The mother’s milk is the best food for a newborn baby. The World Health Organisation (WHO) even recommends that children are breastfed up to the age of two, or even older, in addition to the other foods they eat. These recommendations are only rarely followed, and we will describe the reasons for this later in this article. But first, here are a few facts about breastmilk itself. Did you know that breastmilk changes over time and thus adjusts to the child’s needs?
What does breastmilk consist of?
Breastmilk contains many substances, including essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The water it contains supplies the baby with sufficient fluids. Breastmilk also contains:
- Vitamins and minerals to promote healthy growth, organ function, and bone development
- Antibodies to protect against diseases and infections
- Hormones to stimulate the appetite, for example, or to create a sleep rhythm, or for bonding
- Growth factors to promote healthy development (e.g., the bowel, blood vessels, nervous system)
- Enzymes to help with digestion or to strengthen the immune system, for example
- Oligosaccharides, a type of prebiotics (“good bacteria”), primarily to prevent infections
- Living cells, such as white blood cells (to boost the immune system), stem cells (organ development and healing)
This list is not complete, and research is always discovering new ingredients in breastmilk. Many of these additional ingredients can also not be synthesised, which is what makes breastmilk so special. It is astonishing that breastmilk changes in line with the baby’s age and supplies it with the nutrients that it needs right now. For example, in the first few days, the milk is called colostrum and is viscous and sticky, and contains high quantities of antibodies, minerals and proteins in particular. The breasts later produce what is called transition milk, which has a higher fat, calorie and lactose content. After a good four weeks, “mature milk” is produced, which is rich in hormones, growth factors, living cells and enzymes. Would you like to breastfeed your baby for a long time? No problem. Your breasts can produce qualitatively nutritious mature milk for months or even years.
You can read about how the respective composition of breast milk benefits your baby here.
What are the long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child?
You have probably also heard that many mothers have difficulty breastfeeding and that is why they stop early, or that they bottle-feed their baby for other reasons. Are you in this situation yourself? Or do you know a young mother who has stopped breastfeeding? Then you or your friend or acquaintance are not alone. Approximately 95% of women in Switzerland breastfeed at the beginning. After six months, only around a half do, and long-term breastfeeding (> 6 months) is frequently considered taboo in western society.
Why do mothers stop breastfeeding early?
Women frequently imagine breastfeeding to be easier than it actually is. Social media often shows images of blissfully happy breastfeeding mothers, which suggests that breastfeeding is one of the simplest and most natural things in the world. In real life, however, several problems can arise right at the start, such as pain or breast inflammations. As a result, mothers stop breastfeeding before the milk flow has properly begun. Young mothers are often anxious and do not trust themselves or their intuition. What’s more, society often has a big influence on breastfeeding. For example, in Switzerland breastfeeding used to be frowned on and this led to many mothers not breastfeeding their children at all. An additional, frequently mentioned reason for early weaning are the reactions from people around the mother or the public. Maybe you have already experienced being snapped at because you quickly breastfed your baby in a café? As a mother, you actually do have the right to breastfeed your baby in public. If you want to go back to work after having your baby, you will often stop breastfeeding, as it is much laborious than making up bottled milk. At this time the baby is only a few months old, as maternity leave in Switzerland lasts for 14 weeks and is rather short compared to other countries. Did you know that you also have the right to breastfeed in the workplace? If you want to find out more, you can do so here.
Along with the pressure to stop breastfeeding, the pressure to breastfeed is also highly prevalent today. For some women, this can likewise constitute a large burden, as the feeling is conveyed that they can only be a good mother if they breastfeed their child.
What if I don’t breastfeed my child? Does this make me a bad mother?
It may happen again and again that you (for various reasons) don’t breastfeed your baby, or that breastfeeding alone isn’t enough. Does this make you a bad mother? No! If you have to feed your baby extra on top of your breastmilk, or even wean it completely, that is entirely OK. You are still the perfect mother for your child, because your baby needs, above everything else, closeness, security and love. You can give it these things at any time with physical contact and loving care and attention.
Don’t pressurise yourself if you can’t breastfeed straight away. Most mothers are unsure at the start and need to overcome certain hurdles. Sometimes breastfeeding simply doesn’t work at all, despite the best of intentions, and that is entirely OK too. The important thing is to get help and advice as quickly as possible. For example, you could talk to your gynaecologist, midwife or maternity care service.
You can find more information and frequently asked questions and answers on breastfeeding on the website Breastfeeding Promotion Switzerland. World Breastfeeding Week takes place on 18th to 25th September. The week’s theme for this year is “Protect breastfeeding: a shared responsibility”.
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