Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Keeping Abreast of the Matter

The celebrity doctor, who just loves to shock, declared on national television that his two favourite organs were the breast and the uterus: the first for its ability to convert blood into milk, the second for the way it can stretch and grow to 10 times its original size.

I too cannot help but marvel at the workings of the female body. I know the male body can perform some pretty neat tricks but, let's face it, the female has five biological functions related to reproduction: the monthly cycle, intercourse, pregnancy, childbirth and lactation. Males have only one!

How does the breast perform this remarkable feat of producing food for infants? During pregnancy the placenta takes over hormone production from the pituitary gland and ovaries producing oestrogen, progesterone and prolactin. These hormones lead to growth of alveoli within the breasts, which are little sacs lined with milk-secreting cells and ducts which transport the milk to the nipple. To make milk the alveoli take nutrients from the bloodstream and convert them to the correct composition.

When the baby sucks, she stimulates the release of oxytocin, which leads to the let down reflex. The cells which surround the alveoli and duct walls contract pushing the milk to the nipple.

If there is one issue nutritional experts agree on, it's that breast milk is the perfect food for babies. Mother Nature has really outdone herself with this little piece of engineering!

Human milk contains all the essential nutrients in the exact quantity needed. The main ingredients are water, fat, special milk proteins and milk sugars together with a range of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Just after giving birth the mother produces colostrum which contains live cells and antibodies, which protect the newborn from infection.

Furthermore breast milk adapts to the baby's needs during each feed. The watery fore milk is designed to quench thirst while the fat rich hind milk satisfies hunger.

Amazingly, breast milk alters its composition as the baby grows. Milk produced by a mother with a six week old is different from that produced by a mother feeding an eight month old.

While the adult gastro-intestinal tract can cope with an extraordinary range of foods, the infant's system is designed to cope with one delicately formulated food; mother's milk, which is crucial for lifelong health.

Every breastfeeding mum is well aware of the practical advantages. Her own milk is warm and sterile, ever-ready, convenient, portable (the original fast food) and definitely cheaper than formula and easier than fumbling around with bottles in the middle of the night.

Another major plus for breastfeeding is the emotional satisfaction it gives to both baby and mother. The baby’s rapacious nursing, blissful enjoyment and drunken satiety is a source of delight. The growing baby stares lovingly into her mother's face as she nurses. She plays at the breast, fiddling with a button, patting her gently, smiling out of the corner of her mouth, reaching a tiny hand up to her lips to be kissed. It is a grand love affair.

Feeding offers an intimate respite in a hectic day. The closeness, contentment and flow of maternal love can provide a sense of security for life.

And yet some women feel repelled by breastfeeding. Granted, like pregnancy, such intimacy evokes paradoxical reactions. At times the pregnant woman, reeling from the powerful changes occurring inside her, feels invaded. Sometimes she can feel like a human incubator and consider the foetus an insidious parasite. Such feelings are as normal as positive ones. Likewise breastfeeding can be a harrowing drain on a run-down, harassed mother.

And breastfeeding is not without embarrassing moments. If it doesn't develop your sense of humour nothing will. Like getting that tingling sensation when out to dinner at a posh restaurant and realising you've forgotten to wear nursing pads. As you watch with dismay little wet patches appear on your sexy evening dress, you instantly understand the true meaning of the term let down!

Then there is waking up in the morning with a chest to rival Dolly Parton and witnessing a hungry baby make molehills out of mountains! How deflating!

Nursing mums get to make a unique punk fashion statement with a baby sick stain on one shoulder of a tatty old t-shirt, a poo stain on the thigh of your trusty track pants and tell-tale wet patches over each boob!

Breastfeeding is Mother Nature’s master stroke! Emotionally gratifying, highly nutritional and extremely practical, however glamorous it's not!

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