Is exclusive breastfeeding overrated?


My brown bag with pink polka dots has gone with me wherever I have gone this last year. To avoid too many questions from nosy Janes and prying by security guards, I told them it was my lunch bag. It was carrying food, just not my food — my baby’s food.
That is the bag that carried by breast pump and baby’s milk bottles.
Because i expressed breast milk everyday for the last 11 months, my daughter has had the good fortune of not taking baby formula or cow milk until she turned one.

I gave up on EBF (exclusive breastfeeding for six months) with my first born. At five months, his feeding demands were driving me crazy, his weight gain was slow, pressure at work was enormous and unfortunately, the people in my closest circle were not supportive of EBF. Everyone wondered why I was torturing myself trying to bleed milk from non-cooperative boobs when I could just walk to Biashara Street and get several cans of formula.

I had wanted to EBF my son because that’s what the health manuals said I should do. I knew it was what was best for my baby. But in real life, I soon found out that people didn’t really care whether you did EBF or gave cow milk at four weeks or porridge at six weeks. Even the paeditricians don’t exactly care what you you feed your child as long as the baby is healthy. In fact, most were mildly surprised when I told them we were still on breastmilk alone. Infant formula had become mainstream.

I didn’t know much about galactagogues [a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk] so I went and bought Cow and Gate, which my son took till he turned one. However, i continued expressing at work till his first birthday, supplementing breast milk with formula even after introduction of solid foods at six months.

Having learnt from failure,  was determined with my second born to EBF. The milk marathon started from week one as my baby had jaundice and i was advised to breastfeed her a lot to flush out the “bilirubin yellowness” as it was broken down by the liver and sun. This increased my milk output and I started storing breast milk right from the second week. The pumping boosted my milk supply and by the time i was going back to work when baby was four months old, I had a stash of more than 15 litres of milk.

How did I do it? Determination, mostly.
I drank a lot of  water, tea, chocolate, porridge, dill-fenugreek concoctions, and hibiscus tea, put moringa powder in my food, ate traditional mbogas, digestive biscuits, brown chapos and lots of proteins and then drank more water and tea. I was like a well-oiled machine.

It also called for sacrifice and devotion. Waking up to express milk from leaky bobs at night so that nothing goes to waste is not for the faint hearted. Spending my lunch break in the Mother’s Room at the office called for dedication.
So did scouting social media pages to find out who was selling dill seeds or affordable milk storage bags.

Luckily, there is a big online community of mothers encouraging one another to give breast milk to their babies. I knew I was not alone.

The discouragement of course was there. Whenever baby cried a lot, hubs kept asking me if the baby was getting full. Then her weight gain wasn’t remarkable in any sense. She would add 400-700 grammes between clinics and the nurse was adamant that she should be adding her weight by a kilo every month. I just looked at her with that look of you-are-preaching-to-the-choir.

I got a milk blister from a clogged milk duct and the pain! I could not imagine how that breast would go into the babies mouth, but engorgement only made the pain worse. I dug into my heels literally and expressed the milk while trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me and if I should go see a doctor. A little googling told me I had a milk blister from a clogged pore. Milk had accumulated under the skin, hence the pain. I popped the blister and voila! Relief. Sore nipples also came with the territory.

Also, my daughter refused to take the bottle and had to be spoonfed until she was seven months old. This meant that there was quite a bit of wastage in the milk she took. At five months, she was taking 720ml of breast milk between 9am and 6pm. I was on a marathon to make sure she had enough and i can attest that for sure when it comes to breastmilk, demand equals supply. My output kept up with her increasingly voracious feeding.

Seeing that she was not too keen to take up solid foods, we did EBF till she was almost seven months, and as her feeding was poor, breast milk continued to be her main source of nutrition for the next three months. She finally ate well when she was 10-months-old; so I was glad I had stocked up on breast milk to last her those extra months of little feeding.

The gains — she has been real resilient against infections, and though she is no chubby baby, she has continued to gain weight, albeit slowly.

For me, all that expressing meant that food had no time to pack up around my body so I lost that pregnancy weight, and then some more, without ever hitting the gym. I am now back to less than my pre-pregnancy weight. If for no other reason, then it was worth it. Breastfeeding, my secret tool to weight loss.

Breastfeeding for me has been a special time of bonding with my children, doing something for them that only I can. I find so much peace during those 15 or so minutes of nourishing my baby with the best that God gave. Even when I’m expressing away from home, I know that is my special time with my baby.

EBF is hard, I wont lie. Many people will discourage you, especially those  closest to you: Your husband, mother, mother-in-law, paeditrician…
If that is what you really want, and if your baby is healthy and thriving, then keep at it. You are giving your baby the best nutrition they can get, nature’s best food.
Breastfeeding benefits children nutritionally, immunologically and psychologically.
One 2001 study on breastfeeding in the second year (12-23 months), found that 448ml of breastmilk provides:

29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements.

breast express

Other studies have shown that breastfeeding toddlers between the ages of one and three have been found to have fewer illnesses, illnesses of shorter duration, and lower mortality rates. Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation and especially during illness.
WHO notes that breastfeeding plays an essential and sometimes underestimated role in the treatment and prevention of childhood illness.,  a great resource for moms, notes that extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.

Nyonyo heals all, from frustrations to bumps and bruises. Nyonyo makes life alright for babies and toddlers. Every breastfeeding mum knows how the breast can cure crying from falls and bruises and what better snack and thirst quencher when you are not near a source of food. I never have to walk around with bottles and packed snacks when we are leaving the house briefly.
Babies who are breastfed up to six weeks get less chest infections and this protection goes on till they are seven years old. Push that to two months and your baby will have less allergies. Add another two months and you have less ear infections and asthma until they are six years old.
Babies who are breastfed until age two are more likely to have higher than average scores on intelligence tests.
The risk of being hospitalized for a lower respiratory track infection (pneumonia, bronchitis) is reduced by 72 per cent in infants who are breastfed exclusively for more than four months.
The risk of ear infections is decreased by 50 percent in infants who breastfeed for more than three months, and by 63 per cent in infants who breastfed exclusively for six months.
Breastfeeding reduced the incidence of gastrointestinal infections by 64 percent, with the protection lasting for two months after breastfeeding is discontinued.

Breastfeeding confers a 38 per cent reduction in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) that is independent of the sleeping position of the infant.
When infants are breastfed exclusively for three to four months, they have a 27 percent decrease in the development of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema. This protection increases to 42 percent in infants with a positive family history for these allergic conditions.
Clearly, this is what my baby needs.

But even for moms there are benefits.
I mentioned quicker weight loss and contraction of the tummy after delivery. According to Kellymom, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer,  ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and endometrial cancer.
It protects against osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Our grandmothers used to believe breastmilk can cure eye infections and i have put that to the test again and again and it works, always. Oh, and a little breast milk applied on sore and cracked nipples works better than any balm.

Is EBF still overrated?


4 thoughts on “Is exclusive breastfeeding overrated?

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