|These two mothers breastfed their babies at a rally outside the Health Minister's office. Well done!|
Far too few babies in our world get past the first week exclusively breastfed, which sets them up for subesquent feeding difficulties.
I won't try to explain why exclusive breastfeeding is so important to both mother and baby. Sufficient to say that the principle "In normal birth there should be a valid reason to interfere with the natural process" applies as much to the establishment of breastfeeding as it does to progress in labour. Interferences will likely interrupt natural physiological processes, including mother-baby attachment, bonding, onset of lactogenesis 2, baby's ability to suckle, baby's gut flora, jaundice, and a mother's acceptance of the maternal role, just to mention a few.
A baby who is born at home, whose mother takes the baby to her breasts and who is able to initiate breastfeeding without interruption in the next hour or so is very unlikely to ingest anything other than his own mother's milk in the first week of life. It's a busy week, with baby eagerly taking the breast frequently through the day and night, and often with both parents facing endurance challenges. Some mothers and babies face some of the not uncommon difficulties with flat nipples or very large breasts or whatever. But by about day 4 or 5 there is an abundance of wonderful milk, a baby who sleeps blissfully after spending time at the breast, and there's light at the end of the tunnel.
The over-medicalisation of birth has led to many babies experiencing non-physiological challenges at birth, and this leads on to wasting of the baby's energy resources, painful surgical wounds in the mother, and separation of mother and baby. The end result is that babies are given artificial formula feeds to 'supplement', 'top up', or 'complement' what the baby is able to get from the breast.
Where the natural provision for a baby is ideally suited to the baby's physiological needs, of small volumes of colostrum that coats the digestive tract and supports cell proliferation and colonisation of the gut with the normal bacterial flora, the baby who is given, at 2 hours of age, 30ml of the white chemical concoction that is called infant formula has the whole process interrupted and interfered with. While that baby's energy needs may be met a whole lot of other needs are being denied.
A midwife recently told me that she was concerned about her client giving birth in a particular hospital because any baby born over 4 kilos was immediately treated as if at high risk of hypoglycaemia. The baby would be taken to the nursery, separated from the mother soon after birth, and blood glucose levels tested. With interruption to the first breastfeed, and separation, it's likely that a 'negative' result - blood sugar level lower than the required amount - would be obtained. That baby would then be given a formula feed, and the whole process repeated in a couple of hours. A mother who objects to the infant formula will be given information about the horror of hypoglycaemic brain damage, and only someone who is well informed knows that she has another option - to breastfeed effectively.
With approximately one in three babies in hospitals being born by caesarean surgery. The usual post operative pain management regime in hospitals in Melbourne maternity hospitals is Endone (a narcotic, dangerous drug that comes with the warning, "Do not take ENDONE during pregnancy or during breastfeeding as it may cause difficulty in breathing in an unborn or newborn child."), Panadol and Voltaren. I have written about Endone at my villagemidwife blog
Anyone who takes exclusive breastfeeding seriously knows it's an uphill battle in most hospitals. Even the Baby Friendly hospitals. It has been 15 years since the Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding was produced and adopted. The Declaration, adopted by all WHO and UNICEF Member States, has been a key strategy on improving health of infants and young children through optimal nutrition. [for more information go to Innocenti + 15]
Maternity care today is so wedded to infant formula use that it will take a major reformation to change the trend. The community must demand protection of the infant's right of access to the breast. We must also demand that human infants are given only human milk: that milk banks should be available for any additional requirements of breastfed babies.