Photo Credit | Jan Kopiva (Unsplash)

By MWN Hub Admin

The benefits of breast feeding are well known and are being highlighted again during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week. Science tells us that breast feeding is beneficial for the baby because breast milk provides the right balance of nutrients(e.g. protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins)to help the baby grow and contains antibodies to protect them from illnesses. Breast feeding provides health benefits for mothers too such as lowering risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis (weak bones), cardiovascular disease and obesity. Health experts recommend to breast feed exclusively for the first 6 months, but how realistic are these expectations?

Nursing is not easy for all women for a variety of reasons such as the milk supply being insufficient, the baby not latching on, it being painful and not being able to take medication etc. It is also very exhausting in addition to what else may be going on in women's lives. Unfortunately, some women from Muslim communities are often shamed and made to feel guilty about their choices despite the fact they are the ones who are uniquely qualified to decide whether to exclusively breastfeed, do mixed feeding or do just formula-feeding. The psychological pressure to do what is 'right' according to others and fulfil the perfect role of a mother expected from high cultural standards can also potentially contribute to post-natal depression.

We asked some Muslim women to share their different breastfeeding experiences:

Faeeza is a mum-of-three:

The first few weeks of having twins was beautiful¦. exhausting and traumatic!! New-borns need to breastfeed eight to 12 times per day- that's pretty much every 2-3 hours! For me, the only way to survive was to establish a routine, and I moved out of feeding on demand quickly. We were in the neo-natal unit for about 10 days, and I had the support of a good breastfeeding nurse who was wonderfully supportive of our decision to breastfeed and bottle-feed. I kept a log and used a hospital grade pump to support my supply. I felt like a feeding cow and ate like a horse to keep up my energy! I feel that combined bottle and breast feeding gave me the opportunity to breastfeed my girls until 11 months, and also meant my husband could be hands on and also build a strong bond with our girls. It also gave me respite and meant that when I returned to work the weaning process was pretty easy. I am not an advocate either way, and would like to encourage all women to do what works for them, but to explore what support is available for you.

Nazmin is a mum-of-one:

My daughter was born with tongue-tie which meant that she couldn't latch on, so for the first eight weeks of her life, I was exclusively bottle feeding her, albeit using breast milk. While she did have a tongue-tie division procedure part way through those eight weeks, by then she was used to being fed by a bottle. Initially it wasn't so bad as I was able to express more milk than was needed. However, eventually supply couldn't meet demand because there is only so much that can be drawn through a breast pump. Every waking moment became about expressing. Feeding timestarted45 minutes before my daughter woke up so that I had enough milk for her. I was exhausted and I believe that also affected milk production.

Although I am glad that my daughter was able to have breast milk and benefit from it, was it worth the physical, mental and emotional toll it took on both of us? In hindsight, I would have started her on formula a lot sooner and I think it is important to know that breastfeeding is not possible for everyone, and it is better to give formula than to push yourself to the point that your life - and your relationship with your child - becomes dictated by a machine.

Lana Salih is a soon-to-be mum-of-two:

In my experience, breastfeeding has been great as it's an easier method to feed them, for me. I don't need to sterilise anything, and it's full of good antibodies so will reduce the risk of getting an infection. It's a much cheaper method, as I don't need to buy formula. It has helped strengthen my bond with my child. Sometimes when I am feeling rough and start breastfeeding, I get a nice warm feeling whilst feeding her, as I know I am giving her the best possible food she could get. Skin-to-skin contact really helps me feel happier when I am feeling low. I really have enjoyed breastfeeding, and I will miss breastfeeding once I wean her off. I am currently expecting my second child and I would love to tandem feed i.e. breastfeed two or more children of different ages at the same time. I have read research that says this helps the toddler become more accepting of the baby, as it helps to strengthen both siblings’ bond.

Ayisha is a mum-of-one:

I always assumed breast-feeding was a natural skill with mothers nursing their young for generations and generations since the start of time. For me, it was the most difficult experience I have ever had. My birth story was traumatic, having sepsis and being on IV antibiotics, so I never got to have that skin-to-skin contact straight away with my baby and I really feel that this had an impact on my milk. For 6-8 weeks, she cried continuously, never satisfied with the milk supply and they were the most depressing weeks in my life. I tried everything, for example herbal remedies like fenugreek tea, and was told by everyone that she needed to be on me more. She already spent what felt like 24/7 with me - how much more could she be on me? Formula seemed to be the only thing that topped up her cravings and I switched for the benefit of my baby and myself. While breast is best, not everyone can make this possible and we need to be considerate of mothers and babies and what's best for both.

As highlighted in these experiences, the first year of motherhood comes with much joy and as much challenge. When it comes to how to feed your baby, it seems imperative to look beyond the old wives tales, comments from know-it-all aunties and the stereotypes of what makes a 'good mother' - instead focus on your own overall health and wellbeing. There really is more than one 'right way', so do it your way and don't feel guilty to seek support if needed!

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