The World Breastfeeding Week is here again. Celebrated during the first week of August, its purpose is to raise awareness and promote breastfeeding on all fronts. This event is endorsed by the WHO, UNICEF, other partners and the governments of more than 170 countries.
Breastfeeding undeniably sets a solid foundation of lifelong good health. Let us take a few minutes to comprehend and reflect upon its benefits for babies as well as mothers.
Nepal’s own well established slogan (स्तनपान अमृत समान) compares breast milk to ‘amrit,’ the heavenly nectar of immortality in Hindu mythology.
Nutrition in Breast milk
Breast milk provides an ideal nourishment necessary for survival, optimal growth and development of babies. It:
contains all the nutrients including vitamins, minerals and water necessary for a baby to thrive well
is easily digested by babies
contains the protective factor or the antibodies that babies need to fight off diseases and infections.
Three Es to Remember
Early – baby should be put to breast as soon as possible after birth. Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulate the production of breast milk. This is possible also after cesarean births.
Starting breastfeeding early ensures that the babies receive the colostrum (thick yellowish milk) which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies. No wonder it is also called the baby’s ‘first vaccine’.
Exclusive – baby should be given only breast milk, not even water, during the first six months of life. Babies need to be fed frequently as they demand. Nutritious complementary foods should be given from six months onward.
Extended – breastfeeding should be continued for up to two years or beyond. Breast milk will continue to add valuable nutrients to a child’s diet and confer protection from diseases.
Benefits for Child
As the perfect nutrition for babies intended by the nature, breast milk contributes to optimal growth and development
Protection from infections and diseases including diarrhea, asthma and more
Helps in quicker recovery from illnesses
Contributes to long term brain development and cognitive benefits
Reduces risk of overweight/obesity and various chronic diseases later on in life
Benefits for Mother
Faster recovery from child birth as breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps return the uterus to its regular size and reduces bleeding
Exclusive breastfeeding confers 99% family planning protection till first six months
Enhances a special bond with the baby
A sense of satisfaction and empowerment
Saves time and money spent on other feeding options
As baby get sick less often, saves time and money spent on hospitals visits
Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers later on in life
Emerging findings indicate many other health benefits to mothers
Helps mothers in weight management after delivery as breastfeeding burns energy (up to 500 calories per day)
Breast-feeding is a natural and a very healthy choice that women can make for themselves and their babies. Specific medical conditions may challenge a few women but the majority can breastfeed successfully.
Women are 2.5 times more likely to engage in breastfeeding when it is supported and protected
Health and nutrition workers have important responsibility to provide the right information and guidance at the right time. Hospitals and other health facilities providing maternity services should ensure to have health workers trained in lactation management. This simple step significantly helps in early initiation as well as continuation of breastfeeding by mothers.
Parents, family and friends also have a big role give to help mothers breastfeeding throughout their breastfeeding journey. The early days can be daunting for new mothers – hence encouragement, physical as well as emotional support make a big difference. Husbands/fathers, in particular, have a crucial duty to support. My personal experiences have also been that breastfeeding is not a one-woman job.
Legal provisions are a must to minimize the issues and challenges faced by women to breastfeed. Nepal government has recently increased maternity leave to 98 days as per Labour Act 2074 (2017), applicable for both public and private sector. It is definitely a progress in the right direction but the job is yet to be fully done. A collective effort is still required to strive towards ensuring at least six months of paid maternity leave in all organized workforce. The same ought to be extended and ensured for women in the unorganized work sector.
Work places should also provision breastfeeding rooms, breastfeeding breaks and appropriate flexibility for mothers. Such support provided to women is bound to benefit the employers. Satisfied mothers are better able to focus at work translating into enhanced productivity.