Liquid Gold

Think of the warmth of a home. Your mother's food, your favourite. A place where you know you'll always be loved, accepted and cared for. So familiar, so soothing. Nothing in the world will harm you. Voices are soft, lights dim. Well known sounds reassure you of your own existence.

An earthquake pulls you out. You do not know what's happening, except you have to go - where, who knows.

The outside world is unfamiliar. It smells. Cold air hurts your skin, flashing lights blind your eyes. You are forced to eat unfamiliar foods. You long for that lost connection, your safe base. You have a desperate need for protection and comfort.

When a child is born, she looses all she knew about life - except her mother's heartbeat, the comfort of her skin and the smell of that so familiar amniotic fluid which she can still feel on her hands -- till they take her. And wash it away. An extreme and irreverent act of severance - most often just for the insignificant urge to weigh, measure, check, sanitize, dress.

Let's put ourselves in the skin of that baby. Just for a minute. It happened to us too, most likely long time ago.

Sadly, hospitals come out with all sort of excuses to separate mother and baby at birth - and unfortunately, to insist over babies needing a formula supplement. The real need for term healthy newborns to be assisted with top ups is really not as much as we are made believe, if we allow unrestricted feeding and skin to skin time right from birth. And if we are willing to make some effort to provide mothers competent breastfeeding support.

We often hear of moms being told that they have no milk the first days after birth - statment often supported by the abusive and miningless practice of pinching their nipples to prove that nothing comes out. Well, of course they don't have milk. For the first 2-4 days from delivery hey have colostrum, which is different and less in quantity compared to mature milk - because it is meant to be so. A newborn's stomach is the size of a teaspoon. Newborns require small frequent feeds, not a wedding buffet.

A mother's colostrum smells very similar to her amniotic fluid, so that her child can recognise it, be guided to the breast and naturally familiarise with breastfeeding and with the external world. This happens very smoothly when moms and babies are allowed to remain in close and uninterrupted skin to skin contact for the first one hour after birth. It is such a precious time that it has been referred to as 'the golden hour'. Even mothers who have had a caesarean delivery can be easily helped to keep their babies skin to skin immediately after the surgery. They in fact can be helped breastfeed their babies right from the time their wound is being stitched, while they are lying down flat on the operation table.

Colostrum is very special, too.

It is so rich of antibodies and white globules that it has been called "the first immunisation": it helps babies develop a healthy gut flora and protects them from infections and allergies.

Its high vitamin A content protects them against eye diseases .

It has a laxative quality which helps newborns clear off the meconium (first stool) and prevent jaundice.

Contrary to traditional believes, colostrum shall not be discarded: it is a gift for life to our kids.

Furtherly, early unrestricted breastfeeding is the key to a good latch and adequate milk supply.

Nature equipped mothers with all they need to help their babies adapt to the world out of their womb -- to nourish them and comfort them. As healthcare professionals, and as a society, it is our responsibility to enable them to provide their newborns the food which was designed for them by eons of evolution.