World Breastfeeding Week 2020
Updated: Aug 3
We celebrate World Breastfeeding Week by highlighting some fascinating facts about breast milk and ways to make both mum and baby comfortable during breastfeeding.
Whether you’re thinking about having a baby, already expecting one, or have recently given birth, it’s natural to have anxiety about breastfeeding. It's something that both mother and baby need to learn how to do together and it may not always be an easy process. This uncertainty can be felt by partners too, so this post isn’t just for the mums!
World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) has been celebrated every year from 1st to 7th August since 1992. The main intentions of this global campaign are 'to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding’ and they do this important work in partnership with The World Health Organisation and UNICEF.
There is so much information available at your fingertips about breastfeeding, it can be a bit overwhelming. If you have any serious concerns, we recommend speaking to your midwife. But we thought we would start by focusing on some fascinating facts to get you excited about your breastfeeding journey.
The three stages of breast milk
Did you know that during the first few weeks after giving birth, breast milk undergoes its own journey through three very unique stages, all of which are tailor-made for your baby’s needs? Mother nature is truly wondrous.
Initially, what is produced is a thick yellow substance called ‘colostrum’, which the woman’s body started producing during pregnancy. Colostrum is rich in vital nutrients such as carotenoids and vitamin A. It’s also full of protein, whilst being low in fat, so it's easy for the baby to digest.
Studies have shown that colostrum plays a crucial role in developing a baby’s immune system. Partly because it contains minerals such as magnesium, copper and zinc, but also due to the fact that up to two-thirds of the cells that comprise colostrum are infection-fighting white blood cells from the mother. This can not only help the baby produce an immune response to fight bad bacteria and viruses, but it also helps build up the necessary ‘good’ bacteria in the baby’s gut.
Colostrum only lasts for the first few days so it’s super important to start breastfeeding your baby within the first hour after giving birth. For the first few weeks the little one will need feeding every 2-3 hours, day and night. It’s no surprise that new parents complain about being tired all the time!
But let’s stay focused on the wondrous aspect, because after a few days of feeding, the baby’s suckling action has triggered the next transformation in the mother’s breastmilk production. This stage is called ’transitional milk’ and it usually kicks in around the third of fourth day.
Transitional milk contains higher levels of lactose and essential fats than colostrum, as well as natural sugars that help to increase the baby’s energy levels. As the baby’s own immune system grows stronger, they become less reliant on the help that was provided by colostrum and the composition of proteins and minerals in the transitional milk is automatically adjusted by the mother’s body.
By the end of the first month, the miraculous milk machine (also known as the breast) has reached the stage of 'mature milk' production, the composition of which remains stable for the rest of the baby’s breastfeeding months.
Mature milk still provides antibacterial and antiviral protection, but interestingly, if the baby or mother develop an infection, the levels of white blood cells increase again to provide extra protection and boost the baby’s immune system.
Breastfeeding benefits the mother too
Aside from the wonderful and bonding experience between mother and baby that breastfeeding provides, there’s evidence that it benefits the mother's health too. The skin-to-skin intimacy involved in breastfeeding produces oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’.
Oxytocin can help combat the effects of post-natal depression and help both mother and baby sleep better. There’s also evidence to suggest that breastfeeding might protect the mother against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and a number of different types of cancer.
Different breastfeeding positions
Finding a breastfeeding position that’s not only comfortable for you but also works for the baby, can be a process of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different positions to find your favourite. As long as the baby’s head and body are facing in the same direction so that the baby can swallow properly, there are plenty of different positions to try, including these three most common ones:
Cradle hold: This can be done in bed as long as your back and arms are supported by pillows, or in an armchair that has cushioned armrests. Raise your feet with a footstool or cushions for extra comfort. In this position, the baby lies across your belly, with their head supported by your forearm and your hand cradling their bottom. The baby’s nose should be in line with your nipple. Ensure there is a straight line running between the baby’s hip, shoulder and ear.
Rugby ball hold: This position might be better than the cradle hold if you’ve had a C-section as it avoids any pressure on your scar area. Whether you’re in a chair or upright in bed, place the baby on a pillow on the same side as the breast you wish to feed from. The baby’s hips should be close to your hips and their nose level with your nipple. Your elbow will be slightly bent outwards, so the baby is nestled under your arm. Your hand on the same side supports their neck, leaving your other hand free to gently guide your breast towards their mouth.
Lying on your side: This position is also great if you’ve had a C-section or need to feed quickly in the middle of the night whilst staying in bed. Both you and baby lie on your sides facing each other with your bellies touching, the baby’s nose level with your nipple. Make sure both of your backs are supported so you don’t roll away from each other. Once again ensure there is a straight line running between the baby’s hip, shoulder and ear. With the hand that you are not lying on, gently guide the baby to your breast.
We hope this helps all the new mums out there feel more confident about your breastfeeding journey. Happy World Breastfeeding Week!