Uche Ralph-Opara – Who says working Mums can’t breastfeed successfully?

Uche Ralph-Opara is a stunning Mummy of four and a public health physician with over ten years of diversified medical expertise spanning from clinical practice and health services management under a health insurance platform to coordinating and implementing HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) programs under USAID, Global Fund and BMGF funded projects. Her invaluable career experiences are complemented by a post graduate degree in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. Uche is currently working as Associate Director/State Team Lead on the Alive & Thrive IYCF project in Lagos State.She also hails from Oraukwu in Anambra State which just happens to be my town and the homeland of the great! As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week lets learn how you can be a yummy mummy, have a great career and still give your children the best nutrition!

Uche you are a mum of 4 and despite being a busy working mum you have decided to breast feed them all… Why?

Personally, I think breastmilk is the best gift you can give your baby! I decided to breastfeed all my children not only because it’s a natural and mostly convenient process but because I totally understand the health benefits of breastfeeding for my children and the economic benefits for the family as well. You see, not only does the breastmilk contain all the essential nutrients for the healthy growth of babies, it also contains antibodies to fight diseases so you have babies who fall ill less often and who do better developmentally. Also breastfed babies are less susceptible to having allergies and weigh issues later in life. For the family, also, you get to spend nothing on infant formula when you breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Trust me, you’ll be saving between N40,000-N65,000 monthly (a very modest estimate) from not giving infant formula.

Almost everyone knows and agrees that breast is best but sometimes they struggle with poor supply? Have you experienced this personally and what did you do?

Sure, I definitely have! With 4 children, it’s been a different experience with each one of them.My poor milk supply was often associated with resumption to work after my maternity leave. With my first baby, after I noticed that milk flow had reduced in the first week of resumption, I sought permission from my employers to bring her to work with me so I could breastfeed in between, this helped and I immediately noticed milk supply had increased and baby was happier and sleeping better. I was quite lucky the hospital where I worked had a conducive ‘call room’ which I converted to a ‘lactation room’ for the purpose.

For subsequent children, I had to start pumping and saving in storage bags (2weeks before resumption) and keeping in a freezer dedicated to breastmilk only. That way, I was sure baby had enough while I was at work. I also continued to ‘pump and save’ when I had time during my breaks at the office and after each feed when I got home. It was and still is a very tedious process and requires a lot of dedication and commitment. * Editors note, if you can’t get a dedicated freezer like Uche then clear out adequate space in your freezer or fridge freezer and dedicate it to breast milk only. Also herbs like fenugreek and just being relaxed can help your breastmilk flow.

Uche you currently work as Associate Director/State Team Lead on the Alive & Thrive IYCF project in Lagos State, does the fact that your breastfeed help you perform at work more credibly?

It sure does! It is always asier to talk from a practical perspective and connect better with the mothers knowing you have “been there, done that”…it honestly makes all you say more relatable. Also, I love to practice what I preach so that is enough motivation.

Maternity leave is still 3 months in most parts of Nigeria. This has affected many from breastfeeding as long as they may have wanted. Personally I have  had to express and close work early to make sure I continued breastfeeding. Tell us your experience with returning to work while still breastfeeding.

With my new baby, I started the ‘pump and save’ process in good time in preparation for resumption. However, it’s been a struggle as she eats quite a lot and I find myself struggling to save enough to meet her demands. On days when I don’t produce enough to save, I take her with me and keep her close enough (not in the office space) to be able to breastfeed as often as I can. Luckily, I get 2 hours off everyday till baby is 6 months old (organization’s policy) so that helps a bit. So far, I’ll say it’s been a very demanding and hectic schedule for me since resumption but I have absolutely no regrets because she’s doing great and that makes me happy! I pray I can sustain this till she’s 6 months!

There are a lot of myths concerning breastfeeding, one of the most popular is that your breasts will flatten faster. As a doctor what say ye in this regard?

Some say breastfeeding results in breast flattening but we all know that whether you breastfeed or not, most boobies will obey the law of nature as one gets older because of hormonal changes. My advice is, invest in good bras while nursing and thereafter to ensure the breasts are held nicely in place to prevent flattening/sagginess. I’ve had 4 children who I’ve breastfed and my boobs are still intact (for now at least!)

Name three tangible breastfeeding benefits for the child and the Mum as we mark breastfeeding week ?

For the child, the 3 most tangible benefits of breastfeeding exclusively are; provision of adequate nourishment for the baby, prevention of illnesses and diseases in children and breastmilk helps in cognitive development and brain growth.

For the Mums; studies have shown that breastfeeding prevents breast and ovarian cancers, breastfeeding exclusively may prevent unplanned pregnancies and helps with post-partum weight loss (caveat: as long as you aren’t overeating :))

For new Mums struggling  to breastfeed or not what advise do you have for them?

Don’t give up… Feed, Feed and Feed some more!

Breastfeeding can be overwhelming and requires a lot commitment, patience and perseverance.The experience may be different for each woman and with each baby but it’s important to make a ‘decision’ to breastfeed and a conscious effort to overcome challenges as they come.

There’ll be times when you want to just opt and go for the easier option but then, why animal milk when you have the natural God-given milk right there! If you’re stressed or exhausted, relax and get help or support from family or friends, if you are having breastfeeding struggles or challenges you’re unable to overcome, speak with a lactation consultant, doctor or health provider. The breastfeeding journey shouldn’t be walked alone!

There are surely genuine reasons why some women (though few and far between) are unable to lactate or produce enough milk and need to revert to infant formula, please do not feel like you’ve let yourself or your baby down especially when you know you’ve done your best. The most important thing is for baby to be well fed and healthy!

Thanks Uche its been awesome talking to you, all the best!

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. the writeup on Uche-Ralp’s interview is a good one. more publicity can be given to this to encourage women to breastfed their children no matter what.
    I know Uche personally and her drive and passion for her role amazes me.
    It is good to hear these things from the mouth of someone who has challenging tasks as official roles and still finds a way to take proper care of her children.

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