I dedicate this post to all mothers, both new mothers, expectant mothers and trying to conceive (TTC) potential mothers! I love you all! I am proud to be a mother because MOTHERHOOD ROCKS! If you are a new mother reading this article, from the bottom of my heart, I extend my warmest congratulatory message to you. If you have been trying to conceive and it still seems to be a tough hurdle to cross, please I indulge you to hang in there - you will definitely cross that hurdle and enjoy the joy of motherhood. If you are still TTC and need to seek medical attention please do not hesitate to do so and fingers crossed, your joy will know no boundaries soon. I don't want this post to go down the emotional path so as not to derail from the sole purpose of drafting it. So, let’s continue….
As a new mother, are you breastfeeding your baby? If yes, are you exclusively breastfeeding your baby? Do you breastfeed your baby on demand (responsive breastfeeding) or do you breastfeed based on a timely routine? Do you supplement breastmilk with infant formula, water etc? Are you aware of the advantages of breastfeeding? Do you know the benefits of breastmilk and why it is essential for the healthy-being of your baby? Well, these few questions have been thrown at you to ponder upon.

Meanwhile, Watch this video on the benefits of breast milk!


The key question is, what is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is the process of feeding a baby with milk directly from the breast. It is one of the most essential means of securing a child's health, survival and bonding with mum. Breastfeeding is a cost-effective and the best acceptable approach of feeding infants. Researchers have proven that breastfeeding method of feeding is essential for averting infants’ morbidity and mortality. This invaluable practice is so vital for maintaining the health, development, growth and overall well-being of infants. It is also helpful for minimizing the risk of neonatal diseases such as respiratory tract infection, childhood obesity, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis and otitis media.
It is widely believed that breastfeeding is the first fundamental right of all infants. Regardless of the method of child delivery, newborns must be breastfed within one hour of birth (golden hour) and on-demand afterwards. Ideally, newborn babies must be breastfed for the first six months of life (exclusive breastfeeding). This is followed by complementary feeding after 6 months and sustained breastfeeding for up to 1 to 2 years or beyond (World Health Organisation and UNICEF). Despite the immense benefits of breastfeeding, studies have shown that approximately 2 out of 3 newborns are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended first 6 months. Unfortunately, this rate has been declining over the past 2 decades. Exclusive breastfeeding means that no other kinds of liquids, water or foods are to be fed to babies for the first 6 months of life. It is worthy to note that breastfeeding improves the quality of both mother and child's life through psychological, immunological, nutritional and economic benefits. Babies should be breastfed on demand, which means whenever the baby wants to feed irrespective of the time of the day. This should be without bottles, cups, teats, pacifiers, spoons or nipple shields. According to the World Health Organisation, only 41% of babies under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed. About 3 in 5 newborns are not breastfed in the first hours of their lives. Effectively breastfeeding children between the ages of 0 to 23 months can save over 820 000 children annually. UNICEF reported that breastfed babies have at least six times higher survival rate in their early months, unlike their non-breastfed counterparts. Exclusively breastfed babies are fourteen times less likely to die in their first six months, unlike their non-breastfed counterparts.
When does breastfeeding begin?
Breastfeeding begins within one hour of birth. This precious early moment is very vital for initiating mother-child bonding and love. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies whenever their babies need suckling and for the duration they want to suckle. Mothers are encouraged to feed their babies on one breast at a time so as to allow the baby to get both the foremilk and the hindmilk.
What is breast milk?
Breast milk or mother's milk is the milk produced by a human female's breasts via the mammary glands after childbirth for feeding an infant. Breast milk is the main source of food and nourishment for a child until he/she is capable of eating and digesting other solid foods. The prolactin hormone stimulates a woman's body to produce breast milk for feeding her child. Breast milk is harmless, hygienic and enriched with antibodies that offer protection against diverse childhood infections, diseases and sicknesses. A mother breastfeeding her baby is the most common way of acquiring breast milk, however, breast milk can be drawn from a woman's breasts using a breast pump after which it can then be fed to a baby using a baby feeding bottle, nasogastric tube, spoon or cup.
Studies have shown that breast milk significantly contributes to the nutritional, health, developmental, immunologic, and psychological wellbeing of a baby. Breast milk contains a high amount of nutrients like vitamins, proteins, lipids, minerals, carbohydrates and trace elements thus essential for meeting up with the nutritional requirements of babies for optimal growth and development. Breast milk provides all the vital nutrients, nourishment and energy required by a baby for the first six months of life. It continues to provide up to half or more of an infant's nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second phase or year of lifetime.
Breast Milk Production
Whenever a baby suckles at the breast, the nerve endings in the nipple are stimulated to send a message to the anterior pituitary that produces prolactin. Prolactin enables the gland cells in the breast to secret milk. Prolactin starts functioning once a baby has finished breastfeeding thereby producing milk for the next feed. The chain of events between a nipple stimulation to milk secretion is known as the "Prolactin reflex or milk secreting reflex". Skin-to-skin contact, sucking and tactile stimulation of the nipples are essential for releasing oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that stimulates the ejection of milk into the mammary ducts of the breasts. It is an essential component of the milk ejection reflex and it creates a bond between a mother and baby. Oxytocin increases the flow of blood to a mother's nipple and chest, thereby increasing the skin temperature while creating a warm and soothing environment for the baby.

