3-4 days after the baby is born.

3. Human milk is best for human babies, cow's milk is best for calves. I am lactose intolerant, so dairy really doesn't sit well with me. My mother recalls that I was allergic to nearly every brand of baby milk on the market when I was born, and it was really difficult to feed me. Back then, many people were of the opinion that formula was better than breast milk. How wrong they were!

4. You don't need to drink milk to make milk. Again, an old way of thinking is that it takes milk to make milk. Cows eat grass and produce milk, so where that idea came from, I don't know. All you need is food and liquids, plenty of both. Water is the best. Lots of it. 2-3 glasses every time you nurse, more in between, and plenty of brothy soups to get the milk flowing.

5. No matter how great advertising for baby formula sounds, it's still a substitute for mother's milk. Ersatz breast milk, and that's the truth. My mom is of the old school way of thinking, and keeps telling me to put my son on formula because it has all these added nutrients - taurine, iron and all the rest of it. The real reason they keep adding things to formula is because years of studies have still left laboratories unable to replicate what real breast milk provides, and studies on babies have shown that those that are breast fed are far healthier and more advanced than those who aren't. Why give a substitute when you can give the real thing, for free? Formula is scandalously expensive.

There are still more factors that help the breastfeeding cause - quicker post-childbirth weight loss, a stronger mother-baby bond, the convenience of not having to wash and sterilise bottles every day, but those were only secondary to the greatness that comes from giving your child the best nourishment possible and fulfilling your mammalian obligations, as it were.

So - breastfeeding it must be. None of that supplementing with formula crap. I wanted to go all the way. And thankfully, I succeeded. My sister gave me the tip about drinking lots of water, my parents showered me with food and my in-laws brought lots of soups loaded with malunggay, the leaves of the horseradish plant that are known to increase milk supply.

Today, my son is nearly 8 and a half months old and while his weight gain is tapering off, (he was born 2.9 kilos and weighed in at 5.35 six weeks later) he is healthy and strong and ahead of other babies developmentally. He rolled over at 2 months, sat up unassisted at 5, stood on his own at 6.5 and is now ready to take those first steps. He eats three times a day, but milk is still a baby's primary source of nourishment til they are over a year old, so I plan to continue nursing him for a few more months at least.

Now, nursing when his teeth come in is a different matter altogether. Stay tuned for what happens then.

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