Child health experts have urged mothers to breastfeed their newborns within the first 30 minutes to one hour after delivery, noting that doing so is of great health benefit to the baby.
According to the paediatricians, not breastfeeding early could give room for newborns to develop irreversible health complications and infections.
The experts, a Consultant Paediatric Haematologist and Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araban Prof. Edamisan Temiye, and a Paediatrician, Neonatologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Zainab Imam, noted that early breastfeeding is not only beneficial to the baby but also to the mother.
Speaking in a chat with PUNCH HealthWise, Prof. Temiye warned that if a baby is not breastfed early enough, they may become hypoglycaemic, which means a dangerously low level of sugar in the blood.
Hypoglycaemia, Prof. Temiye warned, must be prevented at all costs because it may lead to irreversible damage to the brain of the baby.
According to an online health portal, MedicalNewsToday,
“Hypoglycaemia is the medical term for low blood sugar in newborns. It is common immediately after birth but usually corrects itself when the infant begins feeding regularly.
“Hypoglycaemia in a newborn is treatable however, without treatment; this medical condition can cause lasting damage.”
The expert further added that if feeding is not delayed, the problem of the baby not sucking will be solved almost immediately.
Prof. Temiye stated that feeding within the first 30mins is not only beneficial to the baby but also the mother. The expert further explained saying,
“A baby should be breastfed within the first 30 minutes. Within that time the baby is still alert and will quickly grab onto the breast and interpret proper placement of the breast, and proper sucking and you will solve the problem of the baby not sucking almost immediately.
“But when you delay after about one hour or more after delivery, the baby falls asleep and it may take a longer time to get the baby to start sucking.”
“The little dense milk that comes out first is rich enough to prevent the baby from developing hypoglycaemia which is low blood sugar.
“If you don’t breastfeed the baby early enough they may become hypoglycaemic and if the baby has severe hypoglycaemia it can damage the brain forever, so hypoglycaemia must be prevented at all cost because the brain of that baby may be damaged for life.”
Although, if that happens, the expert said, “the doctor can quickly give intravenous glucose and start feeding immediately, and checking regularly until it regularises, but prevention is best, early feeding is the critical thing,” he stressed.
On the benefits of early breastfeeding to the mother, Prof. Temiye said that it will help the woman’s uterus contract and also reduce blood loss. The child health expert said:
“The bonus to the mother is that when a baby sucks very early, sometimes even when the placenta has not come out it will help the uterus to contract and help expel the placenta very early.
“Also because it helps the uterus to contract it reduces the blood loss to the mother, so the mother does not lose as much blood because there is a hormone that is released that helps the uterus to contract and become stronger, then push the placenta out and stop the mother from losing a lot of blood.”
The paediatrician also noted that there may, however, be instances when a baby should not be breastfed early to prevent further complications.
He said instances like,
“If the baby is delivered and didn’t cry at birth, that kind of baby cannot breastfeed at that time, if you have an extremely premature baby, the baby should not breastfeed immediately.
“There are also some babies that are born and have some malformations that can cause problems for the baby and it will not be able to suck. Some other deformations like intestinal obstruction and other forms of malformations.
“Although this is very rare, there is a condition called galactosemia, in which the baby is unable to break down the sugar in the breast milk and if you breastfeed that baby, the baby will develop a lot of complications and become very sick.
“So as soon as you notice because you may not notice immediately but as soon as you notice the baby is becoming sick, you have to stop the breastfeeding and get appropriate help.”
Prof. Temaye stated further that in a situation when a mother is unable to breastfeed within the stipulated time, the alternative is to use a breast milk substitute which is formula. He said,
“The alternative available when the mother cannot breastfeed is a formula but for babies that have galactosemia, they have to take a special formula because if you give the baby normal formula the baby will suffer the same effect so the special formula must be galactose free.”
He further advised that exclusive breastfeeding should be taught right from secondary school and not just in universities or when a woman is pregnant.
Prof. Temaye said,
“We need to actively promote exclusive breastfeeding for all babies, the knowledge should be available to everybody and if I have my way, females should start to be taught about breastfeeding in secondary school and not in the university so that they know the benefit of breastfeeding and they make up their mind that when that have babies they will breastfeed exclusively.
“It is not when the woman is pregnant that you start to educate, they need to teach early that breastfeeding is so important and useful and it helps both baby and mother.
“It helps to develop love between them, prevents infections for the babies, and keeps them healthy even beyond the period of breastfeeding. If mothers and fathers are educated early, it will improve the rate of breastfeeding in our society.”
Also speaking in the same vein, Dr. Imam said,
“The ideal thing is that a baby is delivered unto the mother’s tummy and then in that position, the baby will be dried on the mother’s chest and would naturally start to make attempt or show evidence that they are ready to suckle, by licking their lips and then the mother just pops the breast in the baby’s mouth.
“The advantages of establishing breastfeeding within the first hour of life are that it helps the mother to start to lactate. The breast milk is there but it is the suckling of the baby on the breast that causes something we call a ‘let down reflex’, the sucking action stimulates a particular place in the mother’s brain that releases a certain hormone called oxytocin.
“Oxytocin serves two functions at that time; it helps the milk from the glands to be released into the baby’s mouth and it also helps to contract the womb the baby came out from, and also prevents the mother from bleeding.”
“Also, a woman who starts to breastfeed within the first hour of life is more likely to reach six months of exclusive breastfeeding and is more likely to breastfeed for longer because babies are supposed to breastfeed for up to two years of age.
“If a woman has a pre-term baby, for example, those women who will assist with expressing milk no matter how small the colostrum the baby will get, that is real life protection.
“Colostrum is made up of protective proteins that when the baby internalises it, it protects the child from coming down with infections, so breastfeeding is a win-win for both the baby and the mother.”