When a woman gets pregnant, many hormonal changes take place in her body, one of the most important being those in her mammary glands, which prepare her body to produce milk to feed the newly born child. This process of yielding of milk in medical terms is called lactation. The secretion of milk by breasts is regulated by the hormones progesterone, oestrogen and other pituitary hormones like prolactin. A clear yellowish liquid called colostrum is produced for the first 3 to 4 days after child birth and actual milk after that.
A failure of lactation is established if there is absence of milk or only a few drops are seen after regular sucking for at least seven days. Beside the physical presence of milk, a mother has to know whether sufficient milk is being produced or not because she cannot wait for a week before taking any action. If the baby is wetting six disposable napkins and having 3 to 4 bowel movements in a period of 24 hours, then he is getting enough milk.
Lactation Failure Causes
Around 10% to 15% mothers experience primary lactation failure for various causes. In fact most of them can be managed and cured effectively.
- The most common cause of the quantity of milk being reduced to zero or insufficient to feed the child could be due to advancing age of the mother as women are having children quite late.
- Lower level of physical exercise can also be a contributing factor.
- If the woman is malnourished, milk production is bound to suffer.
- Due to some traditional factors which prevail in certain regions, putting the child to the breast is delayed. Sucking is the primary stimulus so milk does not flow in its absence. The mother may think that she has inadequate quantity of milk for the child during the first few days of birth and consequent delaying in breast feeding can cause the problem of lactation failure.
- In some women there may be insufficient glandular development.
- Extreme stress faced by the mother before or immediately after the delivery of the child.
- If the mother is anemic or suffering from hypo protein anemia, partial or even full lactation failure could occur.
- Intense dislike for the baby during pregnancy or after birth could also result in lactation failure.
- Lactation failure could be due to psychological reason. If the mother thinks that her milk is not suitable for the child or could harm the child, the lactation process could stop.
- Medical reasons: Some drugs like those administered for Parkinson’s disease can cause a decrease in lactation. In case the mother is suffering from tuberculosis or is HIV positive, she is advised to avoid breast feeding the child and this results in lactation failure.
Motivation: In cases where there is no medical reason, if the mother is motivated to breast feed the child and gets sufficient rest, nutrition and psychological support and attention, the lactation process will re-establish in majority of the cases. This has been established in case of about 65% of the mothers.
Drugs: In case the lactation process is still not established, the doctors administer certain drugs orally to the mother at regular intervals. These drugs like metoclopramide have been found fully safe for the child. As a result of this treatment if not full then at least partial lactation has been restored in majority of the cases studied.