Three stages of breast milk

  1. Colostrum: This is a thick sticky yellow, creamy or white fluid, which is produced by a female's breasts during the second half of pregnancy and within a few days post-birth, before breast milk comes in. Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mammary glands of mothers following the birth of their newborns. Colostrum richly contains antibodies, which offer protection to infants against infections and diseases. Newborn babies have very small and immature digestive systems, which is why colostrum is essential for delivering its invaluable nutrients in a thick low-quantity form.
    Colostrum is also associated with a mild laxative effect that promotes the passing of a newborn's first faeces (meconium). This eradicates excess bilirubin, which is the waste product of dead red blood cells produced in large volumes at delivery as a result of the reduction in blood volume from the baby's body. It also helps to prevent jaundice. Colostrum is a rich constituent of lymphocytes or immune cells, immunoglobulins or antibodies (IgA, IgG, and IgM), minerals, fat-soluble vitamins and protein. The level of protein in colostrum is quite higher than in milk.
    Mothers pass antibodies (immunoglobulins) to their babies and these immunoglobulins offer passive immunity to newborns. Passive immunity protects newborns from various viral and bacterial illnesses. Colostrum is normally replaced by transitional milk between 2 to 4 days after child delivery.

  2. Transitional milk is the human milk that comes in immediately after colostrum stops coming out. The transitional milk stage is also known as the moment when a mother's milk starts "coming in'' and it is the stage between colostrum and mature milk. As the name suggests, a breastfeeding mother's breast milk transitions from colostrum to transitional milk. This creamy milk is produced between 2 to 5 days after child delivery up until 10 to 14 days post-birth. Transitional milk is a rich constituent of water-soluble vitamins, lactose and fat. It contains higher calories than colostrum. During the transitional phase, a woman's breasts produce a higher volume of transitional milk than colostrum. This tends to enlarge the breasts as well as make the breasts firmer. Sometimes, this issue of breast enlargement can initially make it hard for newborns to correctly latch on the breasts. However, with constant practice and support from lactation or breastfeeding specialists, your baby can get a hang of latching on. Diligently breastfeeding your baby at this stage will lessen the pressure in your breasts thereby allowing you to comfortably breastfeed your baby afterwards.

  3. Mature milk is a mixture of foremilk and hindmilk. It normally comes in between the 10th day and the 2nd week. It is distinguished by its whitish colour and slightly thinner in nature than the transitional milk. Mature milk is the final milk that is produced by a mother and water makes up approximately 90% of it. The remaining 10% is a composition of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The water component helps to keep the baby hydrated while the rest of the components facilitate the general wellbeing and growth of a baby.

The two types of mature milk are:

  1. Foremilk is the first milk that flows out of a mother's breast when a baby latches on to breastfeed. Foremilk is distinguished by its watery and thin characteristics. It contains water, fat, vitamins, protein and low calories.

  2. Hindmilk is the milk that continues to follow as a baby continues to breastfeed. Hindmilk has a thicker consistency with a creamy colour. It contains a higher amount of fat and calories thus highly important for a baby's weight gain.

