Experts agree that breastfeeding is healthy for both infants and mothers. But the number of breastfeeding mothers has declined over the past few years as many of them give up on breastfeeding in the first few months of giving birth. New mothers in the Kingdom increasingly rely on formula milk, which in fact does not have the same nutrients a mother’s milk has. Breastfeeding is better for new-born babies in terms of growth as well as emotional and psychological aspects, Al-Riyadh daily reports.
Tahani Al-Dawsari is a working mother who takes care of her children when she gets home from work. She is a staunch supporter of breastfeeding but does not have time or energy for it. “Mothers who breastfeed don’t get support from their family members although they need it desperately. Most of them give up and give their babies powdered milk because it’s easier than breastfeeding,” she said.
Samah Al-Asiri, also a working mother, talked about the misconceptions some mothers have about breastfeeding. Many think that letting their infants suck milk from their breasts will eventually result in saggy breasts and weight gain. That is why they deprive their babies of the nutrients found in a mother’s milk. Al-Asiri has a baby but she gives her powdered milk because she does not have enough time for breastfeeding.
Wafa Al-Boluwee, head of education section, Tabuk City Maternity and Children’s Hospital, said the excuses used by many mothers who do not breastfeed are detached from reality. In her opinion, nothing can justify weaning a little baby of breast milk in the first few months of its birth except in cases when a mother is ill. In such cases, it is not advisable to breastfeed because the mother takes medications that might have a negative effect on her milk which can then be passed on to her infant.
“The nutrients found in a mother’s milk are richer, better, and healthier than formula milk. They supply an infant’s body with all its needs in the first few months following birth and strengthen an infant’s immune system so it can fight respiratory and urine infections,” Al-Boluwee explained.
A mother’s milk can protect her against breast and ovarian cancers and help her maintain healthy levels of physiological hormones in the body. It also enhances the mother-infant relationship. Based on her experience, Al-Boluwee said most mothers are unaware of the advantages of breastfeeding and their families do not play any role in motivating them to breastfeed their infants.
“For example, some mothers do not encourage their daughters, who have just given birth, to breastfeed under the pretext that their daughters are exhausted and tired. If a mother gives her baby powdered milk in the first few days of his birth, she will highly likely not have enough milk in her breasts later,” she said.
Dr. Khalid Al-Falih, associate professor of Dentistry College, King Saud University, said a 2008 study on breastfeeding mothers in the Kingdom showed that only 10 percent of mothers breastfeed their babies for the first six months. One of the reasons for the low figure is the fact that formula milk is widely available and gets extensive media coverage while breastfeeding is not promoted as it should.
Education of mothers
The best time to educate a pregnant woman who is about to give birth about the importance of breastfeeding is before delivery. They will be more comfortable and will accept advice. Mothers should realize that it is natural for a newly-delivered mother not to have enough milk in her breasts in the first few days.
“There is no need to panic and give the baby formula milk immediately. This small amount of breast milk is enough for the baby initially and it will increase over time,” said Dr. Al-Falih.
“The Saudi market, although small compared with the American one, has over 27 formula milk types while in the USA there are only four types of powdered milk. The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) should put formula milk under the drug category and impose strict registration and monitoring procedures on it. The SFDA considers powdered milk a food product while it is a therapeutic product, especially for babies under one year old,” he added.