Just a gentle reminder to our Mothers-to-be, this week is World Breast Feeding Week. It marks the 25th anniversary of this event. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has declared this year’s theme as Sustainable Partnership and the Rule of Law. This event will be held and celebrated in most health facilities that look after pregnant women.
At the start of pregnancy, 9 months or 40 weeks seems like a long time. However, with the dynamics that come and go with pregnancy it passes very quickly and soon the baby arrives with all it’s needs, demands and “attitudes”. Feeding is one of the top needs that a baby comes along with.
The scientific community has clear and conclusive evidence that breastfeeding is the best nutrition for the newborn with lots of benefits to both mother and baby as well as to the economy and environment. For the newborn to maximally benefit from breastfeeding, it should start immediately following birth and continue exclusively till around six months. Introduction of solids can be started between 4 to 6 months of age when the baby is developmentally ready. Let us remind ourselves of the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby:
Advantages of Breastfeeding to Mother:
- Skin to skin (kangaroo care) promotes bonding/mother-baby attachment, breastfeeding behaviour and latching. Breastfeeding puts the mother in control of nutritional needs of their newborn.
- Breastfeeding stimulates the release of hormones which promote contraction of the womb, hence less blood loss following delivery. Some of the hormones lead to relaxation and calmness to the mother.
- Exclusive breastfeeding leads to cessation of periods on average 6 – 8 months offering temporary contraception, however back up methods are recommended as well.
- Mother has less time off work due to infant illness when she resumes work.
- Breastfeeding is cheap and convenient.
- In the long term, the mother has less risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and obesity.
Advantages of Breastfeeding to Newborn:
- Breastmilk offers complete,sterile nutrition for the baby. Colostrum has good proteins that are easily digested and absorbed by the body and brain. It helps gut maturation and confers passive immunity to the newborn.
- Mother’s milk has saturated, unsaturated fats and cholesterol which are easily digested and valuable for brain and nerve development resulting in good cognitive development.
- Breastfeeding confers protection against various infections such as ear infections, urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis and respiratory infections.
- It reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by almost half.
- It reduces the risk of Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, Coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and childhood cancers as well as the risk of mental health issues later in life.
- Breastfeeding can reduce the incidence of allergic disorders and risk of obesity as well.
- Breastfed babies respond better to vaccines; they also experience less nappy rash, thrush, stomach upsets and constipation.
- Breastfeeding promotes proper development of jaws and teeth with less cavities.
For those who are politically inclined, breastfeeding is good for the economy as it saves billions of dollars and is good for the environment as there is no waste nor green house gases.
As we celebrate this event, let us remember this sacred activity at the centre of development and growth of humankind. As you go through your pregnancy, if you have any concerns in this area please ask for advice from the midwives and doctors taking care of you. Most facilities have antenatal and postnatal breastfeeding advice and assistance programs in place which are ready to offer help. Dr Anwar Fazal, Chairperson and Director of WABA has put this world initiative very nicely in these words, “world breastfeeding week is a vibrant global movement for action to promote, protect and support breastfeeding by anyone, anywhere and at any time. It expands and connects the power of one with the power of many. Only by working together can we make the change we need”.