In both rural and urban areas, women are often overburdened with family responsibilities and household chores. For working mothers, there is additional pressure of work as well as taking care of their babies, especially when it comes to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is not only time consuming, but also requires a lot of physical energy. World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is a global campaign observed annually from the 1st to the 7th of August to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding. This year’s theme is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’. It focuses on how breastfeeding contributes to the survival, health and wellbeing of all, and the imperative to protect breastfeeding worldwide.
Stress, fatigue and anxiety can reduce the amount of milk a woman produces. Studies show that when men have information on exclusive breastfeeding, they can support women by helping with housework, looking after children and even providing the much needed continuous emotional and physical support as a skilled assistant or a partner.
Research shows that when a mother has the support and encouragement of her partner, she’s more likely to be successful at breastfeeding and breastfeed for a longer duration of time. “Good breastfeeding support starts at home. Father’s involvement has a direct relationship with child’s cognitive and social development,” tells Afsah who has been providing support to new parents for around five years. She is currently on her journey to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Afsah has helped thousands of mommies through her programme, The Lactation Club (TLC), to successfully breastfeed their babies.
“I chose to pump breastmilk instead of going for formula. It was hard to exclusively pump milk and then feed. Here, people are not aware that breastmilk can be pumped out and when some first time mothers choose to pump, people don’t support her at all.” There were days when she would cry along with her baby because he was colic and she just didn’t know what to do. “I leaked but couldn’t pump milk because he wants me to hold him all the time. The engorgement pain is a different story. In the end though, it’s all worth it.” She also stated that because of her husband’s support she was able to breastfeed her child. “Society is not at all supportive towards moms in general and always criticise us. I didn’t cook for good six months because I was always busy in pumping. Despite the hurdles, ever mother wants to do everything they find best for their children. I feel so proud of myself to be able to breastfeed my child at least for a year,” she enthuses.
Breastmilk is more than just food for babies – it is also a potent medicine for disease prevention that is tailored to the needs of each child. The importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of the newborns’ lives remains unrealised. “New mothers are not offered support and are often scared into introducing breastmilk substitutes. If I have to give you numbers, then as per UNICEF, in Pakistan, hardly 18% mothers get to breastfeed in the first hour of birth (which actually is called the golden hour and breastfeeding in this hour sets the trajectory for the breastfeeding journey), and less than 35% mothers exclusively breastfed babies for six months,” highlights Afsah.
Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide. “The very first instinct of our healthcare providers is to blame breastfeeding and recommend a formula. The new mothers are offered constant pressure and stress under the name of support. We need to have a safe space and a culture of nurturing mothers so they can happily nurture the babies,” suggests Afsah.
Many mothers do not feed their babies colostrum, which is the mother’s first milk, which contains vital antibodies that protect newborns against diseases, even though breastfeeding makes sense for both babies and their mothers. Women, who breastfeed, also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Increasing breastfeeding could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children under five and 20,000 annual deaths from breast cancer. “As a CBS, I know for a fact that successful breastfeeding can rarely happen in isolation. Breastfeeding mothers need constant support and guidance from healthcare providers, lactation experts, partners, relatives and friends,” emphasises Afsah.
Despite this, working women do not get enough support to continue breastfeeding. Worldwide, only 40 per cent of women with new-borns have even the most basic maternity benefits at their workplace. Availability of longer maternity leave means higher chances of breastfeeding. A recent study found that women with six months or more maternity leave were at least 30 per cent more likely to maintain any breastfeeding for at least the first six months