Babies need to be exclusively breastfed (with no other liquids or solids) for the first six months after birth, as per World Health Organisation (WHO). And that’s where breast pumps come to the rescue of lactating mothers, especially those who return to work, to continue breastfeeding.
A breast pump is used to extract milk from the breasts, which is stored to feed the baby when needed. Even as breast pumps ease the process of breastfeeding, turns out, they can have a harmful impact on the baby.
Breast pumps increase the risk of asthma in babies
A study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe suggested that indirect breastfeeding can expose babies to potential pathogens, which increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory functions. The milk microbiota is affected by bacteria both from the baby’s mouth and from environmental sources such as breast pumps. The complex community of bacteria in breast milk helps in establishing infant gut bacteria, which if disrupted, causes predisposition to chronic diseases such as allergies, asthma and obesity.
Direct breastfeeding, on the other hand, is associated with microbes typically found in the mouth, with higher bacterial richness and diversity.
The study used milk samples from 393 healthy mothers three to four months after giving birth.
“Contrary or in addition to the hypothesis that milk bacteria come from the mother’s gut, our results suggest that the infant’s oral bacteria are important in shaping the milk microbiota,” Meghan Azad, a researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada, was quoted as saying by PTI.
Breast pump leads to more weight gain
In an earlier study by Azad and other researchers, published in the journal Pediatrics, it was found that babies who were given pumped breast milk weighed a little more than those who were directly breastfed.
Feeding directly at the breast led to the healthiest weight gain, as per the study. But why? For one, the activity of the enzymes and hormones in pumped milk is depleted when refrigerated, Azad was quoted as saying.
That said, breast milk, in any form, is packed with nutrients and is better than formula, the researchers point out.
What discourages women from breastfeeding?
Mothers find themselves in a strange predicament. While experts lay more emphasis on the benefits of breast milk, mothers have to choose between direct breastfeeding at home and breast pumps if they are working. Some women cannot afford to be out of pay, which is why they need to go back to work after delivery. Direct breastfeeding, in such cases, might be possible only if onsite daycares have facilities for nursing. In some cases, women switch to formula milk because of the lack of support at workplaces, as per a study by Medela India. Even then, of the companies surveyed, only 33 per cent had nursing rooms for extracting breast milk while 37 per cent provided a storage unit for the same.
Again, one need not reiterate the taboo around breastfeeding in public spaces, which discourages lactating mothers from feeding in order to avoid unnecessary gaze. Besides, the nursing rooms that are available in public areas are not well-equipped for breastfeeding. “I have mostly fed my child outside of these rooms since many of them are very badly ventilated and uncomfortable. No thought has gone in designing them. They are just a check-box activity,” Fatima Siraja, a mother from Bengaluru told Express Parenting.
In such a scenario, it is not surprising that India ranks lowest among South Asian countries in breastfeeding practices, according to a report by Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) and Public Health Resource Network (PHRN) in 2016. What we need is a concerted effort on the part of the corporate sector and the government to provide adequate facilities for breastfeeding, while spreading more awareness among people.