Thursday, March 11, 2010

There's no milk like mum's milk

You might have overheard a conversation in a playground in Melbourne's leafy Eastern suburbs.
"These are amazing pesticide-free organic bamboo nappies," said Jenny.
"All my baby's clothes are organic cotton with no artificial colours," replied her friend Jacqui.
"This baby sling is really the BEST"

Variations on this converstation are being played out across our land. The baby industry relies on youthful idealism when hawking its stuff to our new parents and parents to be. A new baby is the essence of newness and hope. Who would not want all that is good and pure and right for that little one?

Fabulous baby clothes, maternity fashions, prams, toys, books, and other consumables flood shops as well as the online market. Providers of products and services advertise their stuff by every possible means, lining up in booths at a baby expo, with glossy handouts and trivial gifts that will entice market share.

There is one product that cannot be bought or sold, yet its value to both mother and baby is beyond any dollar estimation.

There's no milk like mum's milk.

There's nothing in the market that comes within cooee of a mother's own milk, in terms of nutritional correctness for the individual child, disease prevention through antibodies and other unique biological substances, protection of the psychological bond between mother and child, optimal physical support of the growing child, protecting the mother's health, and much more.

There's no milk like mum's milk.

A couple expecting their first baby will have an impressive array of items ready to welcome their child. Family members and friends will contribute. The mother-2-B will lovingly wash and fold beautiful clothes and wraps in preparation for the birth.

They know breastfeeding is 'best', so they will plan that too.

Yet breastfeeding is an incredibly vulnerable entity, easily lost.

There is a discrete window of opportunity, around the time of birth, when breastfeeding is initiated and established. We have substantial relable evidence as to the maternity practices that either support or interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding. In simple terms, breastfeeding will be threatened when new mothers experience anything that interferes with their learning to breastfeed, such as:
  • receiving conflicting advice
  • not being able trust the guidance of the midwives and other hospital staff
  • being unnecessarily separated from their newborn babies

Breastfeeding is a 2-way activity: a baby breastfeeds, and a mother breastfeeds, simultaneously.

Breastfeeding will be threatened when newborn babies experience anything that interferes with their learning to breastfeed, including:
  • being given anything to suck that is not mother's breast (including teats, dummies, and fingers)
  • not being able to satisfy their need for mother's milk when they feel hungry

Many maternity hospitals have, over the past 20 years attempted to change the way breastfeeding is supported and promoted and protected, for the wellbeing of babies and their mothers. The global Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative was established by World Health Organisation and UNICEF in response to the global threat to health that had arisen with the world-wide promotion of artificial milk formulas that are used as a substitute for mothers own milk.

Many Australian maternity hospitals have implemented the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI), and undergo periodic external audits by assessors appointed by the BFHI.

In my next post I will outline a case in which staff of a 'Baby Friendly' hospital failed to maintain the expected standard, and the impact that failure has on the mother and baby.

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