August is the month dedicated to increasing awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies. Breastfeeding provides optimal health, nutritional, immunologic and developmental benefits to newborns as well as protection from postpartum complications and future disease for mothers.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF have recognized that the likelihood of initiating and continuing breastfeeding is determined even before the baby is born. How a woman in labor is cared for (birth practices) can ultimately help or hinder the initiation and success of breastfeeding.
Regardless of her birth setting, the WHO/UNICEF recommends that women should have access to the following birth care practices:
- Care by staff trained in non-drug methods of pain relief and who do not promote the use of analgesic or anesthetic drugs unless required by a medical condition;
- Care that minimizes routine practices and procedures that are not supported by scientific evidence including withholding nourishment, early rupture of membranes, use of IVs, routine electronic fetal monitoring, episiotomy and instrumental delivery;
- Care that minimizes invasive procedures such as unnecessary augmentation or induction of labor and medically unnecessary cesarean sections.
- Care should be sensitive and responsive to the specific beliefs, values, and customs of the mother’s culture, ethnicity and religion;
- Women should have birth companions of their choice who provide emotional and physical supp0rt throughout labor and birth;
- Women should have the freedom to walk, move about, and assume the positions of their choice during labor.
With the recommended care, women are more likely to avoid complications and have a safe and healthy birth.
Women’s birth experience exerts a unique influence on both breastfeeding initiation and later infant feeding behavior. Although the hospital stay is typically very short, events during this time have a long and lasting impact. Medications and procedures administered to the mother during labor affect her infant’s behavior at the time of birth, which in turn affects her infant’s ability to suckle in an organized and effective manner at the breast.
Maternity care providers have an obligation to care for women and newborns in a way that provides both with the best possible health outcomes. Caring for women in labor according to the WHO/UNICEF recommendations will help more mothers and babies initiate and maintain breastfeeding.