“Imagine the world had created a new ‘dream product’ to feed and immunize everyone born on earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere, required no storage or delivery and helped mothers plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer. Then imagine the world refused to use it.” Frank A. Oski. This is the harsh reality as breast milk provides all the said benefits yet only 36% of infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
Breastfeeding is a key intervention of promoting child health and preventing child mortalities. According to the WHO, if all infants were breastfed within the first hour of birth, exclusively breastfed for the first six months and continued breastfeeding along complimentary feeding for two years, then 800,000 child mortalities could be prevented each year.
Breastfeeding has so many benefits that cannot be matched by infant formula. First, breastmilk contains all nutrients required by an infant for the first six months. A mother does not need to give her baby anything else other than breastmilk, not even drinking water for the first six months of life.
Second, breast milk protects the child against illnesses. Breast milk contains properties that boosts the childs immunity and therefore provides protection against diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, which are among the leading causes of child mortalities.
Third, breastfeeding promotes physical and emotional bonding between the mother and the newborn. This bond is created by skin to skin contact, eye to eye contact and the physical contact. In addition, oxytocin also known as love/bonding hormone, strengthens the emotional bond between the mother and the baby.
Children who are exclusively breastfeed are at a lower risk of diabetes, overweight and obesity in later life. In addition, these children are more intelligent and therefore perform better in school.
To the mother, exclusive breastfeeding has it’s benefits too. First, oxytocin, the hormone released during breastfeeding promotes uterine contraction therefore reduces uterine bleeding after birth. This lowers the risk of post partum haemorrhage which is among the leading causes of maternal deaths globally.
Second, exclusive breastfeeding aids in losing weight. Research has shown that women who exclusively breastfeed up to six months are likely to lose all the weight gained during pregnancy. One may lose 200-500 calories in a day. Women tend to lose 0.45kgs to 0.9kgs and may therefore take 6-9months to lose all the pregnancy weight. Note that weight loss is a balance between physical activity, eating a balanced diet and control of food portions.
Third, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by 24% (Victoria C.G et al, 2015). It also lowers the risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and type 1 diabetes mellitus.
Fourth, breastfeeding aids birth spacing. Lactational amenorrhea though a short term method, is 98% effective if correctly practised. Lactational amenorrhea works by inhibiting ovulation. A woman has to strictly meet these 3 conditions for the method to be effective
- Menstruation should not have returned since delivery
- Breastfeed the baby on demand both day and night, with no long periods of separation and not feeding on any complementary foods
- Baby should be less than six months old.
If any of the above conditions is not met, one has to use another family planning method.
Finally breastfeeding is the most convenient and cost effective method to ensure optimal growth and development of a newborn. You can breastfeed your baby at anytime, anywhere, at no cost without running out of supplies. Moreover, as the baby is less prone to infections, there are less medical expenses.
There is no artificial product that can match the natural product, breast milk. Breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for the first six months of life, provides immunity, promotes bonding between the mother and the baby, lowers the risk of obesity and to the mother, lessens uterine bleeding after birth, aids in weight loss, lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, type 1 diabetes mellitus and is cost effective and convenient. Babies should be breastfed within one hour of birth, exclusively breastfed for six months and continued breastfeeding along complementary feeding for two years for optimum growth and development.
1. Laurence M. G. & Nigel R.; 2015; Summarising the Health Effects of Breastfeeding; Acta Paediatrica Special Issue: Impact of Breastfeeding on Maternal and Child Health; Vol 104 (467); p. 1–2.
2. Victora C. G., Bahl R., Barros J. D., Franca G. V., Horton S., Krasevec J., Murch S., Sankar M. J., Walker N., Rollins N. C.; 2016; Breastfeeding in the 21st Century: Epidemiology, Mechanisms and Lifelong effect; The Lancet; vol 38(10017); p. 475-490.