(1st Published in Daily Trust Newspaper of Tuesday 26th August 2014)
“Dear Sir – I was surprized that the World Breastfeeding Week which was slated for 1-7 August 2014 came and gone without any word on this column. We look up to this column to create awareness and advocate for women and children issues. Was it that the topic wasn’t seen as ‘political health’ or it wasn’t important to you that for the entire week, not a word about it? Yours Sincerely J J”
This brief email letter from aggrieved reader and fan of this column has necessitated me to write some briefs about breastfeeding. All health issues are important but we need to be aware that sometime many issues emerge at the same time and one need to take a decision on what to write. It was true that the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) has assigned 1–7 August 2014 as the World Breastfeeding Week being celebrated every year in more than 170 countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. It commemorates the Innocenti Declaration signed in August 1990 by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. “If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800 000 child lives would be saved every year. Globally, less than 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. Adequate breastfeeding counselling and support are essential for mothers and families to initiate and maintain optimal breastfeeding practices.”
Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large. Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Simple Recommendations to ensure our children are well breastfed:
- WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life? At six months, solid foods, such as mashed fruits and vegetables, should be introduced to complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more. In addition: breastfeeding should begin within one hour of birth and breastfeeding should be “on demand”, as often as the child wants day and night; and bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.
- Health benefits for infants; Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide.
- Benefits for mothers; Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.
- Long-term benefits for children; Beyond the immediate benefits for children, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-2 diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
- Why not infant formula? Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breast milk. When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula.
- HIV and breastfeeding; An HIV-infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.
- Support for mothers is essential; Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. Nipple pain, and fear that there is not enough milk to sustain the baby are common. Health facilities that support breastfeeding by making trained breastfeeding counsellors available to new mother and encourage higher rates of the practice.
- Work and breastfeeding; Many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplace to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work, such as paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks, can help.
These are simple recommendations that is expected to be shared and spread to all our mothers and breastfeeding support groups.