Nutritional Value of Breast Milk

Breastmilk has optimal nutritional value and contains bioactive components required for the wellbeing of a child's health. It contains carbohydrate (in the form of disaccharide lactose), monosaccharides (galactose and glucose) and more than 130 oligosaccharides. The neutral and acidic oligosaccharides in human breast milk are distinguished by their complex molecular structures that help the gut microbiota and the developing immune system. Breast milk contains n-3 and n-6 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are constituents of phospholipids and triglycerides that help to form complex structures needed for brain development and metabolism. Human breast milk contains cytokines, sIgA, leukocytes, nucleotides, lysozyme, interferon-γ and lactoferrin. Human breast milk is an excellent constituent of essential fatty acids, hormones, enzymes, polyamines, growth factors and other biologically active compounds that contribute to the health benefits of breastfeeding. Breast milk positively contributes to a baby's rate of absorption, metabolism, development of the brain and the eye, development of the gut microbiota and maturation. It minimizes the risk of infections, diseases and allergies.

Benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is associated with several health benefits to both mothers and babies. The benefits of breastfeeding can be either short term or long term.

Benefits of breastfeeding for baby:

  1. Some researchers have proven that breastfeeding offers long-term protection to babies against chronic diseases.

  2. Breast milk provides the vital vitamins, nutrients and minerals needed by a child for development and growth

  3. Breastfeeding maximizes the emotional bond between a mother and her child.

  4. Breast milk transfers antibodies from the mother to the child thereby helping to fight disease-causing organisms.

  5. Breast milk is easily available for a baby at the right temperature and when needed.

  6. Breast milk is hygienic thus best suited for babies.

  7. Breastfed babies have better visual development and cognitive development.

  8. Breast milk prevents early food allergies in babies.

  9. Breastfed babies have higher intelligent Quotient (IQ) and speech development.

  10. Breastfeeding positively contributes to a child's behaviour, speech development, sense of wellbeing, relationship with other people and security.

  11. Breastfeeding facilitates the secretion of hormones for digestion and satiety.

  12. Breastfeeding significantly impacts a baby's health condition, nutrition level, rate of survival and developmental rate.

  13. Breastfeeding stimulates a baby's mouth and jaw growth.

  14. Breast milk digests easily.

  15. Breastfeeding minimizes the risk of chronic disease conditions such as obesity, pneumonia, heart disease, diarrhoea, otitis media, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, leukaemias, hypertension, childhood asthma and diabetes.

  16. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of infant mortality.

Benefits of breastfeeding for mom:

  1. Breastfeeding allows a mother to provide affection, warmth and love to her baby.

  2. Early breastfeeding and responsive feeding prevent breast engorgement.

  3. Breastfeeding facilitates the involution of the uterus. Involution is the shrinkage of the uterus after childbirth.

  4. Women who breastfeed have lower chances of breast and ovarian cancers.

  5. Breastfeeding immediately after childbirth helps to reduce the risk of postpartum haemorrhage and anaemia.

  6. Breastfeeding minimizes the chances of postpartum depression.

  7. Exclusive breastfeeding contributes to delayed fertility.

  8. Breastfeeding extends ovulation.

  9. Breastfeeding helps mothers to regain their normal figure.

  10. Breastfeeding reduces the financial burden on families since it saves the cost of formula, medicines, water, hospitalization and bottles.

To facilitate and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF recommend the following best practices:

  • Introduction of breastfeeding within the first hour of life (golden hour).

  • Strict implementation of exclusive breastfeeding where a baby strictly feeds on breast milk without any complementary fluids like water or foods like baby formula.

  • Responsive breastfeeding, which is otherwise known as breastfeeding on demand: This approach requires mothers to breastfeed their babies whenever they want to feed irrespective of the time or hour of the day.

  • Strict avoidance of feeding bottles or teats while feeding babies as well as the avoidance of pacifiers and nippleshields.

Risks of mixed feeding
According to UNICEF, there are certain risks associated with mixed feeding. Mixed feeding involves feeding babies under 6 months of age with other foods, water or liquids together with breast milk. This is a common practice all over the world, which poses great risks on the health conditions of babies due to the likelihood of infections, diseases and diarrhoea. Mixed feeding also reduces breast milk supply.

Nursing mothers should understand the following:

  • Early skin to skin contact between mothers and babies is encouraged to increase the chances of successful breastfeeding and bonding.

  • Consistent suckling facilitates more milk production.

  • Good breastfeeding posture increases milk production.

  • Stress and worry suppress breast milk production.

