If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800, 000 child lives would be saved every year. According to World Health Organisation, globally, less than 40 per cent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. Adequate breastfeeding counselling and support are essential for mothers and families to initiate and maintain optimal breastfeeding practices.
1.Health benefits for infants
Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. Breast milk is readily available and affordable, which helps to ensure that infants get adequate nutrition.
2.Long-term benefits for children
Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-II diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
3.Benefits for mothers
Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control. It also reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, and postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding helps you shed baby weight. Moms who breastfeed burn extra calories a day compared to those who feed their babies formula, and research shows that they do tend to slim down faster. Breastfeeding also releases hormones that trigger your uterus to return to its pre-baby size and weight faster. When the baby starts nursing you can actually feel uterine contractions as it starts to shrink. It’s nature’s way of getting your body back into shape.
4.Why not infant formula?
Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk. The long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and children cannot be replicated with infant formula. When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula. Malnutrition can result from over-diluting formula to “stretch” supplies. While frequent feeding maintains breast milk supply, if formula is used but becomes unavailable, a return to breastfeeding may not be an option due to diminished breast milk production.
5. HIV and breastfeeding
An HIV-infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. However, antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected. WHO recommends that when HIV-infected mothers breastfeed, they should receive ARVs and follow WHO guidance for infant feeding.
6.It’s normal to have difficulties.
While most women should be able to breastfeed their newborns, it is not always easy. Most new moms concerns include the baby not latching properly, low milk supply, or breast pain, and only a small percentage breastfeeds exclusively for six months as is recommended. So what actually helps with milk letdown? Relaxation for the mother, and skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby.
Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. Many routine practices, such as separation of mother and baby, use of newborn nurseries, and supplementation with infant formula, actually make it harder for mothers and babies to breastfeed. It is also important to stay hydrated as not drinking enough water can certainly affect how much milk you are making.
7.Phasing in solid foods
To meet the growing needs of babies at six months of age, mashed solid foods should be introduced as a complement to continued breastfeeding. Foods for the baby can be specially prepared or modified from family meals.
-Courtesy of World Health Organisation
IMPORTANT TO NOTE
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, solid foods, such as mashed fruits and vegetables, should be introduced to complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more. In addition:
• breastfeeding should begin within one hour of birth
• breastfeeding should be “on demand”, as often as the child wants day and night and
• bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.