Importance of Breastfeeding

Breast-feeding is the best option for feeding your baby, introducing breast feeding to your baby within the first hour of birth is highly beneficial and key to successful breast-feeding.

WHAT IS COLOSTRUM?

  • Colostrum can be referred to as the first immunisation
  • In the first hours and days after childbirth a mother produces the first milk, called colostrum – the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.
  • It is rich in antibodies and immune system-boosting cells, colostrum helps the infant’s intestines to mature and function effectively.
  • The protective substances it contains make it more difficult for bacteria and allergens to attack the baby’s throat, lungs and intestines
  • Colostrum has a laxative effect, helping infants pass their first early stools and prevent jaundice
  • There is only a small amount of colostrum and its consistency is thick, which helps the newborn learn to swallow slowly and breathe at the same time.
  • This ensures that the infant’s stomach – which is only the size of its fist – is not overfilled, which can happen with other liquids commonly given, such as water, cow’s milk or tea, and can result in the baby not being able to digest the excess.

SIX MONTHS PROTECTION

Breast milk provides all the energy, nutrients and liquid that an infant needs for the first six months of its life. In fact, studies have shown that the nutritional make-up of a mother’s breast milk adapts according to her infant’s individual needs at that time for his or her development. So it is important that infants are not fed any other foods or water, as this can interfere with this natural supply-and-demand mechanism.

Infants who are not breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die of diarrhoea than those who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING

  • Increases survival – An infant given breast milk within an hour of birth is up to three times more likely to survive than one breastfed a day later. 830,000 deaths could be avoided if every baby were breastfed within the first hour of life.
  • WHO suggests that children who are not optimally breastfed have a higher risk of asthma, diabetes, coeliac disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and potentially a higher chance of becoming obese in childhood and adolescence.
  • Makes children smarter? breastfed children scored on average 3.2 points higher in cognitive function tests than those who were formula-fed.
  • Good for mothers health – Immediately after birth, the suckling action of the baby releases a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone not only releases milk to the baby, it produces contractions in the uterus that prevent postpartum haemorrhage.
  • Birth Control – Exclusive breastfeeding can often mean a woman’s periods do not return for several months, which conserves iron stores in her body and can act as a natural contraceptive, thus helping to space pregnancies.
  • Weight loss – The process of producing milk can use up to 500 calories per day and help women lose weight after pregnancy.
  • Reduction in risk of Cancers – There is evidence that the risk of breast and ovarian cancer is smaller among women who have breastfed. It is now estimated that breastfeeding for six to 24 months throughout a mother’s reproductive lifetime may reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 25%

BREASTFEEDING CHALLENGES

  • Despite clear evidence that early and exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to care for newborns, many mothers are given bad advice or are pressurised into harmful alternatives. Common practices include denying the newborn colostrum and giving other foods or liquids before starting breastfeeding.
  • Giving other foods prior to commencing brestfeeding actually reduce the appetite and thirst of the baby that are essential for it to suckle effectively, and they greatly increase the risk of infections.
  • A study of breastfeeding mothers in Nigeria found that the main reason that women felt unable to breastfeed exclusively included: the perception that their infants continued to be hungry after breastfeeding, maternal health problems, fear of infants becoming addicted to breast milk, pressure from the mother-in-law, pains in the breast, and the need to return to work.
  • Many times the shortage of health workers, reduces the opportunity for new mothers to be supported to breastfeed in the first few hours is lost. Many women without access to a skilled attendant present at birth do not breastfeed within the first hour of giving birth.
  • Returning to work after the birth of a child is difficult for any mother and may mean that continuing to breastfeed is very challenging. these factors play a key role in a woman’s ability to breastfeed: maternity leave, financial protection to help maintain the family’s income while the mother is not working, and workplace provisions to allow breastfeeding to continue once a mother returns to work.

In Nigeria between 1999 and 2008 the rate of exclusive breast feeding of infants reduced from 17% to 13% (according to WHO).

Unless there is a medical reason breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months is the best introduction to life you can give your baby and the best natural immunisation. We need more places of work to move towards increased length of maternity leave, increased flexible hours, conducive environments on the job for child care and designated areas for pumping and storing breast milk while at work.

Source: savethechildren.org
picture cource: hala-hi.org

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