Estimated reading time: 20 minute(s)
by Fudia Muhammad
In his book, This Is The One, Brother Jabril Muhammad quotes the following words from The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, “If your religion’s roots are not found in the universal order of things, it is not from Allah (God)…Almighty Allah has taught me that if we study the universe and the nature of the earth: its plants, animals and insect life; if we study this part of Allah’s creation and the natural laws working among them, we will have the key to the understanding of the way of life intended by God for you and me.”
Let’s look at mammals, the most advanced and intelligent of the animal species. Their unique characteristics distinguish them from all other species – mammals are warm-blooded, they breathe air, they have hair (or fur), they give birth to ‘live’ young, and all mothers feed their babies milk produced by mammary glands – hence the name ‘mammal.’ This phenomenal ability to produce a substance from the body to immediately feed the newborn offers a superior advantage, eliminating the need to hunt or search for food. The milk produced by mammals is specially designed to meet the immediate needs of the baby right from birth. This has been the physiology of all mammals since the beginning of time, including humans.
Increasingly, there is worldwide awareness and advocacy to educate and encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies immediately after birth, within the first hour of life postpartum. This promotion is known as the “early initiation of breastfeeding” and is proven critical for saving the lives of newborn babies by ensuring that they receive all of the health, nutritional and protective advantages provided by mother’s first milk, called colostrum. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, “Three in five babies are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding.” WHO and UNICEF maintain that delaying breastfeeding for even a few hours after birth could pose life-threatening consequences. This is because mother-to-baby, skin-to-skin contact along with the act of suckling at the breast instantly stimulates the mother’s production of colostrum.
All mammals produce colostrum. Colostrum is the mammary glands first secretion after giving birth. Colostrum is so rich in nutrients, antibodies, white blood cells, cell-defending antioxidants, and immunoglobulins that it primes the baby’s immune system. This is why colostrum is considered the baby’s first vaccine; it prevents infections by not allowing germs and bacteria to enter the baby’s bloodstream – so, no artificial injections are required. During the first 2-5 days after giving birth, the female body only produces colostrum, which is thicker and more yellow in color than milk. She then produces “transitional milk” for the next 10-14 days, which is a mixture of colostrum and breast milk before her regular supply of thinner, whiter milk is established.
As soon as the baby is born, the baby should be placed on his mother’s chest (ideally by the father). This skin-to-skin contact with mother regulates the baby’s body temperature and heartbeat. This contact comforts the baby who instinctively recognizes and interacts with his mother’s scent, voice and vibrations, causing him to be soothed and to cry less. Mothers who have natural deliveries without an epidural will find that their babies are usually very alert after birth. If left undisturbed, the baby will detect and naturally gravitate toward the scent of colostrum secreting from his mother’s breast and initiate breastfeeding. It is ideal that breastfeeding start soon after the baby is born since a large amount of colostrum can be expressed in the first hour after birth.
Colostrum has properties that cannot be found in baby formula or any other food source. Not only does it help the baby’s body to grow; but it allows the body to immediately begin to repair itself after the stress and trauma of the delivery process. Colostrum helps to regulate all bodily functions as well as metabolism. Whereas, nonhuman milk or supplements can lead to constipation, colostrum aids digestion. It flushes out the digestive tract by rapidly expelling meconium (the tar-like substance that makes up the baby’s first feces) from the baby’s system. Colostrum also seals the holes in the gut, decreasing the likelihood of having food allergies and other issues that stem from a leaky gut like colic, asthma, ADD, eczema and more.
Colostrum is the original superfood! Not only for what it does for the body, but for how it benefits the brain! There are special fats in colostrum and breast milk which allow for brain development and growth. Humans are unique from other mammals in that we have the largest brain of all other mammals, yet at birth our brains and bodies are very immature; which makes human babies the most dependent mammals at birth. Human colostrum unlike the colostrum of other mammals allows for the human brain to grow rapidly, while the body grows moderately. Conversely, large four-legged mammals need rapid growth of the body, but not so much the brain because they need to be able to walk, run and fight soon after birth in order to survive independent of their mothers.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan also shared the benefits of breastfeeding for the human mind and brain. He stated, “When baby nurses from mother’s breast, there is satisfaction for the child, not only in the stomach, but in the mind. As the baby is physically fed, the act of nursing produces a chemical reaction in the brain of the child, resulting in contentment. This is manifested in the peaceful countenance you see on a nursing child as it drinks. There is also a chemical reaction in the mother’s brain and satisfaction for her as she obtains both relief and pleasure as the milk that fills her breasts is drawn out. When the mother has peace of mind, this is transferred to the child through the milk.”
Breastfeeding saves lives! It is a fact that the longer breastfeeding is delayed, the more likely complications will ensue and the less likely the mother is to continue to nurse successfully. For mothers who have premature births, or cesarean births, or have to be separated from their babies, they may not be able to nurse within the first hour. However, their colostrum can be manually expressed and stored for later feedings.
The World Health Organization recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life and then to continue to breastfeed with supplemental foods for two years or longer. This is right in line with the Holy Qur’an, which encourages mothers to suckle their babies for two whole years. The Book of Luke also bears witness, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed.”
We pray that those who read this article will encourage all expectant mothers they know to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour after giving birth,in order to give their new babies the best possible start at a healthy life.
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)