Importance of breastfeeding

Importance of breastfeeding

Breast milk which constitutes the very first food for the infant has innumerable benefits and it is unjustified to deprive the newborn of these. Optimal and correct nutrition in first two years of life are important in lowering morbidity and mortality in the long-term.  

“World Breastfeeding week” (August 1st to 7th) was started by UNICEF in 1991 to take specific actions to raise public awareness about breastfeeding. But, even after 22 years of relentless efforts, we still see ignorance and reluctance on part of mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding.

Infants in developing countries often suffer from infections (ear, throat, stomach) due to lack of proper knowledge about correct time of initiation and duration of breastfeeding. In developed countries, decreasing breastfeeding practices result in increased food allergies such as lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, peanut allergies, etc. Breast cancer incidence is also increasing rapidly and one of the ways to prevent it is through breastfeeding.

World Health Organization (WHO) Facts 2013

– Only about 38% of infants, 0 to 6 months old are exclusively breastfed.

– About 220000 child lives could be saved every year with promotion of optimal breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding.

– Globally, 165 million children under five are estimated to be stunted mostly as a consequence of poor feeding and repeated infections

Importance of first milk

UNICEF suggests that the mother should start breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Milk secreted by the mother soon after childbirth is called ‘colostrum’. This colostrum is thick, yellowish milk having high protein content, vitamin A and sodium chloride (salts) and lower amounts of carbohydrates, fats and potassium. The numerous antibodies present in this colostrum lead to growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and offer life-long protection against infections.

Benefits of breast milk

– Improved gut health:

– Increased immunity:

– Cognitive development:

– Protection against chronic diseases:

Breastfeeding benefits to mothers

–   Helps the uterus to shrink to its pre-pregnancy state

–   Helps mother to lose weight gained during pregnancy.

–   Helps in child- spacing among women who do not use contraceptives

–   Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

–   Reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

Obesity epidemic has increased by alarming rate raising major concerns for health care. Feeding patterns and behaviors are laid down from childhood itself. Hence, it is important to note that breast-fed infants self-regulate their intake. When on mother’s milk, infant feeds as per their requirement and stop when they feel full and cry again only when they are hungry. Formula-fed infants are forced to finish the recommended amount of formula feed slowly diminishing their satiety signals. This leads to poor self-regulation of food intake posing a great threat to long-term food choices and portion control.

Breast- milk is like the elixir of life for the newborn. No child should be denied of this invaluable gift of nature. Infant formula prepared in laboratory cannot match the miraculous science behind composition of breast milk. Breastfeeding provides the natural way of balancing the health of the child as well as the mother. Any attempt to disrupt this physiological balance can lead to harmful repercussions for both.

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