Posted by: Admin | February 19, 2013

Is it really possible to exclusively breastfeed your baby?

(See previous post for more information on exclusive breastfeeding) 

Yes! It is possible to exclusively breastfeed your baby, but not without effort from the mother and her entire family. Exclusive breastfeeding means a completely different way of life, so much so that some mothers feel they need to put their life on hold for those first 6 months. But the real key to successful exclusive breastfeeding is support. Ideally, the mother’s partner should be just as present as the mother in the baby’s care. He does not have the biological parts to breastfeed, but he has strong arms and a warm chest to cuddle both the mother and baby. Giving the baby baths, dressing him up, walking him around, taking walks and helping him explore his world are all activities that can help a father bond with his child.

Mothers also need a lot of support from the family, friends and the whole community.  In difficult moments, the mother needs understanding, presence and help in any way possible  – without being parted  from her baby. Anyone wanting to help can take on household chores and activities that would tire her out.

Expressing breastmilk previously and having someone else give it to the baby allows the mom to go for short outings: to a doctor’s appointment, to run an errand, etc. A baby carrier (a shawl-type accessory to hold the baby onto her mother) makes it easier to take the baby along while visiting friends and family in the community.

What if you don’t make it to the 6 months mark?

The WHO official recommendation to breastfeeding exclusively1 until your baby is 6 months old is just that: a recommendation. We suggest you do what is best for you and your baby while taking into consideration the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for your whole family.

While an official recommendation is an important public health message, it is aimed at a whole population to increase its overall health status. It does not answer a specific individual’s needs and exceptions. In reality, some babies will need to start solids a little earlier, and some, a little later.  Have you ever heard of a Bell curve graph? It is named that way because it produces the shape of a bell. When you look at the graph, you will see that the majority of babies will need solids at the age of 6 months and that fewer babies start eating solids at other ages before and after that 6 month mark. This means most babies will be ready to eat solids at “about” six months. If you want to see what the Bell graph looks like, go to the Facebook page. It appears in the features image of this post.!/pages/creebreastfeedingcom/197730226922911

Wherever your baby finds himself on this curve, it is ok! But if he is beginning to eat solids before 6 months of age, it is important to make sure he is ready for them. Look for these signs:

–        He is close to 6 months of age.

–        He can sit up straight without help.

–        He does not thrust his tongue out when given soft foods.

–        He shows interest in what you eat and wants to put food in his mouth.

If your baby is somewhere after the six months mark and has not begun eating solids, be vigilant! If, after a few weeks of gentle encouragement, he still does not appear to be ready or interested in solid foods, we suggest you consult a health care worker at the Awash clinic.


A straight road?

In theory, the breastfeeding experience can be described as a straight road going forward:

Exclusive BF to Predominant BF to Solid Introduction to BF + Solids and Other Liquids to Weaning.

We assume mothers breastfeed “exclusively1” at birth, then start to introduce a little liquid other than breastmilk, usually artificial baby milk; breastfeeding then becomes “predominant2”. Next, they introduce solids and other liquids, so the child is breastfed “with complementary foods added3” until, after a while, the child is weaned and receives no breastmilk at all.

This gives us a straight path from full exclusive breastfeeding to weaning. In the real world, though, breastfeeding behaviors rarely follow such a straight path. It has bumps and curves and sometimes it can even loop back on itself.  For example, some breastfeeding relationships are off to a difficult start so the baby receives only a little breastmilk and a lot of artificial baby milk; the baby is then “mixed-fed”. When the baby and mother get used to breastfeeding and things go well, the mother either keeps one or two supplements after breastfeeding (baby becomes “predominantly” breastfed) or she can eliminate all supplements (baby reverts to being “exclusively” breastfed). In some cases, we see babies receiving no other liquids but breastmilk only once solids are introduced. This last category has no “official” name; it can sometimes be called “exclusive breastfeeding with added solids”. These definitions are useful mainly for research purposes.

Breastfeeding a baby is not done by numbers, and it is difficult to describe it as conforming to a certain specific type of behavior. Instead, it is a living arrangement between a mother and her child, and it moves along with their emotions, their lifestyle and their needs. Yes, there are important benefits to exclusive breastfeeding. Still, if it not possible to exclusively breastfeed, a little breastmilk is better than none at all!


1 “Exclusive breastfeeding” is defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including milk expressed or from a wet nurse) for 6 months of life, but allows the infant to receive ORS, drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines).

2 “Predominant breastfeeding” means that the infant’s predominant source of nourishment has been breast milk (including milk expressed or from a wet nurse as the predominant source of nourishment). However, the infant may also have received liquids (water and water-based drinks, fruit juice) ritual fluids and ORS, drops or syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines).

3 Complementary foods are any liquid or food other than breastmilk. They should provide sufficient energy, protein and micronutrients to meet a growing child’s nutritional needs. Foods should be prepared and given in a safe manner to minimize the risk of contamination. Feeding young infants requires active care and stimulation to encourage the child to eat.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: