“We must find new ways and new political will to help these children, wherever they live, benefit from the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding.”
As the world celebrates breastfeeding week, the recommendation of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) comes to mind. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for newborn for the first six months. It said breast milk must not be replaced by formula milk, juice or water during the first 6 months of newborn, adding that after six months, breastfeeding should be continued along with other nourishing foods for the baby.
Every year, countries around the world observe World Breastfeeding Week for a good reason. This year, the World Health Assembly embraced the annual celebration of the event as a valuable way to advocate for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.
READ ALSO: Boosting breastfeeding in Nigeria
The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week is “Breastfeeding: Foundation for Life,” a recognition of the importance of breastfeeding to a baby’s future.
Establishing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months helps young children grow, prevents undernutrition, promotes brain development and reduce the risk of children becoming overweight. Breastfeeding is also a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies and an immunity boost.
From the earliest moments of a child’s life, breastfeeding can mean the difference between life and death. Putting newborns to the breast within the first hour of life safeguards them against newborn deaths. In fact, improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of 823, 000 children under age five every year.
And in emergency settings, when communities are faced with limited access to clean water and basic health services, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for infants and young children, while shielding them from disease.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding is defined as no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk (including expressed or from a wet nurse) for six months of life, but allows the infant to receive oral rehydration salt (ORS), drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines.
A Consultant Pediatrician, Dr. Gorika Bansal, said despite these clear benefits, many children are missing out. According to her, “globally, only about two out of five of all newborns are put to the breast within an hour of birth and only 40 per cent of children less than six months of age are exclusively breastfed. There are many reasons millions of women are unable to start and continue breastfeeding successfully.
“For example, many women give birth without access to quality care, counselling and support they need from health workers. Others are given infant formula or other substitutes in maternity facilities, when they could be breastfeeding. We must find new ways and new political will to help these children, wherever they live, benefit from the lifesaving benefits of breastfeeding.”
A 2018 scorecard released by the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a partnership of more than 20 international agencies and non-governmental organisations co-led by United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO, calls for more action and investment in a number of areas.
It recommends increased funding for comprehensive breastfeeding programmes, better monitoring systems to track breastfeeding trends, strengthened maternity and paternity leave provisions that encourage breastfeeding and improved breastfeeding counselling and support in health facilities.
At the inauguration of this year’s Breastfeeding Week, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, urged husbands to stop struggling with their babies over breasts, but rather allow their wives to put the babies on exclusive breast milk.
The minister said the health ministry has resumed talks with its Labour and Employment counterpart to extend maternity leave from the current four months to six.
Adewole noted that breastfeeding remained the surest way to have a healthy baby, emphasizing: “What has been shown clearly is that the brain, which we actually need to drive everything we do in life, is sorted out in the first two years. So, if you give the baby good food, good protein, we will have good workers and good leaders in the future.
“But if we don’t give them good food, then we will have a generation of jesters over the years and that is not what we want in this country. So, breastfeeding is a national investment in the cerebral architecture of our citizens and in the future development of our country.
“So, let us work together to promote it. To the men, please allow the women to give it to the babies. Don’t share or compete with the babies. Only promote it. To the women, I know you love us, but don’t give it to us; give it to the babies.”
Breastfeeding is, indeed, the foundation for life and gives growing children a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk is known to contain antibodies, which help the baby fight virus and bacteria. Breast milk reduces rates of asthma and allergies in newborns. Babies who are fed breast milk exclusively for their first six months are lesser prone to diarrhoea, ear infections and respiratory illness.
According to Dr. Bansal, “breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood, compared to a formula-fed baby. Babies fed with breast milk thus grow up to be more intelligent. What’s more, are, of course, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin contact and eye contact while breastfeeding, which together help baby bond with the mother and feel secure.
Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow considering the high rise of metabolic disorders, such as obesity. Breast milk is actually the golden drops that in every way are a gift from a mom to the baby for their healthier future!”
Not being breastfed is associated with an increased risk of infections and chronic illnesses like pneumonia and gastroenteritis. The child does not get the nutrients required to build its resistance against the unhygienic stimuli.
An upset stomach and gut is also related to inadequate breastfeeding. If not treated it could lead to diarrhoea. Many infants lose their lives due to this illness.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is also a possible consequence.
There is also an elevated risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes and leukemia. Among premature infants, not receiving breast milk is associated with an increased risk of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). Moreover, as infant formula is produced in factories and prepared at home, there is a chance of contamination. That contamination can cause permanent damage to your child.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother
Breastfeeding helps mothers burn extra calories. It helps women lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone, oxytocin, which helps a woman’s uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth.
Breastfeeding also lowers women’s risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.