Virtually all mothers can breastfeed their babies. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, and that the practice can continue alongside complementary solid foods up to 2 years of age. By exclusive feeding, it means that the infant does not receive any additional fluids, including water, and foods other than breastmilk. However, sticking to exclusive breastfeeding will necessitate a certain amount of family and societal support, as well as being armed with accurate information about breastfeeding.

Milk production dependent on frequency of breastfeeding

Milk production is a “use it or lose it” process. The more often the baby nurses, the more milk will be made by the mother. The mother will start making colostrum – a yellowish, sticky breast milk - midway through their pregnancy, with her milk volume increasing only about 30-40 hours after birth. As the baby continues to feed throughout the first month, this sets the basis for the mother’s breastfeeding journey as receptor sites on the breasts increase, consequently leading to an increase in milk production capability. Thus, it is important to begin breastfeeding as early as possible, to ensure there is ample milk to sustain breastfeeding for the next six months.

Breastfeeding foster bond between mother and child

The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous and well-documented. Breastfeeding not only fosters a special bond between mother and child, but it is also described as something close to a “miracle” drug as it strengthens the immunity of the developing baby. Breastfeeding can be likened to nature’s way of providing young infants with the necessary nutrients for their growth and development. Studies have shown that breastfeeding may confer protection against common infections, as well as better survival during the first year of life. Breastfeeding has even been found to reduce the risk for certain allergic diseases, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Healthcare professionals too busy to pump milk

Part of breastfeeding the baby exclusively is to pump milk and store them for times when the mother has to be away, such as if the mother is working. However, the harsh reality for healthcare professionals is that they are too pressed for time to pump every 2-3 hours, which is the usual recommended lag time between pumps.

There are two ways to go about this time constraint. First, slot in shorter pumps, lasting 12 – 15 minutes, around slow periods at work. If this does not work, the healthcare professional could consider pumping in the morning just before they go to work, and in the evening, when their shift end. Realistically, a time they can set aside would be during lunch. Healthcare professionals may also consider pumping first before eating. A typical pump session takes up about 20 – 25 minutes, which will leave them around 25 minutes for lunch.

Importance of night feeding and co-sleeping

It is common for mothers in Singapore to engage confinement nannies to support them during the confinement month. Sometimes, these confinement nannies may advocate total rest for the mothers in the confinement month, to the extent of separating the baby from the mother at night. However, this may not be an advisable practice if the healthcare professional is considering to breastfeed. Night time breastfeeding is very important as these night feeds can make up to as much as about 20% of the babies’ 24-hour intake.

Co-sleeping is an arrangement where the mother and baby sleep nearby, such as in the same bed or the same room. Co-sleeping helps to regulate the sleep patterns of both mother and baby, allowing them to get more sleep. After the healthcare professional has returned to work following their maternity leave, they may wish to consider adopting such a co-sleeping arrangement. The healthcare industry is highly stressful and a good night’s rest is vital, which means sleep deprivation should be the last thing they want to deal with. Further, a co-sleeping arraignment would make night time breastfeeding an easier endeavour as the baby is nearby.

In 2011, a study found that 80% of 1,962 mothers in Singapore continued breastfeeding after two months, with 28% breastfeeding exclusively. At six months, 42% continued breastfeeding but only 1% were breastfeeding exclusively. 50%of the mothers in another study reported that they stopped breastfeeding after returning to work. Breastfeeding is a worthwhile endeavour, and more mothers and baby stand to benefit from exclusive breastfeeding. Thus, more support could be given to help mothers sustain exclusive breastfeeding in Singapore. MIMS

Read more:
Taking medicine while breastfeeding: Practical considerations
United Nations wants people talking about breastmilk importance
3 truths about breastfeeding and why mothers stop doing it