Breastfeeding exclusively – no solids until 16 months

Women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. At the moment I’m exclusively breastfeeding my 7 month old daughter. I haven’t introduced her to solids yet, as I just don’t feel she’s ready. I’m working full-time so I pump and store my milk. (Here’s the pump I use, I swear by it)

So far my experience with breastfeeding has been extremely positive allahumma barik alaayki (May Allah bless it aameen). I had a rather quick delivery (40 minutes to be exact) and my daughter latched on straight away. I didn’t suffer from mastitis or cracked nipples like I did with my son, which was an added bonus.

This is why I thought I’d write a post on why I aim to exclusively breastfeed my daughter until she’s at least 16 months old. Exclusive meaning no solids, just breast milk.

You’re probably reading this and thinking “she’s bonkers”, but after weighing up my experience and the pros of breastfeeding, I’m going to try my best to stick with it.

Please note that I’m not against feeding with formula milk or any kind of alternative to breast milk. I gave my son formula milk, around the 6 month mark. Every situation, mother and baby is different. I simply aim to help mothers understand the benefits of breastfeeding and insha’Allah (God Willing), inspire some to start/continue breastfeeding.

History

Before the mid 1880’s breastfeeding was the norm. Women breastfed or hired wet nurses to feed their children. Yet exclusively breastfeeding was not always the right option for all babies. Some died before their first birthday, because of severe malnutrition. So, in 1865 Justus von Liebig, created and patented an infant formula; first in liquid form and then in powder form.

However, it was mostly used in emergencies such as severe malnutrition, child defects or the mother carried a disease like HIV. Nonetheless, aggressive marketing of formula milk soon saw a decline in breastfeeding; in the USA we saw a decline of breastfeeding, from 90% in the 20th Century to a whopping 42% in the 21st Century.

Nowadays, mothers are encouraged to introduce solids from the age of 6 months, which for me is really young. A baby’s digestive systems doesn’t mature until they’re at least one, and doesn’t fully mature until they’re 6 years old. This is why mothers are discouraged from giving their baby honey, because by the age of one their intestines have the right amount of acids that can help fight off botulism.

 

The Islamic perspective

Allah says in the Qu’ran;

” The mothers should suckle their children for two whole years, (that is) for those (parents) who desire to complete the term of suckling, but the father of the child shall bear the cost of the mother’s food and clothing on a reasonable basis…” {Surah Al Baqarah: 2: 233}

“And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years”. {Surah Luqman 31:15}

In another verse, Allah says; and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months”. {Surah Al-Ahqaf 46:15}

Islamically, breastfeeding is considered the right of a child, up until the age of 2. After that, a child can be completely weaned. However, if both parents decide to wean early then there is no sin on them whatsoever.

Also it is upon the father to provide for the mother who nurses his child (in cases of marriage and divorce).

The wisdom of Allah is beyond our comprehension but modern technology has made it easier for us to understand why breast milk is best. Here are a few reasons why;

 

1. Stronger immune system

Did you know that every time you breastfeed, you pass on much needed antibodies, to your baby? Science tells us that when a baby suckles on the breast, the mother in turn produces antibodies according to the germs carried in baby’s saliva. Amazing right?

Not only that but mother’s milk contains thousands of components that support the immune system in some way.

Breastfed babies are known to have a larger thymus gland (produces antibodies), compared to formula fed babies. The thymus gland helps fight infection and is needed all the way into adulthood.

Another important vital function of the thymus gland is to learn to recognise its own body tissues, so that the immune system does not attack itself, like in cases of autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

2. Digestion and gut health

Cows milk is difficult for a baby to digest because it contains high levels of protein and minerals. Giving baby cows milk before their first birthday could lead to anaemia and poor absorption of vital nutrition. Also cows milk lacks vitamin C, D and copper.

We’ve recently discovered the link between a good gut and good health. To be specific, an abundance of prebiotics and probiotics is what keeps your gut flourishing. Probiotics are good bacteria and prebiotics (which are just a type of sugar known as oligosaccharides), are what feed them. They stop bad bacteria from sticking to the gut wall and causing inflammation, which in turn leads to chronic illness/disease.

Each type of milk has its own special mix of prebiotics . After fat and lactose, oligosaccharides form the largest component in human milk.

Breast milk contains around 90 different oligosaccharides forming over 900 different chemical structures, each of which can block infection by preventing a particular strain of bacteria, from sticking to the gut wall. So just know that breastfeeding is doing wonders for your baby’s gut.

3. Post-natal depression and breastfeeding

Post-natal depression affects around 950,000 mothers in the USA alone. I suffered from it after I had my son. It was horrible. It lasted for at least 2 years. I only breastfed my son exclusively, for 6 months and then gave him formula after. I breastfed on and off for 2 years.

However, with my daughter, I was adamant on breastfeeding. Alhamdulillah (All Praises due to Allah) breastfeeding has been a breeze this time round. And I’ve noticed an immense difference with my emotions. The only thing that stresses me out is the thought of having to stop breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding produces a hormone called oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’. This hormone is released during labour and also helps the uterus contract back to its original size.

A study published in the journal Maternal and Child Health found a 50% decrease in post-natal depression and breastfeeding. Katherine Kendall-Tackett, a La Leche League Leader also agrees in her book Depression in new mothersthat breastfeeding “is protective of maternal mental health as it reduces the stress response”. (Here’s the link to the article on mental health and breastfeeding.

Stress can also increase when the right support is not available for the mother. That’s why it’s important for mothers who plan to breastfeed to get support during pregnancy and post-pregnancy. With the right support, skill and information, breastfeeding can be a lot easier.

Helps with weight loss

I didn’t put on weight during pregnancy but after I gained around 10 kgs, although I was breastfeeding exclusively. I realised that in the first few months, my body was adjusting to my daughter’s needs. But when she was around 3 months old, I dramatically lost a lot of weight.

I was ecstatic when I found out that breastfeeding aided weight loss. I’ve always been a size 8-10 (UK) so keeping a steady weight was a big thing for me.

Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day! What’s even more appealing is that breastfeeding encourages you to drink more water. I’m drinking at least 3 litres a day which helps me keep my supply up and also ensures the quality of my milk is good.

When it’s impossible to breastfeed

A woman’s body has been designed to breastfeed, it’s part of our anatomy. However there are cases where a woman, just can’t. No matter how much she tries, she just doesn’t produce enough milk (or in some cases no milk at all), to suffice her baby’s needs. This is called hypoplasia, which is where the flesh is missing in the middle of the breast.

The breast grows in a tubular shape and and women notice a wider spaced cleavage. Yet, 39% of women who suffer from hypoplasia are able to continue breastfeeeding.

My choice

We live in a culture where early weaning is seen as the norm and extended breastfeeding is seen as backwards. Breastfeeding is normal!

I was pressured to give my son solids when he was only 6 months old and I regret it. He suffered from constant constipation and all sorts of digestion issues.

I honestly didn’t plan on exclusively breastfeeding my daughter for so long, but after seeing her flourish on just milk, I believe its the best thing for her.

My mother was breastfed exclusively until she was 28 months old! In my culture, a baby is given food when their molar teeth grow. This makes sense because the molar teeth grind the food into smaller particles, to be easily digested by the stomach.

For mothers who are planning to breastfeed, I would say make sure you’re support system is strong. There’s nothing worse than having to fight to breastfeed, when you’re already physically and emotionally drained. There are many groups that you can join such as the La Leche League.

I am also offering support, so feel free to contact me.

What positive experiences do you have of breastfeeding? Feel free to comment below

Jazak’Allah khayrun (May Allah bless you) for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly updates.

 

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