Why you should breast feed right after birth

Neo-natal nurse Mary Mathenge shows a new mother how to breastfeed her baby. [PHOTO: DOREEN IVISU/STANDARD]

Like many first time mothers, Nancy was looking forward to the birth of her baby.

“My pregnancy had been smooth with very little complications, as did my labour. In fact, everything was fine until I placed my baby on the breast to feed 12 hours later.

She was asleep and barely opened her eyes and even when she woke up, she did not suckle much. She would cry uncontrollably and I got anxious. I thought I did not have milk, so I fed my baby on formula milk,” she says.

What this new mum experienced is something many others go through and which, sadly, robs what should otherwise be an enriching experience for a mother and her baby.

The argument that mothers do not have adequate milk necessitating the introduction of formula milk is one that lactation consultant and neo-natal nurse, Mary Mathenge, disagrees with.

“Before the baby is born, colostrum -- the first milk -- begins to form and by the time the baby is born, it is ready,” she says.

Mathenge says to stimulate this milk, the baby should be placed on the mother’s tummy and dried, then immediately placed on the breast to feed.

“This is because during the first hour, babies are alert and able to latch. The mistake most caregivers make is to take the baby away and return them when they are already asleep,” she said.

Immediately the baby begins to suckle, a message is sent to the mother’s brain to release prolactin and oxytocin hormones, she says.

“These hormones stimulate milk secreting cells and cause the breast to contract and expel milk from the cells to the duct. The more the baby suckles, the more these hormones are released and the more milk produced,” says Mathenge.

During this period, mothers should have skin contact with their babies, as this helps to release anti-stress hormones that increase the amount of milk the mother produces.

Mathenge assures mothers not to worry about little milk, as this point the baby’s stomach is still very small and only needs minimal milk.

Breast milk is in two parts: The fore milk is made up of water, meant to quench the baby’s thirst and hind milk, which contains fats, carbohydrates and proteins necessary for the baby’s healthy growth. This is especially important in the first two weeks when the baby loses their birth weight.

“Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for every mother. The key is to acquire relevant knowledge beforehand to ensure you do it well,” Mary says.