Breast Milk – The First Precious Gift


Breast milk is nature’s pleasant way of providing the perfect nutrition to an infant. All alternative feeding preparations differ from human breast milk, making it superior for infant feeding.

Benefits of breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are in three main categories

Maternal benefits:

a) Weight loss: Breastfeeding helps mothers return to pre-pregnant weight and shape faster.

b) Decreased post-delivery bleeding: High levels of the hormone (specifically oxytocin) promotes rapid shrinking of the uterus resulting in less post-delivery bleeding.

c) Lowered risk of Cancer: Reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

d) Economical and timely: Breastfeeding saves time and money. It eliminates the need to purchase, measure and mix food. There are no bottles to clean and store.

e) Natural child spacing: Exclusive breastfeeding delays resumption of the menstrual cycle (lactation amenorrhea) thereby delaying subsequent pregnancy.

f) Promotion of Maternal and child bonding: Breastfeeding bonds mother to the child and increases self-confidence and esteem.

Infant benefits

a) Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition to the infant. It contains all the components necessary for growth and development.

b) Breastfed infants tend to gain less unnecessary weight. This may result in being less overweight later in life.

c) Breastfeeding brain development. This translates to higher judgment and language development.

d) Breast milk boosts the immune system thereby decreasing instances and severity of respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and diarrhoea.

Socio-economic benefits

a) Reduction in Health care costs: Fully breastfed children typically need fewer doctor visits, prescriptions and hospitalization.

b) Improved workforce: Work output from Breastfeeding mothers is higher since the babies tend to be healthier.

When not to breastfeed

Despite the optimal benefits, the following instances may require omission or restriction of breastfeeding.

Lactase deficiency (Galactosemia) resulting in non-tolerance of lactose in Breast milk. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting malnutrition mental retardation among others.

Active untreated Tuberculosis.

Drug abuse by mother.

Wounds or ulcers (Active Herpes) on the breast. Hepatitis C may be transmitted through the milk especially if breasts are bleeding or nipples have cracks. Exposure to radioactive material or chemotherapy like in cancer

Exposure to radioactive material or chemotherapy like in cancer treatment.

Note that the fat tissue in the breast determines the overall size of a woman’s breast. Breast size does not have an effect on the amount or quality of milk produced.

The breast

Breast development begins in the first few weeks of pregnancy long before birth and continues up to puberty. During pregnancy, hormones (progesterone and estrogen) promote the growth of milk ducts and lobes but suppress the release of milk. Towards the end of pregnancy, the first milk is usually present in the breast. After delivery, the levels of the above hormones fall. At the same time, the prolactin hormone stimulates the breasts to produce milk. The final hormone in the process, oxytocin, stimulates the release of milk also referred to as let down or milk ejection. Milk production is the key function of the breast in addition to beauty and positive image.

Composition of milk

Milk is produced in different types depending on the age of the infant.


This is the first type of milk, produced following birth. It’s thick and yellow in colour. It aids the infant to pass stool for the first time. Colostrum is small in volume but with high protein content.

Transitional milk.

Follows colostrum production. It comes in more volume and lasts from seven to ten days.

Mature milk

a) Foremilk: Thin milk at the beginning of breastfeeding that satisfies the baby’s thirst and hunger.

b) Hind Milk: The richer, creamier milk that follows is high in fat and energy.


It’s therefore important for the baby to remain on the breast long enough to ingest fore and hind milk to achieve good weight gain.

Breastfeeding skills

Hold the infant close with the whole body facing the mother.

Always bring the baby up to the breast rather than bringing the breast down to the baby. This ensures more effective breastfeeding.

Support the breast with the thumb on top and fingers underneath keeping fingers behind the areola. This is referred to as C-Hold. This is important especially if the breasts are large.

To initiate breastfeeding brush or tickle baby’s lips with the nipple to open the mouth wide, to take in the nipple and most of the areola. Low pitched swallowing noises will be heard during breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding should not hurt.

Breastfeeding skills

To break the suction gently place a clean finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth first, followed by removal of the baby from the breast. This is to avoid nipple trauma and damage.

Commence soon after birth within an hour or two when the baby is awake with strong sucking instincts

Offer both breasts at each feeding and allow sufficient time, to facilitate equal stimulation and emptying

It is recommended that the baby should have exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months after birth “If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800,000 child lives would be saved every year”- World Health Organization (WHO).

Breastfeeding for career mothers

Returning to work or class after maternity leave does not necessarily have to lead to lower rates of breastfeeding or early weaning. The quantity and nutritional quality of breast milk are not undermined by maternal work or activity, including vigorous exercise. A woman’s ability to breastfeed is reduced when she returns to work if breastfeeding breaks are not available, if quality infant care near her workplace is inaccessible or unaffordable, and if no facilities are available for pumping or storing milk.

Mothers employed away from home can continue exclusive breastmilk feeding through a variety of approaches. A mother should breastfeed as often as possible when she is with her infant. She can return home or have her baby brought to work during breaks. She may also express her milk and leave it for another caregiver to feed to the baby in a clean and safe way while they are apart.

Expressed breast milk can be kept for up to 6 – 8 hours at room temperature.

Signs of successful breastfeeding

Signs of successful Breastfeeding are:

  • Steady weight gain
  • Infant sleeps well, alert and healthy when awake
  • Pale yellow urine

Please note that;

Alcohol passes to the baby through breast milk with peak levels achieved in 30 to 60 minutes or 60 to 90 minutes if taken with or after food. Moderate to heavy drinking can interfere with the release of milk. In addition, the alcohol contributes to slow weight gain and interferes with the condition of movement by the baby. Milk production by the mother requires about 500 extra calories per day.