Reasons why babies are not sucking enough milk:

  • Early introduction of supplements such as baby formula, water, juice, glucose etc. These supplements quickly fill the baby’s stomach thereby causing the baby to suckle less time on the breast.

  • Breastfeeding restrictions or non-responsive feeding reduces breast milk supply.

  • Baby's failure to breastfeed longer can reduce breast milk supply.

  • Malnourishment can lead to low breast milk supply.

  • Poor ejection reflex as a result of a mother's anxiety, pain or stress can alter breast milk production.

  • Improper breastfeeding position decreases breast milk supply.

  • Breast milk supply can be hindered if a mother is unwilling to breastfeed her baby.

Best practices for increasing breast milk supply

Mothers can adopt the following tips below to increase their breast milk supply:

  • Being that breast milk production is a demand and supply process, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed frequently and appropriately. The more a baby suckles, the higher chances of milk production.

  • Studies have shown that breast massage helps to open up blocked ducts as well as loosen up lumps. Although breast massage does not increase milk production, it facilitates easy flow of breast milk. It also reduces the risk of mastitis.

  • Switch sides when breastfeeding. Allow the baby to suck milk from both breasts at least twice or thrice whenever you feed. Allow the baby to finish feeding on one breast before switching to the other one. This method allows the baby to suckle both the foremilk and the fatty hindmilk.

  • Breastfeeding mothers should eat a well-balanced diet and rest well.

  • A nursing mother can use a nursing pillow while breastfeeding a baby for comfort.

  • Breast pumping or breastmilk expression is important to maintain the milk supply if a baby fails to empty a breast. Breast milk storage is essential for preserving expressed milk. Mothers can store pumped milk in milk storage bags, for example, Tommee tippee milk storage bags or Avent breast milk storage bags and then store them in the deep freezer.

  • Wearing the right bra helps to boost breast milk production. Nursing mothers are encouraged to refrain from wearing tight-fitted bras as these bras tend to compress their chest regions thereby negatively impacting their milk flow. Wearing an inappropriate bra can clog the ducts thereby blocking breast milk production.

  • Babies below six months should not be given solid foods or any other complementary fluids or foods.

  • Mothers are encouraged to develop a positive attitude and stay relaxed, live a stress-free life so as to boost breast milk production.

  • Mothers are encouraged to refrain from using hormonal contraceptives after birth.

  • Mothers are encouraged to avoid giving pacifiers to their babies. Nipple pacifiers and nipple shields should also be avoided as much as possible.

  • Mothers should only take medications that do not interfere with breast milk production.

Foods to increase breast milk (lactogenic foods to increase milk supply)

For nursing mothers, below are some foods to increase milk supply:

  • Poppy seeds or KhusKhus is an oilseed obtained from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Poppy seeds are distinguished by their sedative features that help nursing mothers to stay calm and relaxed. By being calm and relaxed, milk production will increase.

  • Bottle gourd or calabash or long melon or New Guinea bean is botanically known as Lagenaria siceraria. It is a white-flowered gourd or vine grown for its fruit. Bottle gourd helps to keep a nursing mother hydrated thereby increasing breast milk quantity.

  • Salmon is an oily fish that is notable for its rich constituent of Omega 3 fatty acids, EFA (Essential Fatty acids) and protein. These are highly nutritious and important for lactating mothers.

  • Brown rice contains a hormone that stimulates breast milk production. To increase breast milk supply, brown rice can be soaked overnight before cooking.

  • Almonds are rich constituents of Omega-3, hence suitable for facilitating lactation.

  • Barley keeps nursing mothers hydrated as well as boosts lactation.

  • Fennel seeds boost breast milk production.

  • Carrot richly contains Vitamin A which is essential for lactation as well as boost the quality of milk.

  • Spinach is a rich source of folic acid, iron and calcium thus aid milk production.

  • Water consumption keeps mothers hydrated and boosts lactation.

  • Cumin seeds stimulate breast milk production especially if taken in moderation.

  • Fenugreek seeds stimulate breast milk production.

  • Garlic increases breast milk production as well as enhances lactation in new mothers.

  • Black sesame seeds contain a high amount of calcium hence helps to increase a mother's milk supply.

  • Breastfeeding cookies or lactation Cookies are ideal for breastfeeding mothers as they help boost and maintain breast milk supply.

DISCLAIMER This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.


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  9. Pixabay (2020) Breastfeeding mother and baby image from

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