Breastfeeding refers to the process of a mother feeding an infant through the breast. Before birth, the foetus-developing mammal after embryonic stage and before birth receives intrauterine parenteral nutrition from the mother through the placenta. After birth and before other self-supportive and independent foods are made possible, the infant receives nutrition from the mother’s body through the breast. Human milk is the first and healthiest form of nutrition that is preferred to the infant. Human infants have specific nutritional requirements that promote rapid growth after birth, including milk that has low protein content and high carbohydrate.
There has been an increase in teenage pregnancies due to the modernity of changes that take place worldwide, resulting in teen mothers within the entire population. Within the societies, various cultures have influenced breastfeeding among teens.
As a result of the process of breastfeeding, both the mother and the infant (baby) are subjected to various effects. The infant gains most of the nutritional supplements directly from the mother through milk. In fact, the first milk (colostrums-thick and yellowish in color) contains all the nutritive values required by the infant for healthy growth. Such nutrients include calcium, proteins, carbohydrates and fewer fats, immunological properties (immunoglobulin-antibodies to specific microbes) fight and initiate other immune responses, helping to protect the infant while its immune system develops gradually (Hausman, 2003). Breastfeeding reduces chances of infant mortality as caused by the diseases that attack infants at an early age. However, it can also lead to obesity in the child.
To the mother, the constant release of oxytocin hormone from the pituitary gland promotes uterine involution (return to nonpregnancy state), reduces the chances of a mother being anemic, lowers risks of heart problems, and promotes calmness due to less intense response to adrenaline. Breastfeeding is a reliable contraceptive for a period of several months, it is less costly as compared to the formulated feeds for the infants, is convenient and available, and does not require any preparations. Moreover, breastfeeding helps to check the weight of the mother as it results in maternal weight; however, due to a constant loss of calcium, breastfeeding mothers risk osteoporosis (Hausman, 2003).
There are different cultures that are associated with breastfeeding. In the western countries, bottle-feeding is preferred to breastfeeding of infants. Breastfeeding is generally not allowed in public and in the company of men in some western cultures. Breastfeeding women are supposed to wear loose clothing easily adjusted so to allow infants to be breastfed at any given moment. Sleeping with the infant in the same bed to enable mothers to breastfeed numerous times during the night. Carrying of the infants in some form of sling throughout the day so to enable the infant to be fed. Breastfeeding mothers are given a postpartum period of at least a month after giving birth, all the household chores being performed by other members of the community so as to give the mother time to breastfeed and take care of the newborn infant has been adopted by many cultures. Early weaning (introduction of solid food to the infant) is encouraged in western to promote infant development and to enable mothers to return to their work is encouraged in western culture. In Europe, breastfeeding is considered natural and a cultural obligation, it was considered as a means by which mother and infant pass from a symbolic relationship to separate persons (Black, Black, Jarman, and Simpson, 1998).
African culture does not permit bottle-feeding of infants and believes that bottle-feeding promotes diseases among infants. Most women in African countries practice longer periods of breastfeeding and weaning, the Maasai of East Africa promoted peace among the tribes by breastfeeding the other women’s infant from each tribe, and with such a practice they believed to bring and promote peace with other neighboring tribes.
In Northern and Middle East Africa, mothers practiced lengthy periods of breastfeeding and practiced milk kinship to prevent marriages and promote alliances. West Africa (Nigeria), they had postpartum taboo that prevented breastfeeding mothers to have sexual intercourse for two to three years as this period was considered for breastfeeding (Black, Black, Jarman, and Simpson, 1998).
Challenges of breastfeeding
Many teen mothers are facing a variety of challenges as they breastfeed their infants, with the first one being illiteracy. Majority of the teen mothers are illiterate and this has an impact on the way they handle the infants. In addition, some of the teen mothers do not realize the importance of breastfeeding because they lack basic knowledge on the benefits of and approaches to successful breastfeeding. Moreover, sometimes, teen mothers do not breastfeed the infants regularly, and this result into malnutrition and eventually a rise in the infant mortality rate (Lauwers and Swisher, 2010).
Availability of substitutes is another challenge to breastfeeding such that, since there has been a formulation of genetically nutritive substitutes, breastfeeding is almost being phased out, with most of the teen mothers preferring bottle-feeding their infants. The teen mothers view the substitutes as an easier and efficient way of feeding their infants.
Diseases have posed a challenge to breastfeeding such that, if a teen mother has been infected with H.I.V, she cannot breastfeed her infant. Hence, this leads into the adoption of formulated infant feeds and bottle-feeding (Lauwers and Swisher, 2010).
Many teen mothers lack access to crucial information and advice on breastfeeding, such as the support programmes, Antenatal classes as they lack assertiveness and are reluctant to ask on issues related to breastfeeding. The teen mothers are being visited by health workers to promote their knowledge on breastfeeding measures and practices. Such information has also been provided in both public and private hospitals, dispensaries as antenatal care. Majority of teen mothers from poverty-stricken backgrounds are less likely to regularly breastfeed their infants due to lack of basic requirements (food, shelter, and clothing) and reasons such as embarrassment and belief that their infants will gain less weight from breastfeeding (Cockburn and Pawson, 2007).
Breastfeeding has been a natural way by which mothers all over the globe have been feeding their infants after birth. Breast milk is considered as the healthiest collection of readily available nutrients to the developing infant as it contains numerous recommended nutrients that play an important role in both the early and subsequent development of the infant.
The practice of breastfeeding has different cultural and customary implications in different societies in the world. Age has influenced the practice of breastfeeding among women in the sense that, the rate is declining among the modern teen mothers, as they prefer other means like bottle-feeding. Emergence of formulated infant feeds has also threatened the ancient modes of breastfeeding, and in this age, bottle-feeding is taking prevalence within the societies. However, despite all the emergence of modern technology and other forms of infant feeding methods, breastfeeding remains the most recommended form of feeding the infants.
Black, R., Black, R.F., Jarman, L., and Simpson, J. (1998). The Support of Breastfeeding. Toronto: Jones and Bartlett publishers Canada.
Cockburn, J and Pawson, M. E. (2007). Psychological Challenges to Obstetrics and Gynecology: The Clinical Management. London: Springer.
Hausman, B, L. Mother’s milk: Breastfeeding controversies in American culture. 2003.
Lauwers, J. and Swisher, A. (2010). Counseling the Nursing Mother. Ontario: Jones & Bartlett Learning.