Achieving 6 Months of Exclusive Breastfeeding

Effortless. Biological. Beautiful. A loving source of nourishment and comfort. That’s what the world tells us and what most new mothers think about breastfeeding. Though largely true, it hardly paints the whole picture.

In reality, mothers today live a hectic and fast-paced life. A career, chores and family commitment all add up at the end of the day and can take a toll on the mother both physically and mentally – and having a newborn to breastfeed on top of that doesn’t make it any easier.

How Long Should You Be Breastfeeding?

It’s recommended that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with complementary foods until two years of age.

Guess What?!

Breastfeeding requires 400-600 calories per day, on average. A bottlefeeding mother would have to swim at least 30 laps in a pool or cycle uphill for an hour daily to loose the same amount.

Being successful in exclusively breastfeeding your child has its perks:

Mother

  • burn extra calories
  • lose weight faster
  • helps uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size
  • reduce uterine bleeding after birth
  • decreased risk of diabetes in later life
  • improved blood sugar control, and good cholesterol profile
  • lower risk of heart problems
  • reduced risk of breast cancer
  • lower risk of osteoporosis

Baby

  • lower risk of having asthma or allergies
  • more resistant to disease and infection early in life
  • fewer dental cavities as they grow
  • less likely to become obese later in childhood
  • higher IQ

But let’s face it, six months of exclusive breastfeeding isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and quite a number of mothers may not be able to follow through. In fact, in Malaysia, less than 15% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. This is probably because mothers are faced with numerous challenges:

  1. Many new mothers are discouraged and sometimes give up because they think they have failed for not being able to produce enough milk for their child.
  2. Some mothers are scared to even start because they expect breastfeeding to be extremely painful and uncomfortable.
  3. Some are too busy at work and too exhausted once they get home. Easier and more convenient to use formula.
  4. Lack of proper support (from partner/family members) and insufficient education about the practical aspects of breastfeeding can lead to anxiety and a greater likelihood of stopping nursing.
  5. Too little expressed milk. Mothers feel the time and hassle spent pumping isn’t worth it and ultimately give up.
  6. Feel unwelcomed or uncomfortable when breastfeeding in a public place.

Tips for successful six-month exclusive breastfeeding

  1. Equip yourself with all the relevant breastfeeding information (breastfeeding techniques, positions, etc.) and be mentally prepared. Take up a class if you have the time or join a breastfeeding support group – they will be able to give you much needed advice when the time comes.
  2. Practice makes perfect – no one gets it right the first time. Trying different latching positions may also help you discover the best position that’s comfortable and relaxing for you and your child.
  3. Start breastfeeding immediately after birth and build your milk supply to meet your baby’s demand by feeding him over and over again or whenever he/ she is hungry.
  4. Learn to express your milk and plan how, where and when to store it properly.
  5. Talk with your employer on making it more comfortable for you to express milk at the office and whether your working hours can be made more flexible. Chances are they have a good breastfeeding policy at work and know how to properly treat your needs because they have been through it before.
  6. Stay hydrated, eat a healthy and nutritious diet, don’t stress yourself out and get enough rest.
  7. Don’t keep your problems to yourself. Talk to your spouse and other trusted family members about it. Get their support and encouragement. You may be doing all the hard labour but that doesn’t mean other people can’t help you through it – make it a team effort and share your load.
  8. Drown the haters; your child is your priority. Prepare well for breastfeeding if you decide to go out. Better yet, make your own breastfeeding outing kit with all the things you’ll need (i.e. proper breastfeeding clothes, towels, ointment).

Supplementing with formula early on is a very tempting option especially when exhaustion, and sometimes even frustration, takes hold of you. Nevertheless, breast milk is the best and most holistic source of nutrition for your child for which there is no equal.

Don’t give up, follow these tips and muster the determination and strength – which you’ll find every time you look at your baby’s cute, innocent face – to continue breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continue breastfeeding even after you’ve started giving baby complementary foods. You won’t regret it!

Breastfeeding Support & Advocacy Groups in Malaysia

An educational collaboration with Nutrition Society of Malaysia.

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